Wednesday, June 22, 2011

MyWorld Tuesday ~ Potlatching

If you are reading this blog from most recent backwards you might want to go back two posts to fully appreciate this post. 
Smiles Carolyn
 Chiefs waiting for the procession of chiefs to begin at the potlatch.
After the raising of the totem pole everyone is invited to come to the potlatch where the business is carried out.  The carvers will be "paid",  adoptions will be held, and any other business that requires witnessing.  For those who stay for the potlatch there will also be payment for witnessing. 
 I was serving at the feast which lasted six hours, so my pictures were catch-as-catch-can.   This chief is wearing a Chilcat blanket with an eagle headdress.  The spiny things sticking out of the headdress are sealion whiskers and it is where eagle down is placed when the chiefs do the welcome dance.  If you get eagle down on you it will bring you luck.  This is also an eagle chief in Skidegate. There has been animosity between the two eagle clans and Chief Wiigaanad made it his business to make peace between the two at this potlatch.  Traditionally, each village would have one eagle chief and one raven chief however after the smallpox devastated the Haida villages in the 1860's the remaining individuals where brought to either Skidegate in the south end or Old Masset at the north end of the Islands so now there are often multiple eagle or raven chiefs in the villages.  I am sorry I can not spell his name so I will not try!
Each chief is announced and takes their place at the head table in order of importance to the hosting chief.
 Ladies-held-in-High-Esteem, Chiefs and Guests are welcomed to the feast by an opening prayer and dancing which is presented by Haida of all ages.  The large standing box at centre back and the smaller one to the right are cedar drums.
 Several dance groups accepted their invitations to come and dance for Chief Wiigaanad.  These are the Vancouver Rainbow dancers.
 The regalia at the potlatches is more beautiful each time I attend.  This photo I did not use the flash so it is digitally enhanced which is why it is grainy.  This is a very elaborate design and the only thing I recognize is the dogfish which is the small fish in the design.
 As I mentioned I served at the potlatch.  There were over six hundred people present and two people served each table.  This is my table, absolutely dead centre of the head table.  You are asked to bring your own dishes and cutlery to a potlatch however there are paper plates if you forget or are a visitor. 
 Potlatches consist of singing, dancing, speeches and eating in no particular order lasting upwards of eight hours.  This was the dancing of a new carved mask.  It is a dogfish.  A dogfish is a type of shark.
 Potlatches are times when adoptions are held, it could be a non Haida who has married a Haida, it may be someone who has contributed to the well being of the Haida Nation i.e. David Suzuki or the well being of the Island community i.e. a nurse or a doctor.  Once the new adoptees are given their Haida name which they must pronounce three times in public they must dance their name.  That is what is happening here.
 This is the Chiefs' Welcome dance.
 Finally it was time to eat.  When you sit down at your table it is usually around 3 or 4 p.m. there are always nibblies on the tables, things like "gow" (herring roe on kelp) and before you go "eewwwuu" it is quite delicious and one of my favourites, crunchy and a little salty, dried seaweed which we eat like potato chips, dried halibut and smoked salmon.  Then everyone is served a fish chowder made with halibut, salmon and prawns or a venison stew around 6 p.m.
And then the main course is served around 8 p.m.  This is all from the waters of Haida Gwaii.  If you  don't like seafood there is more venison stew! 
Salmon, smoked salmon, halibut, prawns, black cod, octopus, dungeness crab legs, crab cakes and gow.
 After supper there are more speeches...this is the Mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson and his wife Amy presenting Chief Wigaanad with a basket she wove.
 Clan song...  
 New masks must be danced to bring life to them....
 I do not know who this is supposed to be....it is a woman as there is a labaret in the mouth and she has an extraordinary number of breasts!
 Chief Wigaanad spent a lot of time thanking others, now was the time for him and Cindy to accept the gratitude of his people...it was very emotional.
 As I mentioned in the previous post, "coppers" are a form of currency for chiefs along the coast.  Both to give and to recieve a copper is a huge honour.  Here Sid is honouring his Uncle who named him to be chief rather than his older brother.  In all, Chief Wigaanad gave away three coppers. 
 And like everything else, they must be danced!  Heaven help you if you lose something at a potlatch and have to retrieve it from the master of ceremonies because you will have to dance it when you retrieve it!
This is the "blanket dance" for Matt, the nurse who was hurt at the pole raising earlier in the day.  The drums beat, the singers sing and you dance your money to the blanket....$2,000 was raised in five minutes!
An update on Matt, his injuries included a broken shoulder/collar bone, broken wrist, three broken ribs and a punctured lung.  He spent three days in Vancouver and is now recovering at his home in Queen Charlotte.  It will take four to six months for his injuries to mend and for him to be back to work.  Beside the money collected the night of the potlatch a $10,000 Bingo was held with the proceeds going to Matt and his family.  Matt has been very humble and Syd and Cindy visit him weekly.  Unlike elsewhere in the world there is no ill will and no law suits!

For other great places from around the world why not join us at

9 comments:

Linda said...

What an enthralling post, Carolyn! You documented it really well despite your serving duties. And what a surprise to see a kilt popping up in the middle!
Incidentally, 'gow' is the Scots word for seagull.

Gaelyn said...

Thank you for continuing to post this moving experience. Glad to hear Matt will recover. This seems like a Really strong community to be part of.

Clytie said...

What a wonderful post. My world just got a bit larger and kinder!

I really love the dances, the colors, the yummy looking food ... my favorite I think is the little guy with the drum.

Thank you for this wonderful post!

Kay said...

Loved your narrative of the potlatch. Are you Haida yourself? You certainly have a lot of knowledge on their culture. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about it all and seeing the photos of Erica. Thank you.

Janie said...

Great photos and description of the traditions. This is all so unique to your island, and it's wonderful that the traditions are maintained to this day.

India said...

I really enjoyed reading about the Pole Raising and Potlatching.So very interesting to me and something so outside my realm of knowledge. Thank you for educating me on such a wonderful custom and about your community.

Patricia Lichen said...

Thanks for both the photos and the commentary! I also appreciate your final comment about the lack of a law suit--especially since I'm still disgusted by a woman who sued my church when she fell down the stairs (she could have held onto the railings available on either side).

Wonderful to see how the community rallies to support Matt.

Pierre BOYER said...

It looks great !
I woulded like to be there and share this...
Regards from France,

Pierre

Marion said...

Oh my, Carolyn! I was completely enthralled with this post! I have sent the link to my daughter, a teacher. She says she will use this often, for the photos and the explanations, in order to understand the First Nations students she has in her classes so much better. This should be published somewhere...it's truly awesome.

I'm so glad Matt is ok. And the food...oh,oh,oh...I wish I had been there. I've been to one potlatch and the food is always the best I've ever had!

Thanks so much for this! xx

LinkWithin

Blog Widget by LinkWithin