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Gambling games of the Northwest Coast Waterton, Eric

Abstract

Northwest Coast gambling paraphernalia are found in many museums and are usually accompanied by very meagre catalogue entries. The Accumulation of a number of sources pertaining to this category of material culture was therefore seen as a worthwhile task. Even a superficial examination of these gambling implements suggests that they were associated, with a very popular and possibly important activity, at least prior to European contact. This paper is an attempt to construct a profile of gambling on the Northwest Coast and to assess its importance in the culture. Three main sources of data were drawn upon for this purpose: (1) the material culture itself and the associated records located in museums; (2) the published ethnographic literature; and (3) the published myths. From these sources the analysis yielded a number of conclusions. The first is that gambling was a very popular activity. Secondly, a large degree of homogeneity can be seen to have existed in the areas considered. With a few exceptions, basically similar games of chance were played throughout the entire area, areal differences being quantitative rather than qualitative. A similar pattern is seen in the themes of gambling stated in the myths: there are a few main themes, but details differ from place to place. A third conclusion is that gambling usually involved very high stakes; and a fourth is that losing much was considered shameful, especially when a gambler lost other people's property. A fifth conclusion, supported by the data, is that serious gambling for high stakes was considered strictly a man's activity. A sixth conclusion is that cheating was common, expected, and accepted as part of the play as long as it was not discovered. The seventh conclusion is that the data stress the link between the supernatural and games of chance.

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