M ardi Gras in Mamou is not about opulence, or balls, or royal splendor. It is about the earth, survival, and celebrating the way the Cajun people have banded together over the years, not only to survive hard times, but to guarantee the preservation of their culture. Mardi Gras in Mamou is not about attracting tourists—it is a tribal reaffirmation of loyalty to the community and to tradition.
The ritualistic celebration, with a history centuries old, begins Mardi Gras morning when costumed riders, men only, gather at the American Legion. After a meeting, they burst from the legion, leap onto decorated horses, and head out into the countryside to forage for chickens, ducks—whatever isn’t locked up and may be considered an element of gumbo.
To participate in the run, all one needs is a horse and a small entry fee, which contrary to popular belief, does not include bail should you end up in jail. As for your chance of survival . . . You are on your own.
Think twice about joining in—this run is not for the faint-hearted. You had better have thick skin, a solid skull, and resilient bones because you may feel to call to chase chickens through mud and barbed wire, to engage in mass belly-bucking, to whop into a mud puddle, to leap off the roof of a house after a chicken, and yes, maybe even to rip the head off a chicken with your teeth. It is amazing what a few hundred bears can do to a guy’s sense of decorum.
If you cannot handle participation in the run itself, you can choose to become one of the camp followers who watch from the safety of the back of a pick-up-truck. Remember to bring chairs and a cooler of beer. It is a long day. Camp following also has its drawbacks. Traffic jams on narrow country roads are a common occurrence, and worse of all, you have to be ready to spend a day out on the road without shelter . . . and without . . . a bathroom.
If you cannot handle a day as a camp follower, you can stay in Mamou and enjoy music, dancing and food. When the conquering heroes return to town, they parade through town to feast on a town-sized gumbo that has been prepared using the unfortunate chickens the runners begged for, danced for, and stole on the day-long quest.