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1 INTRODUCTION 3 F or understanding processes of social reproduction on the Northwest Coast, there is no more central phenomenon than the assumption and bestowal of hereditary name-titles. For the Tsimshian of northwestern British Columbia in particular, naming practices tie together different ways in which actors are or become Tsimshian : names incarnate in individuals so as to make them their own ancestors, they weave their holders into a series of nested lineage identities , and they sit at the center of the central Tsimshian social institution , the potlatch, where they are at once the audience, performers, and prizes in highly politicized displays and orchestrations of wealth. Tsimshians in fact explicitly identify social reproduction with the ritual business of assuming hereditary names, “keeping our names going” being the common English idiom. Tsimshians themselves led me and invited me to explore these issues, in my role as genealogical researcher in Tsimshian communities, primarily Kitsumkalum, British Columbia. This has driven me to schematize what names are (at times they are things, at times people) and what happens at name-taking rituals (potlatches or, as Tsimshians call them, feasts). In the process I have had to confront questions of agency (what or who are names, who is really naming people, and who is really being named?) and of the representation and reproduction of agency and identity in ritual. I found that name-taking feasts involve the valuation of lineage members as wealth objects and the mobilization of goods as imbued with human qualities beyond the range of valuation. All of this happens in a context in which people act sometimes as names, sometimes as name holders, and sometimes as the embodiments of corporate groups. At each of these levels, however, action is constructed as willful and open-ended. In ceremonial life, as in the oral histories that stand behind and validate it, names and lineages are agents that co-create events in response to political and social realities. Potlatches are real-world, risky events—rather than staged and scripted performances—and in the same way the oral histories that describe the origins and careers of names and clans are linear chronicles to which names, through their deeds, are constantly adding new chapters. So understanding how Tsimshian names act in the world involves understanding, too, a Tsimshian sense of the relationship between history and structure. The Social Life of Names In the chapters that follow, I explore different dimensions of Tsimshian naming. Chapter 2 examines the Tsimshian sense that names and not their wearers are the true members of Tsimshian lineages and attempts to situate agency and social status in the names rather than in a more Euro-American (or secular or bourgeois or what you will) ideology of the mortal individual as a new, unique person making his or her way in the world by forging new relationships with other individuals. Just as Tsimshians are embedded in cycles of transmigrating souls, so are they embedded in cycles of transmigrating names: bodies in a lineage shift from name to name, as deaths create vacancies, so that social advancement and changes in status are inseparable from becoming the new person reified in the new name. I describe some of the previously little described nuances of the system, such as the splitting or sharing of children ’s names, the onomastic (i.e., naming-system) dimension to lineage fission and fusion, the special class of “cross-phratric names,” and the practice of ceremonial adoption from one lineage to another. I describe this system in its oral-historical, linguistic, cosmological, and political ramifications, and the result is an understanding of names as immortal subjectivities that make history. Chapter 3 focuses on the institution of the potlatch, or feast. This complex rite of succession to name-titles is underpinned by the ceremonial orchestration of different categories of goods, money, and services. 4 Introduction I shift the anthropological focus from given or exchanged goods to those that are not exchanged, the inalienable wealth of the host lineage, including territory, ceremonial prerogatives, political authority, and names. I portray the feast as a proactive attempt to secure those inalienables by paying other types of wealth to guests for validating the inalienables ’ retention. By emphasizing unalienated wealth at the expense of exchanged wealth, I privilege the former as the site of social reproduction . In this, I move away from the Maussian paradigm of gifts in motion as standing for and reproducing the social relationships that make up society. Instead I follow Maurice...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780295989235
Related ISBN
9780295988078
MARC Record
OCLC
646794821
Pages
296
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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