"The Spy Boy is first in the front: he is the baddest of all the Indians… he is ahead looking for trouble. Only a chosen few can be Spy Boy. It's his job to send a signal to First Flag when he sees other Indians. First Flag signals back down the line to Big Chief. Big Chief has a stick that controls the Indians. When he hits the ground with the stick, they better get down and bow to the Chief." - Larry Bannock
On Mardi Gras Day, if you're lucky enough to see some of the Mardi Gras Indians, the first Indian you're likely to see is the Spy Boy. His job places him ahead of the Big Chief's procession. Each Spy Boy has a method to signal potential trouble or approaching rival Indian tribes… with dancing, whooping, hollering, and hand language. His observations are communicated to the Big Chief who, in return, sends a set of directions and instructions back down the parade procession.
"I 'took' my position as a Spy Boy. Nobody gave it to me. I took it when someone else didn't do their job. Your heart and soul has to be there." - Larry Bannock
It is through this elaborate system of dances, whoops, flags and hand signals that the Big Chief is able to direct a progression multiple streets long… even though he is far away from the front of the parade. This communication network is important, as it allows the Big Chief time to adjust his suit, don his headdress, and prepare a song for an impending meeting with a rival tribe. Marching the streets on Mardi Gras Day on the way to meet other Indian tribes is a tribe's opportunity to have an entire year's worth of artistic effort appraised by an opponent artist.
"The route on Mardi Gras is always secret. Nobody knows where anybody's gonna be… that's why Spy Boy is ahead and looking for Indians. If he sights a gang, he tells Flag Boy that a gang is on its way." - Larry Bannock
The Flag Boy is the next ranking Indian. It is he who carries the "gang flag" – a huge staff decorated with feathers (seen on left) and the gang symbol. Generally Flag Boys are a block or two behind Spy Boys, and at least a block ahead of the Big Chief. Their responsibility is to pass along Spy Boy's information to the Big Chief, and return the Big Chief's response back to the Spy Boy. By raising his gang flag high in the air and using prearranged signals, the Flag Boy is able to keep the Big Chief and Spy Boy in direct communication. This allows the Big Chief control over the direction of the route his tribe will take. As mentioned, the progression can be many streets long. "Second Liners" are always present between the ranking Indians. They are usually not costumed, but provide much entertainment as they follow along dancing, singing, beating drums and playing tambourines.
Have questions? Send us an email.