Potlatch- The Sharing and Shaming
A potlatch is defined by Barbara Miller as
?A grand feast in which guests are
invited to eat and to receive gifts
from the hosts.?
This is shown in the last film we saw, Ongka’s Big Moka.
Ongka had been the receiving end at a potlatch in the past, and it was his turn to provide the feast. However,
?Later, when it is the guest’s turn to hold a potlatch, they will try to give away as much as – or more than – their host did,
thus shaming him into giving the next potlatch.?
We see this in the way Ongka feels compelled to provide almost 200 more pigs than his hosts did when he was their guest.
Ongka’s people did not have any kind of wealth (other than animals). Whatever type of class structure there might be came from the amount a person would give at their potlatch.
The functional theory Miller refers to
?looks at a given practice or belief in terms of its contribution
to the cultural continuity.?
The contribution to the cultural community. When a person gives a great amount at a potlatch, because it is a contribution to the cultural community, that person gains a certain stature.
Therefore, it is not really the generous nature of a person that leads him to provide these things for his community, but rather, the stature that they can gain from this donation.
This is not true of the Igbo people in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. While the Igbo people do engage in reciprocal gift giving, they are more apt to share with a guest the kola nuts which contain, like coffee, a mild stimulant.
In the Igbo culture, wealth is more determined by the amount of wives and children that he can support. This may be seen as true with Ongka too; since the wealth in that culture is determined mainly by animals and the amount they can provide at a potlatch, these things are similar to what is needed to support a family.
?Potlatching demonstrates how closely
linked production, consumption,
and exchange are.?
Potlatching not only demonstrates these things, but also demonstrates how wealth and stature are perceived and achieved in these cultures. It is a way to provide for others as well, but more than that, a way to provide for onself and one’s family. When one holds a potlatch, one can expect the favor to be returned. For Ongka, he had to provide more than the person who held the potlatch he went to, but he also knew that in the future, he would be invited to one even larger.