Chiefly Feasts: The Enduring Kwakiutl Potlatch

Aldona Jonaitis, Editor University of Washington Press $70 (300p) ISBN 978-0-295-97114-8
This striking catalogue accompanies a traveling exhibition of boldly designed Kwakiutl ceremonial objects which recently opened at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The potlatch, a festive gathering marked by the lavish distribution of gifts to guests as a sign of the host's status, is central in the tradition of the Kwakiutl of Vancouver Island and the mainland opposite. Ritualistic simulated cannibalism was a feature of some potlatches, which led to the Canadian government's outlawing of the ceremony in 1884. The Kwakiutl continued to potlatch furtively until the ban was rescinded in 1951. Dramatic masks, symbolic wall paintings, headdresses, feast dishes and blankets are among the objects reproduced, together with archival and contemporary photographs attesting to the persistence of the potlatch tradition. Essays by scholars discuss Kwakiutl ritual dance, analyze the social significance of potlatch and reveal how anthropologist Franz Boas, the museum's curator from 1895 to 1905, acquired a wealth of potlatch objects with the help of his chief informant, George Hunt, a half-English, half-Tlingit Native anthropologist who was raised in a Kwakiutl village. Jonaitis is author of Art of the Northern Tlingit. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 09/02/1991
Release date: 09/01/1991
Paperback - 300 pages - 978-0-295-97115-5
Hardcover - 300 pages - 978-0-295-70673-3
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