Last Saturday, a major dissing of our Cultures and Traditions here in New Orleans went down: Da’ NOPD broke up a Second Line, a Jazz Funeral, in the Treme last Saturday. (Of course the local paper didn’t report on the event until the wee hours of the morning today.) This was as the mourners had finished and were walking to a place to share the Repast at a Community Center.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of this kind of funerary rite, here’s what it entails:`a procession heads toward the ceremonial place of passing (could be a business, a fishing hole, a certain park or the cemetery.) A brass band leads the folks playing dirges. When the selected place is reached, the words are said and the departed is ready to move on. Then the band strikes up a different beat and the mourners start to dance in order to help their friend move on to the other World. “Dancing them Home” is also a way to stop the tears and just remember our friend as we continue through day-to-day life. We are a Family. We take care of our own.
Once the Second Line is done, the folks gather in places and share food, drink and stories about the departed. Some members of the “Family” might be at one place, others at others. But this is usually how it goes down.
This is a Sacred ritual. It is rooted in Culture and Tradition, Respect and Humanity. This act is seen as essential by many of us as part of our Heritage and our City. Events such as this define us as a people and a Culture, the continuation of what has been for many, many years. As a Native I will say now: “This is part of our Birthright, our being a part of the Life that moves through the heavy damp air as it sways the Spanish Moss on the oak trees. Here is where we came from and in the fullness of time where we shall return. The muddy waters of Old Man River, the clays in the swamps… the scent of cypress trees… all of these things are also part of us. We dance the Dance of Life, knowing full well the fragility of the living, and we will not give our ancestral ways up. This is our home and these are our Traditions. This is OUR Dance.”.
This is why what happened last Saturday is an attack and an affront to the Culture of New Orleans. It is orchestrated by those of money and power. Our city is badly damaged by the Federal Flood, and they want the land for speculation, for those who would buy a condo near the French Quarter in order to “celebrate” three days once every year at Mardi Gras. To break the back of the old Cultures in order to be able to schedule and charge for every little thing we locals do as a matter of course. To make their way our way. These are the desires of malignantly evil creatures.
These are the carpetbaggers, those who swoop down when the we are hurting and gnaw on our bones even as we die. They only see New Orleans as a cash register, not the living entity that it truly is. Our Life, our city’s Life, is something they can never know. The Spirit of Place can never enter them because they cannot “feel”.
New Orleans belongs to Her people and they to Her. Native or adopted, it doesn’t really matter: we are all infected with Her elixier… the “Water of Life”. Our strange little anachronistic bastion of the Old World infused with the desire to just be ourselves in the midst of American Culture gone crazy. The reminder of what could be, if only one accepts it.
One paragraph of the above article caught my eye:
“Snuffing Saturday’s parade was an “attack on the culture,” the same culture that gave birth to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, said Wilson’s longtime friend, Jerome Smith. He found the timing ironic: At about the same time that police had scattered an authentic funeral march, near Esplanade and Claiborne avenues, Jazz and Heritage Festival-goers were lined up behind a band at the Fair Grounds, ready to follow a second-line recreated for tourists.”
Need I say more?
Perfesser Ashley Morris, a determined lover and defender of New Orleans and Her Culture passed one month ago yesterday. I can almost hear him ranting about this. He did have his Second Line, and he’d be pissed that someone else couldn’t have their’s.
We have established a fund to help his family through this rough period in time. Please donate.