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Peoples of the {Pacific Northwest Coast

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Surveys the cultures of the Pacific Northwest

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Peoples of the {Pacific Northwest Coast

  1. 1. Northwest Coast Indians Kwakiutl, Haida, and their Neighbors
  2. 2. Location of the Northwest Coast <ul><li>Native peoples ranged from N. Oregon through British Columbia and Southern Alaska </li></ul><ul><li>Best Known: </li></ul><ul><li>Kwakiutl (“Kwagiutl”) of Vancouver Island </li></ul><ul><li>Haida of the Queen Charlotte Islands </li></ul><ul><li>Tlingit of Southern Alaska </li></ul><ul><li>Others: Salish, Nootka, Bella Coola, Tsimshian </li></ul>
  3. 3. Northwest Coast Natives as Complex Foragers <ul><li>Simple foragers retain a relatively simple society </li></ul><ul><li>What if, however, you can yield large amounts of food without agriculture? </li></ul><ul><li>This is what we find in the Northwest Coast </li></ul><ul><li>There were regular salmon and candlefish runs </li></ul><ul><li>They could be preserved by smoking (salmon) or rendering (oil) </li></ul><ul><li>There were other abundant food sources </li></ul><ul><li>They were complex foragers </li></ul>
  4. 4. Complex Foraging: Primary Characteristics <ul><li>Food source dependence is still direct </li></ul><ul><li>Food sources now are richer </li></ul><ul><li>Big game in Old and New World Pleistocene </li></ul><ul><li>Contemporary example: Salmon complex in NW Coast societies </li></ul><ul><li>Variance still occurs by season and location </li></ul><ul><li>Carrying capacity is higher </li></ul><ul><li>Minimum specified in Liebig’s Law is higher </li></ul><ul><li>But sources can fluctuate by year, season, and location </li></ul>
  5. 5. Complex Foraging: Derived Characteristics <ul><li>Sedentary communities </li></ul><ul><li>Depend on stability and richness of resources </li></ul><ul><li>Need not rely only on domestication </li></ul><ul><li>Assemblage of Tools and Artifacts </li></ul><ul><li>Multiply in number </li></ul><ul><li>Multiply in type (specialization) </li></ul><ul><li>Populations increase </li></ul><ul><li>Societies become more complex </li></ul><ul><li>This analysis applied to Northwest Coast peoples </li></ul>
  6. 6. Subsistence Base of Northwest Coast <ul><li>Salmon, caught in their annual runs upstream, were preserved by smoking </li></ul><ul><li>Candlefish (olachen), a greasy fish whose oils provide heat, light, and cooking </li></ul><ul><li>Other fish, such as cod and halibut </li></ul><ul><li>Sea mammals, such as otter, seals, and (among the Nootka) whales </li></ul><ul><li>Land mammals, such as deer, elk, bear, and caribou (northern regions) </li></ul><ul><li>Berries, pine nuts, roots, and greens in season. </li></ul>
  7. 7. Salmon: The Staple Source <ul><li>Every fall, salmons run up the major rivers to spawn, then return to the sea </li></ul><ul><li>Using nets and weirs (fish traps), the fishers catch prodigious amounts of salmon </li></ul><ul><li>The salmon are sliced in half, put on racks to dry in smokehouses and sheds </li></ul><ul><li>The salmon will keep during the winter </li></ul>
  8. 8. Candlefish (Olachan) <ul><li>Candlefish are very oily fish; it is said that a dried candlefish can burn like a candle when lit </li></ul><ul><li>Runs began in the early spring and were caught by nets </li></ul><ul><li>Their oil was rendered and stored in leakproof wooden bins </li></ul><ul><li>The oil provides heat and light </li></ul><ul><li>It is also used as a preservative </li></ul><ul><li>Oil was a valuable trade item </li></ul>
  9. 9. Other Food Sources <ul><li>During the spring and summer, other fish were obtained by net </li></ul><ul><li>The Nootka hunted whales in large seagoing canoes; other northwest coast Indians relied on beached whales </li></ul><ul><li>Game was hunted inland, exploited for meat but especially for hides </li></ul><ul><li>Berries, roots, seeds, and nuts were picked in season </li></ul>
  10. 10. Winter Activities <ul><li>Some hunting took place during the winter </li></ul><ul><li>Most activities were confined in the villages </li></ul><ul><li>This was the period of feasting (assuming substantial yield in the preceding summer) </li></ul><ul><li>Potlatches (major feasts) marking important events were held at that time </li></ul>
  11. 11. Scarcity and Fluctuating Resources <ul><li>Not all rivers supported salmon or olachan runs. </li></ul><ul><li>Many areas were short of other resources </li></ul><ul><li>They could vary seasonally </li></ul><ul><li>Result: not all years were abundant and some groups might help others in time of need </li></ul><ul><li>This was also the cause of warfare, and competition for resource-rich areas was common </li></ul>
  12. 12. Woodcraft <ul><li>The Northwest Coast Indians were expert woodcrafters—carvers and builders </li></ul><ul><li>The region is densely forested and wood is in plentiful supply </li></ul><ul><li>Products: seagoing canoes, longhouses, “totem poles” (signifying the lineage and clans), decorated boxes, and many more (upper left) </li></ul><ul><li>They were also expert in carving on stone, ivory, and bone. </li></ul><ul><li>The thunderbird was a perennial totemic symbol among the Kwakiutl (lower left) </li></ul>
  13. 13. Social Organization: Kwakiutl <ul><li>Social organization varied by location </li></ul><ul><li>The Kwakiutl lived on east Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland of British Columbis </li></ul><ul><li>The Kwakiutl were organized by patrilineal groups known as numaym </li></ul><ul><li>They could be flexible and valuables could be inherited through females or obtain through marriage </li></ul><ul><li>Thus numaym had bilateral attributes and were often flexible </li></ul>
  14. 14. Social Organization: Northern Groups <ul><li>The northern chiefdoms included the: </li></ul><ul><li>Haida on the Queen Charlotte Islands </li></ul><ul><li>Tsimshian in northern British Columbia, and </li></ul><ul><li>Tlingit of Southern Alaska </li></ul><ul><li>They were organized into matrilineages </li></ul><ul><li>Descent was traced through the females </li></ul><ul><li>Their social organization was much more rigid than the Kwakiutl </li></ul>
  15. 15. Five Levels of Social Organization <ul><li>Family: nuclear families of father, mother, and children </li></ul><ul><li>House group: units residing in a common house </li></ul><ul><li>Lineages: varied by tribe—matrilineal, patrilineal, and sometime bilaterally </li></ul><ul><li>Villages: basic political units, led by a chief </li></ul><ul><li>Supravillage “intergroup collectivities”: alliances based on common concerns—warfare, resource control, ceremonial exchange </li></ul>
  16. 16. Family Households <ul><li>The family unit is the smallest unit among all Northwest Coast societies </li></ul><ul><li>Most foraging, production of tools and clothing, and basic activities are carried out through the family </li></ul><ul><li>They act individually during summer foraging </li></ul>
  17. 17. House Groups <ul><li>Communal functions centered around the multifamily house, a large wooden structure or set of wooden structures </li></ul><ul><li>Many functions were conducted at that level: drying and smoking salmon, maintaining and using fishing equipment, rendering oil, making and maintaining canoes </li></ul><ul><li>Labor and products contributed to the local chief were mobilized by the house group </li></ul>
  18. 18. Productive Activities of House Group <ul><li>Women formed the productive unit in the house group </li></ul><ul><li>They cared for children, made the clothing, smoked the salmon, rendered the oil, and kept the stores of blankets, clothing, and later money </li></ul><ul><li>Men’s work: toolmaker, carver of wood posts and so-called totem poles, builder of canoes, and all else involving construction, carving, and ornaments </li></ul>
  19. 19. Women and House Group <ul><li>Women’s role in drying salmon, base of both subsistence and luxury wealth, gave them a great deal of power </li></ul><ul><li>The importance of women contributed to the matrilineal and matrilocal structure of the northern groups </li></ul><ul><li>It also may have contributed toward the bilateral bias of the Kwakiutl numaym. </li></ul><ul><li>Women of high class often owned the house and sponsored potlatches in their own right </li></ul>
  20. 20. Lineages and Clans <ul><li>The Kwakiutl numaym or numaymna was used as a gloss to refer to the clans and lineages of all societies </li></ul><ul><li>A single lineage might dominate a village, with all members as co-owners </li></ul><ul><li>Lineage membership is flexible, and one could join two or more lineages </li></ul><ul><li>Lineages could also extend across village boundaries </li></ul><ul><li>Served to facilitate trade and ceremonial relationships between village </li></ul><ul><li>Also served to mitigate warfare </li></ul>
  21. 21. Village and Chiefdoms: Role of the Chief 1 <ul><li>Villages regulated the affairs and resources in the village </li></ul><ul><li>Chiefs retained influence and sometimes control over the resources of the house group </li></ul><ul><li>Organized a complex economy with his own specialists and large scale capital </li></ul><ul><li>Organized the construction of dams, weirs, and defensive structures </li></ul><ul><li>Regulated the use of the salmon fisheries to prevent overuse and depletion of salmon </li></ul>
  22. 22. Village and Chiefdoms: Role of the Chief 2 <ul><li>Maintains storehouses to support specialists, pay debts, make loans, and other functions </li></ul><ul><li>Requires the Native version of taxation: a successful fisher or hunter must give one-fifth to one half of his catch to the chief </li></ul><ul><li>In return, the chief provides for the common needs of the community—like feasts—and to pay his specialists. </li></ul><ul><li>Finally, he sponsors large, interregional ceremonies, such as the potlatch </li></ul>
  23. 23. Village: Big Man or Chief? <ul><li>The book argues that a big man dominated the village polity </li></ul><ul><li>The authors’ reasoning: the chief relies on group of loyal followers, whose loyalty is not assured. </li></ul><ul><li>Problem with the analysis: the chief has an established rule of succession </li></ul><ul><li>It is a system of permanent positions that must be filled. </li></ul><ul><li>It is a ranked society divided between elite, commoners, and slaves </li></ul><ul><li>This is not like the big man of New Guinea, which is subject to competition from other big men in the tribe </li></ul><ul><li>For this reason, we use “Chief” rather than Big Man. </li></ul>
  24. 24. Defining the Potlatch <ul><li>Refers to ceremonies in which an important event was celebrated </li></ul><ul><li>Occasions: the installment of a new chief, the naming ceremonies, the announcement of a new heir </li></ul><ul><li>Prior to the epidemics, the ceremony was simply to celebrate an important event </li></ul><ul><li>It brought several tribes together </li></ul><ul><li>There were several ritual dances in the first part of the ceremony </li></ul><ul><li>Then the chief would arise and give a speech </li></ul><ul><li>The gifts were then distributed, the value matching the rank of the recipient </li></ul><ul><li>The guests then arose and acknowledged the performance of the host chief </li></ul>
  25. 25. Rivalry Potlatch: Epidemics <ul><li>What Johnson and Earle describe is the rivalry potlatch </li></ul><ul><li>Like other indigenous populations, diseases were introduced against which they had no immunity </li></ul><ul><li>Indications are that the population declined by up to 90% in the nineteenth century </li></ul><ul><li>For the Kwakiutl, the population declined from 3500 in 1853 to 1345 for 1903 </li></ul><ul><li>In any case, there were far more titles than for people to assume them </li></ul><ul><li>Some were more valued than others, and those were the object of competition </li></ul>
  26. 26. Rival Potlatch: Increased Competitiveness <ul><li>As disease spread, the successors were wiped out </li></ul><ul><li>As a result, it was not clear who should be the next chief or to inherit the most valued title </li></ul><ul><li>To prove their worth, each chief competed by giving a large gift—stacks of blankets, copper plates, even slaves—to his rival </li></ul><ul><li>The rival could not refuse these gifts, but had to return larger amounts as “interest” </li></ul><ul><li>Either the rival did so, or he would be “crushed,” ceding the contest to the challenger </li></ul><ul><li>Because of the unrest they caused, Canadian authorities outlawed the potlatch </li></ul>
  27. 27. Conclusion <ul><li>It is a myth that the potlatch described in the book always existed, long before the traders </li></ul><ul><li>Drucker points out that the potlatch was one way to cement intervillage relations </li></ul><ul><li>It served to expand trade and mimimize warfare </li></ul><ul><li>It is one example of how a chiefdom could develop on a subsistence system based on fishing and hunting—and not on agriculture </li></ul>

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