Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A ceremonial feast among certain Native American peoples of the northwest Pacific coast, as in celebration of a marriage or accession, at which the host distributes gifts according to each guest's rank or status. Between rival groups the potlatch could involve extravagant or competitive giving and destruction by the host of valued items as a display of superior wealth.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A ceremony amongst certain Native American peoples of the Pacific northwest in which gifts are bestowed upon guests and personal property is destroyed in a show of wealth and generosity.
  • n. A communal meal to which guests bring dishes to share.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. Among the Kwakiutl, Chimmesyan, and other Indians of the northwestern coast of North America, a ceremonial distribution by a man of gifts to his own and neighboring tribesmen, often, formerly, to his own impoverishment. Feasting, dancing, and public ceremonies accompany it.
  • n. Hence, a feast given to a large number of persons, often accompanied by gifts.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. Among some American Indians, a gift.
  • n. An Indian feast, often lasting several days, given to the tribe by a member who aspires to the position of chief, and whose reputation is estimated by the number and value of the gifts distributed at the feast.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a ceremonial feast held by some Indians of the northwestern coast of North America (as in celebrating a marriage or a new accession) in which the host gives gifts to tribesmen and others to display his superior wealth (sometimes, formerly, to his own impoverishment)

Etymologies

Chinook Jargon, from Nootka p'achitl, to make a potlatch gift.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Chinook Jargon potlatch ("gift"), from Nootka p̓ačiƛ ("to give in ceremony"). (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • PS: Yeah, kids: I saw the Democratic flash poll, and I saw that the current state of the potlatch is at, what, $750K at this point?

    Ben Smith: Wilson wins? - Moe_Lane’s blog - RedState

  • Anthropologists have long been intrigued by "potlatch" - roughly, competitive gift giving - an economic behavior exhibited among tribes of the Pacific Northwest.

    Nancy Scola: Debt and Development, Presidential-Style

  • The curious custom of the "potlatch" -- a man invites his friends and neighbors to a gathering and makes them magnificent presents, his reputation being great in proportion to the extent of his gifts -- appears to be a device for laying up property; the host in his turn receives presents from friends and neighbors.

    Introduction to the History of Religions Handbooks on the History of Religions, Volume IV

  • American Indian practice of 'potlatch' - a ritual ceremony in which the chiefs of rival tribes competed to destroy ever greater quantities of their own possessions.

    Telegraph.co.uk - Telegraph online, Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph

  • As my client knew, a potlatch was a Native American custom in the Northwest, a feast at which prosperous members of the community sought prestige not by having wealth, but by giving it away.

    Craig K. Comstock: After the American Dream

  • Known as the potlatch feast, it was an occasion on which some of the more affluent members of the tribe went so far as to bankrupt themselves in order to demonstrate the extent of their openhandedness.

    Death in Winter

  • Indigenous peoples in the West, and especially the Pacific Northwest, engaged in a practice called " potlatch"-a festival usually held on a special occasion in which a family distributes valuable gifts to the community.

    Slate Magazine

  • A potlatch is a festival ceremony practiced by many of Canada's indigenous peoples, including the Kwakwaka'wakw and Salish cultures.

    The Earth Times Online Newspaper

  • EUREKA -- Artist Janie Walsh will hold a painting giveaway on Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. at her studio and grounds, 1515 Buhne St. The 91-year-old Humboldt County painter is following an Indian custom called a potlatch, when one gives away one's possessions.

    Eureka Times Standard Most Viewed

  • "potlatch" - a ceremony and social construct highly amenable to Georges Bataille, and which gives rise to a variety of thoughts about the nature of the individual and community, especially for tragedy.

    Superfluities Redux

Comments

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  • "What beautiful and priceless potlatches the affluent society will see – whether it likes it or not – when the younger generation discovers the exuberance of the pure gift; a growing passion for stealing books, clothes, food, weapons or jewelry simply for the pleasure of giving them away"

    -Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life

    July 31, 2008