Skip to main content
×
Home
    • Aa
    • Aa

“It Is a Strict Law That Bids Us Dance”: Cosmologies, Colonialism, Death, and Ritual Authority in the Kwakwaka'wakw Potlatch, 1849 to 1922

  • Joseph Masco (a1)
Abstract

In the century since Franz Boas began his field work on the Northwest Coast, the Kwakwaka'wakw1 potlatch has proved irresistible to the anthropological imagination. It has been variously interpreted as an interest-bearing investment of property (Boas 1897), as a demonstration of a paranoid, megalomaniacal personality (Benedict 1934), as a substitution for warfare (Codere 1950), as a means of distributing food (Piddcocke 1965; Vayda 1961), as a phenomenon of social morphology (Levi-Strauss 1969; Rosman and Rubel 1971), and as a religious event (Goldman 1975; Walens 1981). Indeed, an intellectual history of anthropology can now be written simply by examining how the Kwakwaka'wakw potlatch has served the various theoretical schools (see Michaelson 1979). If anything unites such disparate accounts, however, I suggest it is an underestimation of the impact of European colonization on Kwakwaka'wakw society.2 Our understanding of the nineteenth-century potlatch has been limited by a tendency to exclude Kwakwaka'wakw cosmology from the colonial power dynamic. This study contributes, then, to the longrunning, and at times vociferous, scholarly discourse on the potlatch by focusing directly on the cultural repercussions of the colonial experience. Consequently, it is not an analysis simply of the funding or logistics of exchange: This essay attempts to situate the cosmologies behind the gift in their changing historical context in order to assess the socio-cultural impact of the colonial encounter on native systems of belief.

Copyright
References
Hide All
Adams John W. 1984. “Review of Feasting With Cannibals by Stanley Walens.” Ethnohistory, 31:3, 215–7.
Anderson Benedict. 1983. Imagined Communities: Reflections of the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso.
Appadurai Arjun. 1986. “Introduction: Commodities and the Politics of Value,” in Appadurai Arjun, ed., The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Assu Harry; with Joy Inglis. 1989. Assu of Cape Mudge: Recollections of a Coastal Indian Chief. Vancouver: University of British Columbian Press.
Barbeau Marius. 1950. Totem Poles (Anthropological Series 30), 2 vols. National Museum of Canada Bulletin 119. Ottawa.
Barnett Homer G. 1968. The Nature and Function of the Potlatch. Eugene: Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon.
Benedict Ruth. 1934. Patterns of Culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Benjamin Walter. 1968. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Arendt Hannah, ed., Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books.
Bloch Maurice. 1986. From Blessing to Violence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bloch Maurice; and Parry Jonathan, eds. 1982. Death and the Regeneration of Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Boas Franz. 1897. The Social Organization and Secret Societies of the Kwakiutl. United States National Museum, Report for 1895, 311738 Reprinted by Johnson Reprinting Corporation in 1970.
Boas Franz. 1921. Ethnology of the Kwakiutl, Bureau of American Ethnology, Thirty-FifthAnnual Report, Pts. 1 and 2. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Boas Franz. 1925. Contributions to the Ethnology of the Kwakiutl (Columbia Universit to Anthropology), vol. 3. New York: Columbia University Press.
Boas Franz. 1930. The Religion of the Kwakiutl Indians (Columbia University Contribu tions to Anthropology), vol. 10. New York: Columbia University Press.
Boas Franz. 1932. “Current Beliefs of the Kwakiutl Indians.” Journal of American Folk lore, 45:45, 176–260
Boas Franz. 1935. Kwakiutl Culture as Reflected in Mythology. (American Folklore Society, Memoirs), 28. New York: G. E. Stechert.
Boas Franz. 1966. Kwakiutl Ethnography, Helen Codere. ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Boas, Franz; and George Hunt. 1905. Kwakiutl Texts (Memoir of the American Museum of Natural History), vol. 5. Publication of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition, Vol. 3. New York.
Boelscher Marianne. 1988. The Curtain Within. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
Bourdieu Pierre. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Boyd Robert. 1990. “Demographic History, 1774–1874” in Handbook of the North American Indian, vol 7, Suttles Wayne, ed. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institutlon Press.
Bruner Edward. 1986. “Ethnography as Nanative,” in Turner Victor and Bruner Edward, eds., The Anthropology of Experience. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Clifford James. 1991. “Four Northwest Coast Museums: Travel Reflections,” in IvanKarp and Lavine Steven D., eds., Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics ofMuseum Display. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution.
Codere Helen. 1950. Fighting with Property: A Study of Kwakiutl Potlatching and Warfare, 1792–1939 (Monographs of the American Ethnological Society), 28. New York.
Codere Helen. 1961. “Kwakiutl” In Perspectives in American Indian Culture Change, Spicer E. S., ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Cole Douglas; and Chaikin Ira. 1990. An Iron Hand Upon The People: The Law Against the Potlatch on the Northwest Coast. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Comaroff Jean. 1985. Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Curtis Edward S. 1915. The North American Indian, 10 (Kwakiutl). New York: Johnson Reprint 1970.
Drucker Philip; and Heizer Robert F.. 1967. To Make My Name Good. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Duff Wilson. 1964. The Impact of the White Man. The Indian History of British Columbia, 1. Anthropology in British Columbia, Memoir No. 5. Victoria: Provincial Museum of British Columbia.
Robin Fisher. 1977. Contact and Conflict: Indian-European Relations in BritishColumbia, 1774–1890. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
Ford Clellan S. 1941. Smoke from Their Fires. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Gadamer Hans. 1979. “The Problem of Historical Consciousness,” in Rabinowand Paul and Sullivan William, eds. Interpretive Social Science: A Reader, 103–62. Berke ley: University of California Press.
Gilman Sander. 1987. “AIDS and Syphilis: The Iconography of Disease,” in DouglasCrimp, ed., AIDS: Cultural Analysis, Cultural Activism. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Goldman Irving. 1975. The Mouth of Heaven: An Introduction to Kwakiutl Religious Thought. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
Goldman Irving. 1983. “Review of Feasting With Cannibals by Stanley Walens”. American Ethnologist, 10:3, 615–6.
Gough Barry M. 1984. Gunboat Frontier: British Maritime Authority and the North west Coast Indians, 1946–90. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
Halliday W. M. 1935. Potlatch and Totem. London: J. M. Dent and Sons LTD.
Holm Bill. 1976. “Review of The Mouth of Heaven by Irving Goldman”. Ethnohis tory, 23:1, 7274.
Holm Bill. 1977. “Traditional and Contemporary Kwakiutl Winter Dance”. Arctic Anthropology, 14:1, 524.
Holm Bill. 1983. Smoky-Top: The Art and Times of Willie Seaweed. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Jacobsen Johan Adrian. 1977. Alaskan Voyage, 1881–1883: An Expedition to the Northwest Coast of America, Gunther Erna, trans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Jensen Doreen; and Sargent Polly. 1986. Robes of Power: Totem Poles on Cloth.Museum Note No. 17. Vancouver: The University of British Columbia Press in association with the UBC Museum of Anthropology.
Jonaitis Aldonia, ed. 1991. Chiefly Feasts: The Enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Kan Sergei. 1989. Symbolic Immortality: The Tlingit Potlatch of the Nineteenth Century Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.
LaViolette Forrest. 1961. The Struggle of Survival: Indian Cultures and the Protestant Ethic in British Columbia. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Lévi-Strauss Claude. 1969. Elementary Structures of Kinship. Boston: Beacon Press.
Mac Lean Bruce. 1983. The Reduction of Kwakiutl Symbolic Activity Subsequent to European Colonization, New York: Ph.D. Disser., Department of Political andSocial Science, New School For Social Research.
Machair Peter. 1986. “From Kwakiutl to Kwakwaka'wakw,” in Morrison R. Bruce and Wilson C. Roderick, eds., Native Peoples: The Canadian Experience. Toronto: McCelland and Stewart.
Mauss Marcel. 1954 [1925]. The Gift, Ian Cunnison, trans. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.
Michaelson David R. 1979. From Ethnography to Ethnology: A Study of the Conflict of Interpretations of the Southern Kwakiutl Potlatch. New York: Ph.D. Disser.., Department of Political and Social Science, The New School for Social Research.
Jay Miller. 1984. “Tsimshian Religion in Historical Perspective: Shamans, Prophets, and Christ,” in Miller Jay and Eastman Carol, eds., The Tsimshian and Their Neighbors of the North Pacific Coast. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Parry J.; and Bloch M., ed. 1989. Money and the Morality of Exchange. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Piddocke Stuart. 1965. “The Potlatch System of the Southern Kwakiutl: A New Perspective”. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 21:3, 244–64.
Powers William K. 1983. “Review of Feasting with Cannibals by Stanley Walens”. American Anthropologist, 85:1, 203–4.
Quimby George. 1948. “Culture Contact on the Northwest Coast, 1785–1795”. American Anthropologist, 50:2, 247–55.
Reid Susan. 1977. “Review of The Mouth of Heaven by Irving Goldman”. The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 14:4, 448.
Rohner Ronald. 1969. The Ethnography of Franz Boas: Letters and Diaries of Franz Boas Written on the Northwest Coast from 1886–1931. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Rosaldo Renato I. 1984. “Grief and a Headhunter's Rage: On the Cultural force of Emotions,” in Bruner Edward M., ed., Text, Play, and Story: The Construction and Reconstruction of Self and Society. Washington D.C.: The Ame?can Ethnological Society.
Rosman Abraham; and Rubel Paula. 1971. Feasting with Mine Enemy. New York: Columbia University Press.
Sahlins Marshall. 1981. Historical Metaphors and Mythical Realities: Structure in the Early History of the Sandwich Islands Kingdom. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Sewid-Smith Daisy. 1979. Prosecution or Persecution. British Columbia: Nu-YumBaleess Society.
Sewid-Smith Daisy.. 1986. “Kwagiutl Ceremonial Blankets,” in Jensen Doreen and Sargent Polly, Robes of Power: Totem Poles on Cloth. (Museum Note No. 17). Vancouver: The University of British Columbia Press in association with the UBC Museum of Anthropology.
Spradley James P. 1969. Guests Never Leave Hungry. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Suttles Wayne P. 1979. “The Mouth of Heaven and the Kwakiutl Tongue: A Comment on Walens and Goldman”. American Anthropologist, 81:1, 9698.
Tzvetan Todorov. 1984. The Conquest of America: The Question of the Other. New York: Harper and Row Publishers.
Vancouver George. 1984. A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean and Round the World 1791–1795, Lamb W. Kaye, ed., 4 vols. London: The Hakluyt Society.
Vaughan Thomas; and Holm Bill. 1982. Soft Gold: The Fur Trade and Cultural Exchange on the Northwest Coast of America. Portland: Oregon State Historical Society.
Vayda A. P. 1961. “A Re-examination of Northwest Coast Economic Systems”.Transactions of the New York Academy of Science (series II), 23:618–24.
Walens Stanley. 1977. “Review of The Mouth of Heaven by Irving Goldman”. Ameri can Anthropologist, 79:1, 149.
Walens Stanley. 1979. “In the Teeth of the Evidence: A Rejoinder to Suttles”. American Anthropologist, 81:1, 9899.
Walens Stanley. 1981. Feasting with Cannibals: An Essay on Kwakiutl Cosmology. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Walens Stanley. 1992. “Smoke and Minors: New Perspectives on the Critical Discourse of Northwest Coast Indian History and Art”. Unpublished.
Webster Gloria Cranmer. 1990. “The U'mista Cultural Centre”. The Massachusetts Review (Spring/Summer), 132–43.
Webster Gloria Cranmer. 1991. “The Contemporary Potlatch,” in Aldonia Jonaitis, ed., Chiefly Feasts:The Enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Wike Joyce. 1952. “The Role of the Dead in Northwest Coast Culture,” in Tax Sol, ed., Indian Tribes of Aboriginal America: Selected Papers of the 29th InternationalCongress of Americanists. Chicago: University of Chicago.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 22 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 249 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 20th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.