On March 24th at 1:00pm a unique event starts in Detroit, The Marche du Nain Rouge. A once a year parade that focuses on driving the Red dwarf or Nain rouge from Detroit.
The legend of the red dwarf states that whenever it has been seen in the past great tragedies have happened in Detroit. The events started from a chance in encounter in Detroits earliest beginnings.
The first recorded sighting of Le Nain Rouge occurred when Detroit founder Antoine Laumet de la Mothe Cadillac took a stroll with his wife through the Royal Garden just outside Fort Pontchartrain’s walls. Le Nain crossed Cadillac’s path, shrieking at Cadillac as if to confront him. In response Cadillac took his cane to Le Nain and drove it off. As Le Nain retreated, it cursed Cadillac. There have been numerous sightings since.
After the incident, Cadillac’s luck soon took a turn for the worse. A political rival of Cadillac convinced the French Government to indict him on charges of illegal trafficking. This resulted in Cadillac’s removal from power and imprisonment. And even though his name was eventually cleared, Cadillac’s fortunes were never the same. He died in France still trying to establish his land claims in Detroit.
Since that first encounter, several other events have taken place with the red dwarf being spotted before hand. Other sightings include the day before the 12th Street Riot in 1967 and before a huge snow/ice storm of March 1976, when two utility workers are said to have seen what they thought was a child climbing a utility pole which then jumped from the top of the pole and ran away as they approached.
The red dwarf is described as being small and child-sized, wearing brown clothing with red or black fur boots. It is said to have blazing red eyes and rotten teeth.
“ The Marche du Nain Rouge is an annual Detroit tradition that purportedly dates back to shortly after the city’s founding by the French in 1701. Annually held on the Sunday closest to the Vernal (Spring) Equinox, it is parade and street theater similar in sensibility to Mardi Gras and other Carnival celebrations. However the impetus for La Marche is different.
La Marche drives Le Nain Rouge (The Red Dwarf) out of Detroit, preventing its evil spirit from plaguing the people of the city for the rest of the year. By forcing Le Nain Rouge from the city (and into the spirit plane), Le Nain is banished, transforming Detroiters’ fears and doubts into the hopes of new life and the coming Spring season.
Tradition holds that a citizen of Detroit dresses up as Le Nain Rouge, temporarily embodying its spirit, wearing a mask to conceal identity. As Le Nain Rouge, this person accepts responsibility for leading people through the streets of Detroit to La Marche’s final destination.
Le Nain Rouge is followed by a contingent of twelve Detroiters, known as La Bande du Nains. La Bande du Nains is made up of a man, a woman and a child who claim heritage in each of the world’s historic continents – Africa, America, Asia, and Europe. La Bande du Nains carry sticks, canes, pots and pans, dress in 18th Century garb and represent the original Detroiters who took the initiative to drive Le Nain out of Detroit.
Following Le Nain and La Bande du Nains is a group of musicians. The ensemble positions itself as a transition between the 13 figures at the head of La Marche and the rest of the parade’s participants. The music played during La Marche has evolved and infused many traditions from the people of Detroit. Most recently the music and spirit of the band is akin to that of a jazz funeral march, featuring drums and horns.
The rest of La Marche follows the musicians’ lead, and is comprised of individuals on foot and on decorated floats. Participants dress up in a wide range of costume, from historical to political figures, from supernatural creatures to abstracted ideas. Creative expression and abandoned inhibition is flaunted. Costumes relate to assuming a new persona so that one can participate in banishing Le Nain Rouge without retribution.
La Marche du Nain Rouge begins inland and follows a north to south route, tracing the historic French ribbon farms toward the river. Although early versions of the La Marche drove Le Nain into the river, Cass Park was chosen as a new location in the 19th Century, and a bonfire was favored as a way to banish Le Nain (since water is ineffective).
This years parade starts at Traffic jam and snugs at 1pm, with many parade participants arriving at 10am. The marche proceeds through North Cass corridor and down Cass Ave.
BEFORE THE MARCHE
This year’s Marche begins with a run – the first ever Run du Nain Rouge, brought to you by the good folks at Tour de Troit.
The 5k run begins at 11 a.m., at the corner of Cass and Canfield.
The fee is $35, which includes a t-shirt.
The top 10 (and bottom 15) runners will win prizes from City Bird.
MARCHE DU NAIN ROUGE
The Marche du Nain Rouge proper begins at 1:00 p.m. in the parking lot of Traffic Jam & Snug, 511 W. Canfield St., as revelers attempt to taunt and chant the dwarf into appearing.
The Marche processes along Cass Avenue through the North Cass Corridor, led by the ghosts of Detroit’s past and followed by the Detroit Party Marching Band.
Revelers are encouraged to come masked or fully costumed; groups are encouraged to join in the fun with DIY chariots.
The Marche will culminate on Temple Street, where the sinister dwarf will surely appear, to be firmly banished, freeing Detroit from its woes (until next year).
For more information please visit http://marchedunainrouge.com