Finding happiness in Potlatch

Finding happiness in Potlatch

As many of you would well be aware I enjoy finding happiness, and lessons for happiness in all manner of weird and wonderful places. Two of my top strengths are "love of learning" and "curiosity" so I also love reading and researching which frequently bring me to new and interesting places where it's not hard to make discoveries that might bring more happiness and satisfaction.

Anyway, a month or so ago I was reading about Facebook and it's founder, Mark Zuckerberg. Without going into too many details he mentioned something about which I'd never previously heard. He referred to something known as "potlatch".

Now as is my way, when I come across something unfamiliar I like to learn more so I went to that venerable source of information, Wikipedia, and discovered the following…

A potlatch is a gift-giving festival and primary economic system practiced by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast…

…at potlatch gatherings, a family or hereditary leader hosts guests in their family's house and holds a feast for their guests. The main purpose of the potlatch is the re-distribution and reciprocity of wealth.

Different events take place during a potlatch, like singing and dancing, sometimes with masks or regalia, such as Chilkat blankets, the barter of wealth through gifts, such as dried foods, sugar, flour, or other material things, and sometimes money. For many potlatches, spiritual ceremonies take place for different occasions. This is either through material wealth such as foods and goods or non-material things such as songs and dances. For some cultures, such as Kwakwaka'wakw, elaborate and theatrical dances are performed reflecting the hosts' genealogy and cultural wealth. Many of these dances are also sacred ceremonies of secret societies like the hamatsa, or display of family origin from supernatural creatures such as the dzunukwa. Typically the potlatching is practiced more in the winter seasons as historically the warmer months were for procuring wealth for the family, clan, or village, then coming home and sharing that with neighbors and friends.

Within it, hierarchical relations within and between clans, villages, and nations, are observed and reinforced through the distribution or sometimes destruction of wealth, dance performances, and other ceremonies. The status of any given family is raised not by who has the most resources, but by who distributes the most resources. The hosts demonstrate their wealth and prominence through giving away goods. Chief O'wax_a_laga_lis of the Kwagu'l describes the potlatch in his famous speech to anthropologist Franz Boas,

"We will dance when our laws command us to dance, and we will feast when our hearts desire to feast. Do we ask the white man, 'Do as the Indian does?' It is a strict law that bids us dance. It is a strict law that bids us distribute our property among our friends and neighbors. It is a good law. Let the white man observe his law; we shall observe ours. And now, if you come to forbid us dance, be gone. If not, you will be welcome to us."

Celebration of births, rites of passages, weddings, funerals, namings, and honoring of the deceased are some of the many forms the potlatch occurs under. Although protocol differs among the Indigenous nations, the potlatch will usually involve a feast, with music, dance, theatricality and spiritual ceremonies. The most sacred ceremonies are usually observed in the winter.

It is important to note the differences and uniqueness among the different cultural groups and nations along the coast. Each nation, tribe, and sometimes clan has its own way of practicing the potlatch with diverse presentation and meaning. The potlatch, as an overarching term, is quite general, since some cultures have many words in their language for various specific types of gatherings. Nonetheless, the main purpose has been and still is the redistribution of wealth procured by families.

You can read more HERE

But in short, what I find fascinating about this concept is the combination of celebration, dance, interpersonal interaction and…the redistribution and reciprocity of wealth!

Does anyone else think this might produce more or contribute to more happiness?

Let us know what you think on our Facebook Page HERE : )