Sociology Index

POTLATCH

Potlatch among some North American Indians of the Pacific coast is an extravagant and competitive ceremonial feast during which a person or a chief, gives presents and also gives away or destroys possessions in order to enhance his or her class and social status.

Potlatch is a traditioal custom of the First Nations peoples of the Pacific north-west coast, where a ceremonial period of feasting included lavish giving away, and also destruction, of goods and property.

Potlatch is a feast marked by distribution and destruction of valuables, as a demonstration of wealth and status, characteristic of the Kwakiutl and some other Northwest Coast Indians.

Those who gave away or destroyed the most property during Potlatch Feast earned the greatest social prestige. Anthropologists have described the ceremonies as a form of ‘war with property’.

The Potlatch also had important elements of economic distribution, social bonding and political processes, all central to the maintenance of a society. The potlatch ceremonies of Native Americans were a form of barter that had social and ceremonial functions that were at least as important as its economic functions.

Consequently when the potlatch was outlawed in Canada (by an act that was later repealed) some of the most powerful work incentives were removed - to the detriment of the younger sections of the Indian communities.