For Henry Langlois, what is most important is passing on the craft, culture, and traditions of his family. Stemming from a long line of Mardi Gras Indians, Henry and his family have helped create and share the history of Black New Orleans.
“My daddy was an Indian back in the early 50s, and then I took over,” he said, “We have a group now that we call Downtown Thunders.”
The history of Mardi Gras Indians is rooted in the shared heritage of Black New Orleanians and the indigenous people who lived in the area (called Bulbancha, meaning “place of many tongues”). Those who escaped enslavement in the city would often find refuge among the local tribes, and the culture that arose from that has continued. The iconic traditions that come from it have been endangered over generations. Henry is determined to see they live on.
Originally from the Lower 9th Ward, Henry moved around a lot growing up, while most of his family remained in their original neighborhood. In 2005, his family lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. For a long time, Henry was unable to return to the Lower 9th Ward, until he found out about New Orleans Habitat. In spite of the pandemic, by June 2020, he was finally able to move back to the neighborhood. He already has a list of extra household projects he wants to complete. “I’m painting [the house], and I put up gutters so I can control the water coming off that roof. It’s one endless project.” The house has given him space to work on what’s important to him. He will soon be marrying his long-time fiance and opening a space to educate young people on their own culture.
“It’s very roomy,” said Henry. “I’m just loving it. It’s also a lovely thing to be back home in the neighborhood. That opened up my mind for other things in the future. What I really would like to do is teach a lot of people how to do this craft. I want to take the gift and show people.”