Friday, March 30, 2012

The Marche Du Nain Rouge 2012

If you live in or near Detroit, Michigan, you may be aware of the city's own harbinger of doom, the Nain Rouge, or "red dwarf." (Also "red gnome," but in my experience, the locals prefer the "dwarf" translation.) The creature is said to appear right before a great misfortune, such as the Battle of Bloody Run in 1763, the 1805 fire, and before the surrender of Detroit in the War of 1812. The Nain has been sighted as recently as 1996, though the witnesses admitted to being drunk.

Legend has it, way back when Detroit was being founded, the Nain Rouge plagued the early city by playing nasty tricks on the settlers and thwarting their efforts to make a living. Antoine Laumont de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac is sometimes said to have chased the Nain Rouge out of Detroit, banishing him - for a little while, at least. Other stories have it that a group of citizens came together to drive out the Nain before he could curse them as they had Cadillac. For one description of Cadillac's encounter with the Nain, click here

Every spring the citizens of young Detroit would stage a festival and parade banishing the Nain for another year called le Marche du Nain Rouge. People dressed up in goofy costumes to fool the Nain should he seek revenge upon them upon his return. AN effigy of the Nain was created and burned or drown in the river. For a complete description of the marche's history, click here.

Since 2010, a group of Detroiters has come together and revived Le Marche du Nain Rouge. People gather in goofy costumes every year on the Sunday closest to the Spring Equinox and march down the Cass Corridor in downtown Detroit. The parade begins by a man dressed as Cadillac addressing the crowd, saying that long we have been plagued by this Nain Rouge and we will take it no longer! This is followed by the appearance of the Nain Rouge himself who taunts the crowd. The parade begins when the Nain exits, and everyone is lead by Cadillac, the Nain, and La Bande du Nains, a small marching band dressed up for the occasion.

This was the marche's third year of rebirth and the second of my attendance. I learned of it from my now boyfriend Greg. Last year, I had just met Greg and it was one of our early dates. We dressed all steampunky (or as steampunk as I could get at the time) and had our pictures taken by a few people. This year, there seemed to be many more people in attendance. Greg and I dressed as members of the Motor City Jetpack Brigade (Greg's invention, I think), and had our picture taken dozens and dozens of times! There were definitely more photographers milling about this year because the cameras I saw were pretty high quality.

Last year, the Nain was dressed in a red suit with red boots, just as described in legend. This year he was attired in a nice suit with a red tie and claimed to be the new Emergency Manager, a post that the governor of Michigan has invented to destroy democracy in the state of Michigan. (This is a real thing. EMs were not made up for the parade.) Banishing the Nain took very little time as compared to last year, and the festivities took place inside the impressively large (the largest int he world) Masonic Temple. Greg and I didn't participate in this part as I was hungry and hot and needed water badly. The weather was much more pleasant than last year (which was chilly and windy), but I was not dressed for that kind of heat to be perfectly honest.

Metromix Detroit was out taking photos and compiled a slideshow on their website. Plenty of other photos are available if you a search for the marche, as well.

If you find yourself in the Detroit region next year around the beginning of Spring, come on down Le Marche. It's worth it just to see all the great costumes people come up with! And you'll be a part of history.  


  1. I think that nain really means "dwarf", not "gnome". A gnome is a nain, but only because a gnome is a dwarf! I think the closest translation for "gnome" is, disappointingly enough, gnome (masculine; pronounced like the English, except that the <g> is not silent).

    1. Thanks! I speculate that people shy away from "dwarf" (at least online; the marche uses "dwarf") due to the modern age usage of the term "dwarf" to mean a little person, not a mythical creature. I assume "nain" is exclusively in the mythical sense?

    2. Oddly enough, no: theoriginal sense of nain was "little person", and though that sense is no longer used in medicine or formal writing, it's still found in everyday speech. (The form nanisme is still used by doctors, though. So I think it's basically like English, where a doctor might speak of "dwarfism" but probably not of "a dwarf", for P.C. reasons. It's also like English in that non-literal uses of nain are considered O.K.; for example, in astronomy, where we use "red dwarf", the French use naine rouge.)