Potlatch(aka Giveaway)
Encouraging Generosity

We can learn much from the Native American tradition of the potlatch. It is a tradition that values generosity above all else, and a potlatch, which is a very grand ceremony, is an exercise in giving away material possessions, food, and money. It is not uncommon for the host of a potlatch to give away so much of his own resources to his guests that he ends up with nothing. However, he can regain his wealth by attending potlatches at which he is a guest. In this way, a potlatch validates generosity and encourages the flow of resources in a community, while at the same time continually reaffirming the importance of community ties.

When we are held in a web of trust and connection, we can give generously, knowing that when it is our turn we will be supported. In this way, our whole sense of ownership becomes less individualistic and more communal. Resources are in an acceptable state of flux, moving within the community through the vehicle of the potlatch, which serves the additional function of strengthening community ties. This seems clearly preferable to isolating ourselves from one another and hoarding our resources.

Perhaps we can find ways in our own lives to create a community in which a flow of resources happens in this way, in which we support one another to be generous. We might begin by celebrating our own type of potlatch, having a dinner party and giving each guest an object that is dear to us. Or we could give everyone a little bit of money in an envelope to spend on themselves just for fun. Someone might get inspired to throw their own potlatch, and before we know it we might have a tradition that supports and validates generosity even as it creates a safety net for leaner times. In the most profound sense, that is what a community, a tribe, and family do best.

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5 Comments on Daily OM: April 16, 2008: Giveaways

  1. fairwells says:


    Sounds beautiful.

    • B.E.M. says:

      Re: potlatch

      It is usually done after a birthday sweat, thank you(Wopilla) sweat, vision quest, etc. Anytime the community is celebrating or helping you.

      • fairwells says:

        Re: potlatch

        Very interesting.

        • B.E.M. says:

          Re: potlatch

          It is similar to the Christian concept of giving your last bread to a needy person and being blessed with a feast. Not sure where the scripture is, but….

          anyway, we would be a much stronger society if we could get back to sharing and giving as a means for sustaining ourselves.

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