Definition of potlatch in US English:



  • (among North American Indian peoples of the northwest coast) an opulent ceremonial feast at which possessions are given away or destroyed to display wealth or enhance prestige.

    • ‘Perhaps the opensource software movement is actually a contemporary form of potlatch, in which one gains prestige by the extravagance of the resources one ‘wastes.’’
    • ‘In the potlatches of the Chinook, Nootka, and other Pacific Northwest peoples, for example, chiefs vied to give the most blankets and other valuables.’
    • ‘In his Whitehorse office he has an aluminum coffee pot, a potlatch gift from a gathering in 1998.’
    • ‘Social Darwinism should be made to work in reverse - those that have too much should be forced to hold a potlatch and divest themselves of their loot with those who have nothing.’
    • ‘We arrived in the middle of winter to participate in that village's annual Stick Dance, a weeklong ceremony for the dead that culminates in a traditional potlatch.’
    • ‘‘Potluck’ is derived from the word potlatch, a special occasion of many West Coast First Nations peoples.’
    • ‘The consumerist potlatch is especially striking because the brand names are nearly all American.’
    • ‘This potlatch feast demonstrated social status and wealth.’
    • ‘In New Guinea they have been used as a form of currency and in the Indian cultures of the Americas they were included in the ancient custom of potlatch, a system of gift-exchange amongst chiefs.’
    • ‘Patrick, dressed in a cedar-bark shirt and basket-like hat, filled us in on the Northwest Indians, whaling, copper mining, totem poles and potlatch ceremonies.’
    • ‘He was an anthropologist who worked on the potlatch originally and became fascinated with these cycles by which a thing had value, lost value, regained value.’
    • ‘The Inuit who held the potlatch would often give away his most valuable possessions at the ceremony.’
    • ‘Some cultures have potlatches; others prize spirituality.’
    • ‘This kind of destruction should not be confounded with the burning of valuables during a potlatch.’
    • ‘Perhaps the most familiar example of a gift culture is that of the native Americans of the Pacific Northwest such as the Kwakiutl and their famous potlatch ceremonies.’
    • ‘Collars were ceremonial regalia among the Tlingit, and there are many period photographs of them being worn at potlatches and other special ceremonies.’
    • ‘Take the widespread tribal custom of potlatch, for example, where gifts are exchanged between families or communities.’
    • ‘In the society of survival, where the agonistic and vertiginous play of the potlatch is displaced by accumulation, an awareness of this has a deleterious effect on humanity.’
    • ‘In addition, I participated extensively in silviculture work, potlatches, hunting and trapping expeditions, and political and community meetings.’
    • ‘And on this chilly Friday afternoon, the group is creating button blankets, traditionally used in First Nations ceremonies such as the potlatch.’


[no object]
  • Hold a potlatch.

    • ‘As I showed previously, this was possible due to their strong system of private property rights enforced through sophisticated reciprocity relations known as potlatching.’


Chinook Jargon, from Nootka p'ačitł ‘make a gift at a potlatch’.