The little shotgun house is peeling and the Oldsmobile in front is missing a rear bumper, but Larry Bannock can glimpse glory through the eye of his needle. For almost a year he has hunkered over his sewing table, joining beads, velvet, rhinestones, sequins, feathers and ostrich plumes into a Mardi Gras costume that is part African, part Native American.
"I'm pretty," said Mr. Bannock, who is 6 feet tall and weighs 300 pounds. "And baby, when I walk out that door there ain't nothing cheap on me."
Most days, this 46-year-old black man is a carpenter, welder and handyman, but on Mardi Gras morning he is a Big Chief, one of the celebrated -- if incongruous -- black Indians of Carnival. He is an important man.
Sometime around 11 A.M. on Feb. 28, Mr. Bannock will step from his house in a resplendent, flamboyant turquoise costume complete with a towering headdress, and people in the largely black and poor 16th and 17th Wards, the area known as Gert Town, will shout, cheer and follow...