Thursday, February 27, 2014

Kwakwaka’wakw Potlatch

"When one's heart is glad, he gives away gifts. Our Creator gave it to us, to be our way of doing things, to be our way of rejoicing, we who are Indian. The potlatch was given to us to be our way of expressing joy." 
~ Agnes Alfred, Alert Bay, 1980

I went on a field trip to the Museum of Anthropology with my friends from HCOS to learn about the traditions of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations. Potlatch is a way of the chief giving gifts to the guests as a way to thank them for remembering the potlatch celebration and passing their witness down to their children.

The Potlatch was banned in the 1800s because the European settlers thought that it was uncivilized and a waste of time and money. Many precious masks were confiscated but slowly they're now being returned to the Kwakwaka’wakw people.

Our guide was showing us the map of where the different Pacific Northwest tribes live. The Kwakwaka’wakw live mostly on northern Vancouver Island and around Johnstone Strait and Queen Charlotte Strait.
My friend was holding a chief's staff like a mini totem pole, and I was holding a bear mask with real bear fur on top! The bear mask is usually worn by a high ranking person like the chief's wife. The bear is the policeman of the dance, keeping order and guiding the dancers' behaviour.

This is a button blanket specifically with a crest of a Thunderbird.  The button blanket is worn by a chief, like Robert Joseph. His ancestor was the "Thunderbird" and Robert Joseph is known as the "Big Thunderbird" - Kwun Kwun Wha Lee Gei Gee, his traditional name.

These are masks of Dzunukwa, the wild lady of the forest. Parents told stories about her to their children so that they would not wander into the forest. Dzunukwa takes them away to eat them if she catches them. But the children always outwit her and escape. Her lips are round because she likes to make the cry, "uu-huu-uu". She is portrayed with a sunken face, small sunken eyes, and round bright red lips.


  1. Very interesting .Nice artistic drawing.
    We enjoyed reading about your outing..
    Love Nanny & Papa

  2. Excellent understanding of the Potlatch Serena! Thank you for sharing! Very well written!