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the intention of tradition Contemporary Contexts and Contests of the Hamat’sa Dance Aaron Glass Every year in Alert Bay, a Kwakwaka’wakw community on the central coast of British Columbia, the T’łisalagi’lakw elementary school holds a cultural celebration in which children perform dances and songs learned as part of the standard curriculum. As is now customary for most potlatches or important local activities, a T-shirt is produced to commemorate the event. On the 1993 shirt, along with a design created for the occasion, are the words ‘‘Alert Bay, Village of Culture.’’ Invoking Tradition Performances of this sort are commonplace in Native communities today, and such mobilization of ‘‘culture’’ is playing an increasingly important role in the maintenance of indigenous identities. In the age of land claims, treaties, and repatriation, a legal language of strictly bounded tradition is required of First Nations to demonstrate what is held to be the validity of their claims. Likewise, a discourse of tradition and cultural authenticity is used by indigenous people to market themselves in an expanding and vital tourist economy. At both local and global sites Native people engage in a complex dialoguewith anthropology, rejecting its colonial legacy while appropriating the language and concept of culture, as well as specific ethnographic texts, in order to represent themselves. While many anthropologists have spent the last 20 years interrogating the concept of culture, Native people often deploy a reified and essentialized self-image, for both themselves and others. Roy Wagner (1981:62–64) suggests that ethnography’s methods of objectification tend to ‘‘invent’’ the people studied and to create ‘‘cultures’’ as discrete products that can be displayed , bought, and sold as needed. Furthermore, Dominguez (1992) describes how the anthropological concept of culture has become the defining Tseng 2004.8.9 07:12 7132 Mauze / COMING TO SHORE / sheet 319 of 548 feature of 20th-centuryethnic, social, and political rhetorics of unique identity . Performances for outsiders are one major venue in which communities consolidate and displayemblematic—and consumable—aspects of their cultural heritage, events that often require considerable local negotiation as to the specific content and public interpretations offered. First Nations are also increasingly—if ambivalently—using specific ethnographic texts to help in the revitalization of their art (see King 1997:88) and ceremony (see Harkin 1997b:105). Ethnography tends to codify and ‘‘entextualize ’’ what were fluid practices, thereby turning process into product (Bauman and Briggs 1990:72; Dauenhauer and Dauenhauer 1995:97). Anthropological texts—especially among the Kwakwaka’wakw, who inherit one of the largest bodies of ethnographic material in theworld—have a feedback effect in communities: once ‘‘traditions’’ are codified in books, they are more likely to be ‘‘revived’’ by subsequent generations. This brings up the question of the origin of those traditions. Jeanne Cannizzo (1983) suggests that the classic ethnographic portrait of ‘‘The Kwakiutl’’ may in fact be biased toward the family, lineage, and village of Boas’s chief informant and collaborator, George Hunt. Thus the entextualization of culture may be one of the routes whereby specific privileges or performances become transformed over time into national emblems. The last 20 years have seen a growing debate in the social sciences over how to approach tradition both theoretically and ethnographically (see Boyer 1997:23–24). Normative or merely historical, used unconsciously or strategically, traditions are usually thought of as those aspects of social life most resistant to change and thus strong signifiers of authentic links to the past. By the 1960s social scientists began to view tradition as a more dynamic , processual phenomenon, open to strategic (re)interpretation within larger social dialectics, and most certainly not the conceptual antithesis of modernity (Barth 1966; Eisenstadt 1973; Shils 1981). Empirically minded and often Marxist scholars tend to expose specific practices as ‘‘invented’’ at some historic moment to suggest how the manipulation of culture serves an ideological or political agenda (e.g., Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983; Clifton 1990). This trend is anchored in objectivist or positivist assumptions about history where cultural authenticity can be evaluated scientifically, and it tends to dismiss the ‘‘emic’’ value of Native discourse as mere political rhetoric. In contrast, more constructivist or inter280 glass Tseng 2004.8.9 07:12 7132 Mauze / COMING TO SHORE / sheet 320 of 548 pretivist scholars tend to view all culture as a perpetual invention and argue that the question of the authenticity of specific practices is thus a red herring...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780803204324
MARC Record
OCLC
57447374
Pages
508
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-11
Language
English
Open Access
No
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