Ceremonial distribution of property and gifts practiced among the American Indians of the Northwest Pacific coast, particularly the Kwakiutl. A potlatch is given by an heir or successor to assert and validate his newly assumed social position. Ceremonial formalities are observed in inviting guests, in speech making, and in distributing goods according to the social rank of the recipients. Great feasts and generous hospitality accompany the potlatch. The ceremony has been much studied by anthropologists for the light it sheds on the nature of property, wealth, prestige, and social status. See also gift exchange.
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