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LAIS Program, Historical Studies Program, French Studies Program, Division of Social Studies, Art History Program, and Africana Studies Program present
The earliest known eye-witness account of Mardi Gras in New Orleans depicted a masquerade that took place in 1730. But this description of hedonism and cross-gender disguises was an unexpected twist in a larger narrative. For this episode was immediately preceded by the 1729 uprising in which the Natchez Indians attacked French settlers, stripping, killing, and torturing survivors. And it was followed by the ritual torture and killing in New Orleans of a stripped Natchez woman captive. Most galling for the author of the account was the fact that French survivors had imitated, and even outdone, Indians’ torture methods. This transgression magnified anxieties about the potential for colonists to become indianized as a result of their presence in America. But in interweaving misrule descriptions of stripped, dressed, and disguised bodies, the author signaled that dress could channel Frenchmen’s metamorphosis into Indians, but also reverse such transformations. The key to this conceit lies in interpreting the placement of a topsy-turvy Mardi Gras masquerade in the very middle of massacre, torture and cannibalism.
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