Raven and Crow's Potlatch

A Skagit Raven Tale as told by Eldrbarry

I found this story in a collection entitled Longhouse Legends by Emerson N. Matson. He describes it as a children's story used to entertain adults at a potlatch, and it appears to be a Skagit (Salish) tale from western Washington State. Be sure and read my notes at the end on the custom of the Potlatch in the Pacific coastal peoples.

The Potlatch is an important custom among the nations of the North Pacific coasts, as tribal communities gather to feast and celebrate with singing, dancing and storytelling. The preparations are extensive, often taking a couple of years. The occasion of the Potlatch might be to honor the dead (which required two feasts a year apart), to celebrate a marriage or a birth, or to establish the host's claim to names, rank and privileges. Often the raising of a totem pole or the dedication of a house (which usually housed several extended families) would be the occasion for the feast. Always the Potlatch included lavish gift giving to the guests. In fact, the name "potlatch" comes from the Chinook word for "giving".

There would be special dance masks and costumes, and elaborate ceremonies often lasting for days. There would be much singing and storytelling - the right to tell those stories being considered the property of the host as well. Because of the expense - only ranking wealthy chiefs could afford to host a potlatch - and guests would travel from great distances to attend - usually by canoe - to be welcomed at the beach with celebration and singing.

The potlatch was an important part of all social life - being a combination of a town hall - where property rights and status were recognized - hunting and fishing rights confirmed - and inheritances established - and a cultural center where ancestors were honored - coming of age celebrated - marriages confirmed - rights to personal crests and property confirmed by the many witnesses gathered. Status was very important - seating arrangements and value of gifts received depended upon positions in the social and political hierarchy. Sometimes a potlatch would even be given to shame someone for failing to meet an obligation.

For more on the custom of the Potlatch see my bibliography in Raven's Roost - particularly Potlatch by Mary Beck.

You are viewing: http://www.eldrbarry.net/rabb/rvn/crow.htm -- © 1997 Barry McWilliams
Follow These Links: Back to Raven

Thanks for visiting! Your remarks and suggestions are welcome!
Please E-mail me at: eldrbarry@eldrbarry.net