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The Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw Tell Us the Land Was Weird Before We Weirded the Land

“Preparing to eat the mummy.”

The first documented contact with Westerners was in 1792 during the expedition led by English officer Captain George Vancouver and was soon followed by colonies of Europeans settling on Canada’s West Coast. As was often the way, with settlers came disease and the Kwakwaka’wakw population dropped by up to 75% between 1830 and 1880. Their distinctive ideas about wealth — that status came not from how much you owned but how much you were able to give away — came to the particular attention of the US anthropologist Franz Boas, who wrote extensively on their elaborate gift-giving ceremonies known as “potlach”. The ceremonial practice was also a particular target of Christian missionaries who saw it as a major obstacle to their “civilizing” mission, and the Canadian government banned the practice in 1885 (although the act was soon amended, proving impossible to enforce). Edward Curtis’ Photographs of Kwakwaka’wakw Ceremonial Dress and Masks (ca. 1914)

Masque à transformation Kwakwaka’wakw

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • pbird June 15, 2018, 11:04 AM

    Ah. My old neighbors!

  • Doug June 15, 2018, 12:23 PM

    They didn’t stumble on the idea of giving away other people’s wealth until they met the Marxist explorers. By then, it was too late.

  • ghostsniper June 15, 2018, 12:53 PM

    Even back then the socialists were insane.
    Off with their nutz!

  • Mike G. June 15, 2018, 2:47 PM

    So now we know where the term “pot luck” came from?

  • Howard Nelson June 15, 2018, 8:38 PM

    The K People, put (voluntary) philanthropy above personal gluttony. How savage of them! Humanitarian primitives; how quaint!
    To show how much we care, let’s destroy them with our civilized diseases for their benefit.

  • pbird June 16, 2018, 7:53 AM

    My favorite bumper sticker out on the Res said “Marry an Indian, there aren’t enough Indians”. I thought that was rather friendly and inclusive of the Tribe.

  • JiminAlaska June 16, 2018, 9:47 AM

    Frankly I know nothing about the Kwakwaka’wakw but I suspect they were much like our Alaskan Tlingits and Haidas, revers, vikings, raiding as far south as California.

  • pbird June 16, 2018, 4:11 PM

    I think that is the case JiminAlaska. Our coastal Indians also traded and raided and pestered the inland tribes here in WA and elsewhere.

  • TWS June 18, 2018, 10:09 AM

    The bottom guy is a member of an actual cannibal cult. The tribe has changed a bit since then.