Food and the Status Quest: An Interdisciplinary Perspective

By Polly Wiessner; Wulf Schiefenhövel | Go to book overview
Competitive feasts are thus primarily mechanisms for converting surpluses in subsistence economies into wealth and power. As such, I would argue that they probably continued to function at the level of the general populace, in one form or another, right up until the establishment of military power, taxes, and the absolute authority associated with the emergence of state types of organization. With increasing complexity and size of political organisation, competitive feasts probably have become increasingly concentrated and restricted to the elites and their administrators. In the Maya area, for instance, there were two levels of feasting. The highest-ranking members of the political system held feasts among themselves, and they required prospective candidates trying to advance in the political hierarchy to hold more public feasts. The success of the candidates in procuring and organizing supporters, including financial support, was used as an important criterion for determining who would obtain higher political positions. Similar arrangements probably characterized many chiefdoms. Even in contemporary Industrial society, promotion may depend in part on the display of competence and achievement through the holding of business or political dinner feasts with appropriate displays of prestige items and socially accepted self-aggrandizement. To the extent that such dinners or parties are used as criteria for promotion to desirable or powerful positions, they constitute competitive battlegrounds for Triple A personalities, and they can be considered as a special industrial type of competitive feast. On the other hand, the introduction into traditional communities of wage labor and individually run businesses such as village shops has generally been the death knell of the subsistence-based community competitive feasting in the Maya Highlands and elsewhere.
References
Benedict R. 1934. Patterns of culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Boas F. 1897. "The social organization and the secret societies of the Kwakiutl Indians". Report of the U.S. National Museum for 1895. Washington, D.C.
Boas F. 1921. Ethnology of the Kwakiutl, parts I and II. Bureau of American Ethnology 35.
Clarke J. and M. Blake. 1990. The development of early formative ceramics in the Soconusco, Chiapas, Mexico. Paper presented at the

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