Fighting with Property: A Study of Kwakiutl Potlatching and Warfare, 1792-1930

Fighting with Property: A Study of Kwakiutl Potlatching and Warfare, 1792-1930

Fighting with Property: A Study of Kwakiutl Potlatching and Warfare, 1792-1930

Fighting with Property: A Study of Kwakiutl Potlatching and Warfare, 1792-1930

Excerpt

The subject of this study is the cultural history of the Kwakiutl Indians during the period from 1792 to about 1930: 1792 is the date of Vancouver's visit to the Kwakiutl, which is the first known contact of the people with Europeans; a potlatch is recorded for 1936 but data for the past twenty-five years are most inadeguate and 1930 marks a somewhat arbitrary endpoint when they give out. Within this period Kwakiutl culture was in intensive contact with the new European culture and changes occurred which were at once the development of tendencies already present in Kwakiutl life and the result of pressures put upon it by the powerful surrounding culture.

There is an exceptionally large ethnographic literature on the Kwakiutl. Franz Boas, and George Hunt under Boas' direction, recorded what is probably the largest body of textual materials that we possess for the study of any primitive culture, and in addition to this remarkable collection of work materials there are massive studies by Boas of Kwakiutl social organization, ceremonial life, mythology, art and language. Also, there exists a large amount of historical data which has never been used either in its own terms or in relation to the texts, ethnographic reports or analyses of Kwakiutl culture. It is the aim of the present study to utilize both the historical and the cultural materials in order to achieve understanding of the processes at work in Kwakiutl life under the conditions of contact.

Analysis of the historical and cultural data combined reveals a major shift to have taken place in Kwakiutl life during the time it has been known to history. This change was the great increase in the vigor of the potlatch, or the distribution of property out of rivalry for social prestige, and the co-existent decrease and final extinction of warfare and physical violence. The full proof of the occurrence of this change which the Kwakiutl themselves noted as "fighting with property" instead of "fighting with weapons" and the tracing out of the many interrelated factors that caused it to occur are the tasks of this enquiry.

The orientation of this research has been towards an understanding of the Kwakiutl as they were revealed by their history. The manifest causes of historical changes have been exhaustively examined and have required that particular prominence be given to developments in the economic field. In keeping with this approach and with the desire to present the material in the most explicit and uncontroversial way possible, little concern has been given to the "psychology" of the people. Yet it is undeniable that the results of the study, which show the Kwa-

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