UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Wergild among northwest coast Indians Piddocke, Stuart Michael


The problem that this thesis begins with is: Why did the Kwakiutl and Nootka not have feud-indemnities, whereas the other nations of the Northwest Coast had them? The method chosen is that of proposing a hypothesis and then seeing if the data bear it out. The first chapter of this thesis puts forward the hypothesis in question: that the Kwakiutl and Nootka did not have feud-indemnities because they had instead a high degree of individual geographic, inter-group mobility; such that if a person were not getting along in the group he lived with, he would simply depart to another group before disagreements and resultant tension burst out into open violence and so began a feud. Feud-indemnities, so the hypothesis suggests, act as an honourable way of ending or avoiding a feud, and so render it, by reducing its chances of disrupting the society, a more efficient method of legal enforcement. But unless feuding is relatively frequent there will be no need for the social group to adopt feud-indemnities in order to survive. High individual geographic mobility among the Kwakiutl and Nootka, so runs the hypothesis, reduced feuding and removed the necessity for feud-indemnities; therefore feud-indemnities did not arise among these tribes. And we should expect to find that the other groups which had feud-indemnities, were without high individual geographic mobility. The next six chapters describe the socio-political systems of the Nootka, the Kwakiutl, the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian, the Bella Coola and Coast Salish, the Chinook, and the northwestern Californians—confirming the hypothesis and so answering the question that began the enquiry. The Kwakiutl, Nootka, Bella Coola, and Upper Stalo (a Coast Salish group) had high individual geographic mobility and no feud-indemnities, while the rest of the Northwest Coast nations had feud-indemnities and low individual geographic, mobility.

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