Yesterday I spent part of the morning at the Museum of Anthropology. (I’m staying nearby while John recovers from major surgery at UBC Hospital.) I didn’t want to be outside in the rain but inside, I was deep in the weather, ceremony, beautiful cosmology of the Indigenous people of the Northwest Coast. The rain pattered on the roof while the scent of cedar filled the Great Hall. It felt like a privilege, it was a privilege, but it made me profoundly sad. One glass case contained many sacred objects with a note saying that in the villages they’d come from, they’d have been put carefully away between use.
It was the feast dishes I spent the most time with. They reminded me that in this time we’re living through, we’re asked not to gather in groups, not to serve food for others to share, and I wondered when we would be able to feast together again. To prepare food to eat in community, in celebration of the things that ask us to commemorate them together. The feast itself as living symbol, our dishes the carriers of our fellowship.
And I thought, as I read a Kwakwaka‘wakw potlatch song recorded in 1895 by George Hunt and Franz Boaz, that we have corrupted the notion of power. Instead of adding zeros to sums beyond my wildest imaginings, net worth in the billions and (even) trillions of dollars, the richest among us could be demonstrating their wealth by sharing food:
Too great is, what you are doing, our chief. Who equals our chief! He is giving feasts to the whole world.