Zulu: Nuts for Coconuts

February 5, 2008
Mardi Gras, New Orleans

Finally back to full membership after Katrina, Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club marched the streets of New Orleans, ushering in Mardi Gras. Named after one of the strongest tribes in Africa, Zulu is known for their elaborate costumes creating a truly impressive experience. Zulu celebrated their 92nd year as one of the longest running parades. Before Zulu, African Americans were not allowed to join krewes or even march on Mardi Gras. The Zulu tradition began in 1916 when William Story sarcastically satirized Rex, (the oldest and most traditional parade still running, which occurs after Zulu). Story wore a lard can as a crown and walked about with a banana stalk scepter, spoofing the Rex king. Seven year’s later the all black krewe began to officially parade. To this day riders dress in black face and large curly wigs. Zulu has 1250 members and 27 floats. They also include award winning marching bands like Xavier Prep Band and St. Augustine Band. It is truly a privilege to be asked to march during Zulu since more people attend parades Mardi Gras day more then any other day. This year’s theme was “The World of Legend, Heroes, and Folklore” with characters like Batman heading the floats. Standard signature floats include Big Shot, Witch Doctor, Mayor and Governor. Each are headed by an elaborately, Native-American influenced, costumed man. Costumes include a full headdress often detailed with sequence and feathers. The amount of care and time it takes to make these costumes is obvious in its appearance. Along the parade route walk the honor guard known as the Soulful warriors. They walk along the parade route in huge curly wigs and grass skirts, a reflection of the influence of Africa in Zulu’s festivities.

Each float and their members throw different beads with the Zulu name and/or symbol. Each float has a new official parade bead each year with Zulu’s name and emblem, too. With a large assortment of Zulu printed items from cups to Frisbees there are always enough throws to go around. This year I was very lucky to have caught a rare bead only coming off of one float. The beads read “King’s Club,” with Zulu icons on either side. Since these beads commemorate the past King of Zulu and are only thrown by one rider, it is my most prized throw of the year. Unfortunately I could not get my hands on the best throw of all, the Zulu coconut. Each float has a number of gold painted coconuts to hand out. More exclusively are brightly hand painted and decorated coconuts which come from the heads of the floats or from specific higher up members in the club. These are especially collectible items and are difficult to procure unless you are willing to get right up against the float. With all the people, it is hard enough to stay in one place, let alone move with ease throughout the crowd. The crowd received the parade well and barbequing families and groups of friends roped off the entire neutral ground. Perhaps the busiest Zulu I have seen in years, it was the perfect start to Mardi Gras day. Zulu livened up the crowd and gave people a reason to join together and celebrate New Orleans and its traditions.