Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Guest Blogger Guy Graybill Shares The Grand International Potlatch ...and more...

 The Codger Muses

The Grand International Potlatch

Yes, yes. I dreamed it. But, it was such a vivid dream: such a compelling dream, that I must share it.
When my dream began, I was in the lobby of the magnificent hotel at Banff, Alberta. That's the hotel that looks so much like some Scottish baron's castle.
Normally today, even in my dreams, the first thing that I do when in new surroundings is look for the restrooms; but in this dream I was hunting for one of the hotel's dining rooms. That's when I saw the easel and its poster: THE GRAND INTERNATIONAL POTLATCH: IN SESSION.
It's likely that you already know the following: The Kwakiutl Indians of the area of what is not Britich Columbia, are not reduced to mere hundreds of members. The Kwakietl and several other area tribes once practiced a very strange cultural activity that has been noted by scholarly ethnographers. 

The Potlatch:

The potlatch is a gift-giving ceremony held at major life events. In the words of Agnes Alfred of Alert Bay:

"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" (1980).

A modern potlatch generally lasts one day and night and is accompanied by a feast and dances depicting ancient stories. Each family has their own dances which were given to them by the Creator and passed down through the generations. One of the most important gifts of the potlatch is T'lina, made by rendering the oil of the dzaxwan (eulachon fish). Families travel to a sacred location every spring to catch dzaxwan and make T'lina (U'mista 2009). Other common gifts at a potlatch include jewelry, appliances, and money (Kwakiutl Indian Band 2008).
Note: This video shows scenes of Kwakiutl potlatch. One of the first acts in the first 72 hours of the Bush Administration was to strip the Duwamish Tribe of Federal Recognition.It was from them that I learned about potlatch. Without them the City of Seattle would not exist;

That particular activity is the potlatch. The potlatch was a complex cultural phenomenon that we oversimplify by suggesting that it was simply a sharing of the host's wealth for status purposes or whatever. It had much wider ramifications; but in my dream the usual non-native interpretation worked very well.
Here in this marvelous hotel conference center, which is located just a few hundred miles east of the British Columbia coast, I saw dozens of colorful national flags in a variety of national apparent, were moving about and settling in for an afternoon session. A hotel clerk was observing the session from a chair near the back wall. I approached him. His name tag identified him as "Mackenzie," likely because that's one of the few Canadian names that is in my memory bank. Anyway, I asked Mackenzie was I was witnessing.
"Yank," he informed me, "you are watching the gathering of delegates for the start of the primary session of "The Grand International Potlatch." This, he added, was a conference that had been the brainchild of a Chilean gentleman. The man was a local magistrate who lived near the Atacama Desert and who felt that international peace and harmony would be fostered if all the world's countries sent delegates to a conclave where each delegate would have the authority to give some bit of territory or property that would show a spirit of magnanimity in a world forum.
"That will never happen," I groused; but the hotel staffer protested:
"But, it is happening!"
I saw, on the tables in front of each attendee, a glass of wine and a pile of roasted peanuts. I inquired of Mackenzie about the refreshments.
"Well, Chile is considered to be the host of this entire conference; but other countries got involved in providing the snacks. This afternoon's session has France providing all the wine and Ghana, a major peanut growing nation, providing the roasted peanuts."
A tall, distinguished woman was walking toward the podium to speak.
"She's the M.C.," said Mackenzie, lowering his voice, "She was a diplomat's daughter in the former French Congo."
She began speaking, with obvious passion; but I had no idea what she was saying. She was speaking French. Luckily, Mackenzie, a native of Quebec perhaps, translated, sotto voce.
"She says that the session we've been awaiting is about to begin. She also says that the very first nation that volunteered to make a gift to another nation is our host country, Chile."
There was a very low rumble among the conferees. Anticipation was obviously high. Mackenzie leaned toward me to whisper that everyone knew what Chile was going to promise. It had been the topic of all last evening's parties throughout the hotel. I was quite curious; but, as the delegate from Santiago rose to speak, Mackenzie fell silent. I, too, was now anxiously waiting for the national gesture to begin.

To thunderous applause, the Chilean delegate announced that a twenty-mile wide strip of land along the northern border of Chile was being ceded to Bolivia in order to give the continent's largest land-locked nation its own outlet to the sea, where the Bolivians could build a Pacific port.
Since a dream's duration is very uncertain, I'm grateful that the remaining national gifts were rapidly announced.

  • The Spanish and French delegates announced their joint gift of giving up all claims to those regions of the Basque's homeland that exist within their own respective nations.
  • China gave Tibet to the Tibetans and announced that they were also renouncing any claim to all islands north of Hainan, including the islands of Quemoy, Matsu and Taiwan.
  • While I suddenly heard some guitarist playing guantanamera" in the lobby, the delegate from the United States announced the ceding of the U.S. military base, at Guntanamo, to Cuban sovereignty.
  • Turkey was ceding all claims to any part of Cyprus.
With each announcement, the delegates offered louder and louder applause. The excitement was building as the session progressed.
Suddenly, a delegate from Haiti jumped to his feet. The conferees, who were still applauding the Turks' generous gift, stopped clapping and returned to their seats. The M.C. asked the delegate from Haiti, one of the world's most impoverished nations, what he wished to give. Very loudly, he told the convention.
"We want to give Haiti back to the French!"
The conferees all began to shake their heads from side to side, in a gesture of refusal; with the French delegate shaking his head more vigorously than any of the others. As Haiti's offer was being rejected.
  • The delegate from India announced that the second largest nation in the world was giving their portion of the Punjab to Pakistan.
  • A Russian official announced that they were returning an entire trainload of rusted machinery to Poland.
  • A stern-faced German official noted that Nefertiti's busy was being returned to Egypt.
  • England then announced that it was ceding the Falkland Islands to Argentina, Gibraltar to Spain and Ulster (Northern Ireland) to Ireland. The honorable delegate from England kept reading from a lengthy list and continued to identify objects, from world-wide locations, that his nation was returning to their original lands. In fact, when he had finished, he hung his head, dejectedly, and said that this meant that the British Museum was now being closed.

Before the delegate from London was finished, I noticed a large bevy of reporters coming into the room, in anticipation of some pending part of the conference. As a European correspondent and a couple of her assistants pushed in front of me, I turned, once more, to question the hotel clerk.
"What's all this activity?"
"Well, Yank, all the media teams are getting into good positions to record the next delegate. He's the one from Israel."
I glanced about until I noticed a bald pate partly covered with a yarmulke. The man was just beginning to stand.
"Well," I remarked to Mackenzie. "This is a pleasant surprise. I'd not even thought about their gift."
I began to elbow my way past some photographers, who were elbowing me in return.

That damned bladder!
In an instant I was wide awake, in my dark bedroom, with my bladder in full charge. Dreams allow no intermissions or replays. By the time I lifted that nicely lacquered oak seat, I was wide awake for the rest of the night...

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