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3 NAMES AS WEALTH 102 H aving established the concepts, understandings, and social structures on which naming depends, I explore here the conditions, assumptions, and meanings underlying the ritual act of naming in Tsimshian potlatches, called in English feasts. I argue that all of the goods and activities at a feast are mobilized to signify and value the newly named person’s rank and that of his or her lineage. Rank—established through one’s own action, staged for others—is one’s relationship to the wider social world; reciprocity, by contrast, is one’s relationship with that world, established through interaction. A lineage chief assumes and enhances his and his lineage’s political agency through the strategic deployment of goods, by negotiating an equivalence between gifts given to guests and other goods that are never given away. Inalienable wealth is retained—and a lineage’s essence and capacity for meaningful social action preserved—only through the socially contingent process of paying witnesses. The idea that agency, value, and meaning are held and expressed entirely by a feast’s host lineage and not by guest lineages or, more generally , by social relations as prior to individual agency, runs against the grain of the Maussian vision of reciprocity (Mauss 1967). My approach is instead in the spirit of Melanesian work by Rena Lederman (1986), Francesca Merlan and Alan Rumsey (1991:122–55, 231–33), Annette Weiner (1992), Robert Foster (1995), Maurice Godelier (1999), and Webb Keane (1997), who identify material relations as the primary vehicle of socially legitimized political agency. Although Mauss recognized that some potlatch wealth circulated while some did not (1967:43), his main concern was with giving, not withholding. Mauss’s specific sociological question was, what motivates individuals to surrender goods (through donation but also occasionally destruction) and how can this enhance one’s status—indeed, paradoxically , one’s wealth? Weiner (1992) has called this a version of “the paradox of keeping-while-giving,” and all post-Maussian investigations of the potlatch have labored in the shadow of this ethnographic problem (Gregory 1997:77). Mauss’s short answer was reciprocity, expressed in the potlatch as gifts that carry a social energy demanding a later countergift . His model was an exoticization (through religious notions such as mana, hau, etc.) of capitalist institutions of contract, interest, and debt (Sahlins 1972:149–83; Weiner 1992), but obtaining through a web of totalizing social relations among members of a small-scale society. Mauss saw potlatch gifts as long-sighted maneuvers whose payoffs were in the same material terms as the gift itself—for example, a gift of 100 blankets at one feast assuring the receipt of 100 or 110 blankets at a later one. For Mauss, gift economies bind communities in networks of debt, veiled in native idioms of generosity and honor. I draw here on the ethnographic record, including my own, to recenter the symbolic analysis of potlatch exchange as social reproduction on Mauss’s nascent intuitions about inalienable wealth. Tsimshian social reproduction is located, not in ultimately material processes such as reciprocity, but in a symbolic order. Reciprocity is more precarious than determinate. Gift exchanges are an epiphenomenon of the symbolic order. This cultural order defines the political strategies available to Tsimshians today, and those strategies, which assume the principles of that cultural order, reproduce society in the (imperfect) image of that order, social relation by social relation and act by act. Most important, the obligation to reciprocate gifts received at a potlatch is ancillary to the obligation to one’s own lineage ancestors to retain and preserve those goods that ought never to be exchanged—the hereditary prerogatives and their representations, including crests, regalia, territory, and names. These sacra, as Mauss calls them (1967:43; also Kopytoff 1986), are the “real” things of the Tsimshian social world. As Mauss wrote: Names as Wealth 103 First, at least among the Kwakiutl and the Tsimshian, the same distinction is made between the various kinds of property as made by the Romans, the Trobriand peoples, and the Samoans. For these there exist, on the one hand, the objects of consumption and for common sharing. . . . And on the other hand, there are the precious things belonging to the family, the various talismans, emblazoned copper objects, blankets made of skins, or cloth bedecked with emblems. . . . It is even incorrect to speak in their case of transfer. They are loans rather than sales or true abandonment of possession. Among the Kwakiutl a certain...

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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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