When you think of Mardi Gras, what comes to mind? Beads, floats, music, and a bit of debauchery probably top your list. Early French settlers knew they had one last blow-out before the dreary Lenten season, and they made the most of it with over-the-top parties that are still celebrated in places like Mobile, Biloxi, St. Louis, and of course, New Orleans.
However, there’s one carnival tradition that truly stands out. As someone who once lived in the region, I can personally attest that I have never seen a Mardi Gras like the one held each year in the tiny town of Mamou, Louisiana.
Get ready for a wild ride; here are the reasons this throw-down is a must-not-miss for Mardi Gras die-hards.
Mamou’s celebration is Courir de Mardi Gras, which loosely translates to Mardi Gras Run. It begins in the wee hours of the morning when the event’s capitaine greets costumed men — and only men as tradition dictate — from across the community. They arrive on horseback, foot, or even by truck. Once the capitaine gives the order, the adventure begins. The group travels through town, bellowing out an old French begging song as they go. They sing for supper, asking people to lend them ingredients — sausage, peppers, onions, and rice — for a Mardi Gras feast. The tradition dates back centuries; the fun and frivolity last all day.
Bring The Beer
What, you might ask, is all that fun fueled by? It should come as no surprise that the Mamou Mardi Gras participants come ready to party, with enough beer and other adult beverages to last them throughout the day. Bystanders either follow the group or watch from porches and other public places. It gets pretty raucous, especially as the crowd closes in on its final ingredient for the gumbo pot.
The Chicken Chase
In the midst of all that begging and singing, there is also a hunt underway. Of course, no gumbo is complete without a chicken… or a few. The roosters and hens of Mamou are the targets of the day’s quest. Residents of homes along the courier route release them and the revelers give chase throughout town, through fields, yards, and even up trees. Fortunate fowl escape; others are captured but don’t go into the gumbo pot. Instead, they’re rounded up and sold later.
Dance Moves, Acrobatics, And Tackles
Music is central to the celebration in Mamou, so it only makes sense that the crowd should bust out the moves as the day progresses. You’ll see all sorts of dancing and occasionally even some acrobatics on horseback. The race to scoop up a chicken is so serious you’ll see tackles and catches that could just as easily take place on the gridiron. It all adds up to an active and sometimes messy day on the Louisiana prairie.
Time For Gumbo
When the route’s been completed, expect a huge fais do-do, or Cajun-style party on 6th Street, in the heart of Mamou. There, at the American Legion where the antics began earlier in the morning, a communal gumbo is served to the crowd. It’s the perfect ending to a wild, unforgettable, and authentic way to mark Mardi Gras.
Pro Tip: Mamou is about three and a half hours northwest of New Orleans. You’ll likely want to stay the evening after all the Mardi Gras fun. Consider booking Hotel Cazan, a former bank-turned-historic hotel. This place once hosted Anthony Bourdain and its location is perfect for the courier as it’s right on 6th Street.
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