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IKO IKO - Lyrics, Origin, Meaning

Among the paraders are the Mardi Gras Indians, who are actually several groups (which call themselves “tribes” or even “gangs”) of African-American Carnival revelers. They dress up in very elaborate outfits that are heavily influenced by Native American ceremonial garb. There are nearly 40 of these tribes, and most of them belong to one of two groups identifying themselves as “Uptown” or “Downtown” Indians. Once dressed, they will march out on the streets on Super Sunday, which for them is the Sunday prior to the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19).

About a hundred years ago, competing tribes who encountered each other in the street could conceivably erupt into violence, however this has generally reduced to verbal taunts about the quality of each others’ costumes. But as a result of this violence, certain paraders were given specific roles. The first one out is the Wild Man, who wears a horned hat and literally acts wild. His job is to clear the crowds in advance of the others. (This character wasn’t seen in Treme because he’d died in the storm; we did see his memorial service.) The Spy Boy goes out next, and literally spies out to see if other tribes are in the area. Next comes the Flag Boy, who is always in visual contact with the Spy Boy. The Flag Boy literally carries the tribe’s flag, and is the standard-bearer of the group. Last is the Big Chief, who always far outdoes the others in costumed elaborateness.

Thus, “Jockomo feena nay” can mean (loosely), “It doesn’t matter what the Big Chief says” (i.e. “it’s all good”), or, perhaps more appropriately—especially in context of the song—“Don’t mess with us”

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Lyrics:

My grandma and your grandma
Sitting by the fire
My grandma says to your grandma
"I'm gonna set your flag on fire"

 

Talkin' 'bout
Hey now
Hey now
Iko iko an nay
Jockomo feena ah na nay
Jockomo feena nay

Look at my king all dressed in red
Iko iko an nay
I bet you five dollars he'll kill you dead
Jockomo feena nay

CHORUS:
Talkin' 'bout
Hey now (hey now)
Hey now (hey now)
Iko iko an nay (whoah-oh)
Jockomo feena ah na nay
Jockomo feena nay

My flag boy and your flag boy
Sitting by the fire
My flag boy says to your flag boy
"I'm gonna set your flag on fire"

(CHORUS)

(bridge)

(hey now)
(hey now)
(hey now)
(hey now)
Jockomo feena nay
Iko!

See that guy all dressed in green
Iko iko an nay
He's not a man, he's a loving machine
Jockomo feena nay

(4x)
Talkin' 'bout
Hey now (hey now)
Hey now (hey now)
Iko iko an nay (whoah-oh)
Jockomo feena ah na nay
Jockomo feena nay

(repeat till fading end)
Jockomo feena nay