Victor Harris, the Spirit of Fi-Yi-Yi, remains one of the most recognizable big chiefs in the Mardi Gras Indian Nation. His style is unique in everything he pursues—the designing, the songs, the exuberant way he engages a crowd. Foremost are his magnificent beaded suits and masks that honor African culture and his love of nature.
“Truly I’m a walking spirit,” says Harris. “When people see the Spirit of Fi-Yi-Yi they feel good. They rise. I am who I am in and out of the suit.”
When Harris steps out as Big Chief of the Mandingo Warriors on Carnival Day, it will mark his amazing 55 years of masking Indian as well as perhaps his final time hitting the streets. “I would never say that I’m going to stop masking,”
Harris absolutely declares before adding that knee problems and possible surgery could prevent his notably energized wanderings on the holiday. “I’ll be involved with it and I’ll definitely be involved in making more suits. I will be doing it until I can’t do it. I would love to do it forever, honestly.”
In 1965, Harris began masking flag boy with the Yellow Pocahontas under Big Chief Allison “Tootie” Montana. “My first year it was like Indian fever—all you could think of was sew, sew, sew, Indian, Mardi Gras, Indian, Indian,” Harris excitedly remembered. That’s why, even though he and the Yellow Pocahontas parted ways some 18 years later, he still considers himself a member of Tootie’s tribe and believes that Montana would be proud that he has surpassed the renowned Chief of Chief ’s 52 years of masking Indian.
“I’m a member of Tootie’s tribe—I am a born Yellow Pocahontas,” declares Harris. “He’s my chief until death—my only chief. It’s like he is passing the torch to me. Tootie put in all those years. Whoever thought somebody else would do that? Tootie made a brand new suit every year. There’s honor in that. That’s what it’s all about.”
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