The Primitive Mind and Modern Man

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This book is in the field of cultural anthropology and transcultural psychology, and is intended for college courses in anthropology and psychology, and general readership. The book focuses on ...
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Potlatches

Pp. 201-206 (6)

John Alan Cohan

Abstract

The social practice known as potlatches prevails to this day primarily among tribes of the North American Indians and cultures of Melanesia. Potlatches are part of an economic system that is based on compulsory gift-giving. Potlatches are given to display wealth of the host, to distribute gifts to mark a milestone-a funeral, a wedding, initiation, the conferral of a title, the completion of a project, or as a means of addressing grievances or announcing a vendetta. Potlatches involve feasting, dancing, giving of gifts by the host, and selfglorifying speeches by the host and his cohorts. There tends to be a conspicuous display of wealth, and this may involve the destruction of property as a way of validating rank or status. Gifts are such things as cloth, blankets, pots and pans, clocks, sewing machines, tables, shawls, and consumables such as meat, fat and skins. The gifts are supposed to be a demonstration of the excess or abundance that the host has available. Potlatches are analogous to the practice of giving a lavish party is a means of displaying wealth and garnering the admiration (and envy) that it invariably evokes. Potlatches are regarded by the people as crucial to gain prestige in the community.

Affiliation:

Western State Law School USA.