Lecture: Potlatch: a Native American tradition: Narrator: Listen to part of a lecture in an anthropology class. The professor has been discussing a Native American tradition called the potlatch. Professor: So when we ended our last class, we just started to look at the tradition of the potlatch. Can anyone remind us what that is? Student: Well, it was a Native American event of one group. The host of the potlatch give away food, blankets, copper, or other items of alue to their guests in substantial quantities. Professor: And? Student: In return, the host group got prestige and honor, which, well basically the higher the value of the goods, the more honor they got. Professor: Precisely. Thanks. Now we originally viewed the function of the potlatch as being social ceremonial. Why? Because during the potlatch, important events were commemorated. For example the naming of a child, or a marriage, or the introduction of a new leader. However, recent research has shown that that's not the complete picture. Another major function of the potlatch was actually conflict management. So let's consider some features of the potlatch that made it an effective means of preventing conflict. Take the Tlingit people for example. The Tlingit inhabited the northwest coast of North America, and were one of many Native American groups there that held potlatches. First of all, at least three clans were required to be present at all playing potlatches. The host clan and two guest clans. The visiting clan acted as witnesses to societal changes in the host clan. For the host clan, it was a public acknowledgment and a public record of these changes that went beyond the authority of an individual clan. This helped prevent conflict within the host clan because its members were accountable to the other clans. Secondly, roles in the potlatch were predetermined. Like, the spokesperson for the potlatch was the chief of the host clan. The chief decided such things as the order of the songs and dances performed and also the order of the speakers. Another key role was played by the chief's brothers-in-law. They served as mediators for any problems that arose between the clans during potlatches. And this was certainly effective because the brothers-in-law were tied to more than one clan by marriage. Student: So they had an understanding of and a personal investment in both sides. Professor: That's right. Now, a third way potlatches prevented conflict was the redistribution of wealth as a result of the one-sided giftgiving. A clan that was doing particularly well could afford to share its resources. It hosted the potlatch and the guest clans receive the resources. Now when fortunes changes when another clan had a good year, they would host and the wealth would flow in a different direction. Another important point is that there was no private ownership of community buildings in Tlingit society. Community buildings were built by members of other clans and payment to the builders for their assistance was ceremoniously provided during the potlatch. Student: The individual clans, um, they didn't build their own community houses? Professor: "Weren't allowed to" is a better way to put it. This was established by clans in law, a matter of fact. To me, this is an unusually effective and well thought-out practice, because it conferred two advantages. In fact it encouraged an ongoing alliance that was based on labor and it also guaranteed that no individual within the host lan could claim that they personally owned the houses. Student: Um, Professor, you mentioned that claims became public records at potlatches. How did that work? Professor: That's a really good question. Since Tlingit language did not have a written system, it was only oral. So let's consider the claims to specific properties as an example. These claims were presented in the form of stories, songs, dances or dramas. The information presented in the performance had to be very detailed and accurate to serve as evidence in support of the speaker's authenticity. The performance, well it actually, became the property deed.