UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Ethnohistory and ceremonial representation of carrier social structure Kobrinsky, Vernon Harris


The dissertation is in two parts. The first part develops a largely conjectural reconstruction of the social history of the Carrier Indians of north-central B.C. in three stages. The history commences with the Carrier in what is believed to be their original setting amid fellow Athapaskan-speakers of the Yukon-Mackenzie woodlands. A hypothetical system of composite bands is ascribed to the Carrier at this stage, as the underlying social form out of which more recent forms have arisen. Following their move to their present location in the salmon-spawning headwaters of the Skeena and Fraser systems, a salmon-promoted segmentary elaboration of the bands (termed the sept system) is envisioned. The sept stage is then succeeded by a system involving the overlaying of the sept structure, to a considerable extent under the impetus of the burgeoning fur-trade at the turn of the 18th Century, by a system of coast-derived, territory-claiming, matrilineal crest-divisions, classes, ranks, and a potlatch cycle which ceremonially articulate these various categories of social structure. This last stage, designated the sept/phratry stage, represents the Carrier social structure described by a number of research scholars who have worked among the Carrier from the turn of the 19th Century (the Oblate missionary-scholar Father A.G. Morice) to the present (notably Jenness, Goldman, Hackler and myself). The second part of the essay is a close analysis of the seating and prestation-distribution orders of the protocols of the Carrier potlatch. The central thesis of Part II is that the ceremonial seating and distribution arrangement of the major parameters of Carrier society (chiefs, nobles, commons, clans, phratries, septs) is motivated in consideration of the epi-ceremonial connotations of these categories; especially by connotations proper to the diachronic perspective, i.e., by both ideologies of continuity, and folk-historic aspects of social structure. The spatial/temporal arrangements of the potlatch are treated, following the linguistic model, as "surface" structures which manifest meanings out of principles of motivated syntax operating at "deep" (i.e., unconscious) levels of structure. The "deep" level principles of space/time syntax are expressed as simple analogies, and it is suggested that the motivation behind these patterns may derive from certain givens of perceptual experience. Thus, inasmuch as seating and prestation distribution s render a symbolic expression of both historic and synchronic aspects of epi-ceremonial social structure, Part I of the essay provides a foundation for Part II by representing current Carrier social structure in light of its reconstructed historic sources. The conclusion discusses some of the mechanisms, elucidated by the dissertation, which contribute to the cybernetic relations between ritual and social structure.

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