Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Voodoo used against Saints' opponents

Meet New Orleans Saints super fan Dorian Cummings, the Gris-Gris Man
Sixth in a season-long series on super fans of the New Orleans Saints.
Some New Orleanians have a Michalopoulos print or JazzFest poster hanging in their living rooms. Dorian Cummings has a bald eagle. The mounting of the majestic bird, with its six-foot wingspan and menacing outstretched talons, dominates the main room of his Old Jefferson cottage and serves as a daily reminder to his native American ancestry.
Photos: Dinah Rogers, Times-Picayune
Native Americans are the only Americans allowed to acquire bald eagles. Cummings, whose grandfather Lowell "Chief" Cummings was a full-blooded Pawnee, had to apply to the federal government and join a lengthy waiting to list to acquire his specimen. Only birds that die of natural causes in national parks are accepted. Cummings' wait took three years.
"It's my spirit," said Cummings, 35.
"When I decided to do this (become a super fan), I wanted to do something that was original, something that was true to me," he said. "It's nice to be able to see that every day as you walk out the door."
Long before Bienville settled New Orleans along the sandy banks of the Mississippi River, native Americans ruled the fertile crescent. Members of the Atakapa, Chitimacha, Choctaw, Houma and Natchez nations eventually helped European explorers colonize the area and were often among the first line of defense during battles to protect the city. It was native Americans who carved out a portage between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River now known as Bayou St. John and guided Bienville to Pass Manchac.
Based primarily in Nebraska, the Pawnee Nation never really gained a foothold farther south thanOklahoma. After ceding their territory to white settlers in the 1800s, many Pawnee dispersed to neighboring states in the Midwest and South. Cummings' grandfather was one of them, moving to Louisiana decades ago to start a surveying business on the north shore.
Wally Cummings was one of Chief's 10 children, a clan they jokingly referred to as "the 10 little Indians." Like most New Orleanians, Cummings became a staunch supporter of the Saints after they were founded in 1966 and passed his devotion on to his children.
One of Dorian Cummings' earliest memories was of his father yelling at longtime Saints antagonist Billy "White Shoes" Johnson of the Atlanta Falcons during yet another Black and Gold loss. "I caught a bug after that," Cummings said.
The seeds of super fandom germinated after Cummings became friends with Leroy "Whistle Monsta" Mitchell. While accompanying Mitchell to a recording of the short-lived TV show, "Fanatics," hosted by Bob DelGiorno Jr. in the French Quarter, Cummings decided to throw on a crude native American outfit. DelGiorno Jr. picked him out of the audience before a commercial break.
"He said, 'Hey, Gris-Gris Man, take us to a commercial and put the gris-gris on Atlanta," Cummings said. "That's where it all started. It just took after that."
He'd grown comfortable with the idea of dressing up. He'd dressed as a chief for a couple of Mardi Gras parades in middle school. One of the various jobs he held after graduating from Grace King High School, was Ray-Cycle Man, the environmental super hero of New Orleansduring Ray Nagin's first term as mayor. Dressed in green spandex tights, gold boots and brandishing a trashcan-lid shield, Cummings attended various public events as and was a regular on the cable-access TV show "The Clean Team." He even rode in Endyminion, throwing recycled coasters to revelers instead of beads.
"That's when I really started feeling the power of acting retarded and getting attention," Cummings said.
While Cummings loved the name, he was careful not to step on the toes of Dr. John, the original Gris-Gris Man and one of the city's cultural icons. He also didn't want his character to reflect negatively in any way on the Pawnee. Gris-gris, after all, originally referred to an African voodoo amulet. 
Throughout the evolution of his character, Cummings has strived to maintain his ancestral authenticity. He'd take mental notes while attending the annual Pawnee powwows in Stillwater,Okla., then return to New Orleans to add an element to his costume, with the help of his mother, Christine, who serves as his official seamstress and online researcher. 
His chest plate is made of elk bone. His loin cloth is cut from antelope hide. His head piece is a handmade porcupine hair roach. He accessorizes with a turtle-shell rattle and wrist- and ankle-bands of bells.
His face paint is also designed after Pawnee ancestors. The black handprint, per Pawnee warrior lore, signifies the killing of an enemy in hand-to-hand combat, Cummings said. His other favorite pattern mimics the face of a wolf, the national symbol of the Pawnee tribe.
"The Pawnee are very prideful," Wally Cummings said. "It needed to be done with respect and good taste. He's done that so I have no problem with it."
On game days, Cummings applies the face paint in a parking lot behind Handsome Willy's, the watering hole in the CBD that serves as his launching point on game days. He punctuates his pre-game walk to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with a sacred Pawnee chant on the outside apron of the stadium, praying and blowing smoke toward the heavens. His season tickets are in the upper deck but like many of his fellow super fan colleagues he prefers to roam the Dome after kickoff.
"I'm Gris-Gris; everything is kind of based on feel," Cummings said. "People look at me like I'm crazy, but the mojo has got to be right."
Predictably, his outfit inspires plenty of banter from opposing fans, especially on the road. Trips to Florida are accompanied by catcalls from Gators and Hurricanes fans who confuse him for a lost fan of the Florida State Seminoles. Back-to-back home games against the Redskins and Chiefs this season produced inquires from fans from both sides. When it rains, he's besieged by requests to dance and clear the skies. "Like I've got that kind of pull?" Cumming quipped.
Although the Pawnee were known for their courage and cunning, the U.S. government classified them as a "friendly" tribe. As Gris-Gris Man, Cummings has stayed true to the designation. Although he and friends once incited a mini-riot during halftime of a road game in San Francisco, he said he favors a friendly, upbeat in-game comportment, something he learned from Mitchell. Even this year's 1-4 start hasn't dampened his spirits.
"I got over the losing thing a long time ago," he said. "Did everyone think we were just going to be great forever? You've got to pay homage to the gods. If you're going to dress like us, you better be nice to people and take some pictures and have fun. If not, you're going to get some bad gris-gris along the way."

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