While doing some research for my potlatch post yesterday, I stumbled on this interesting little tidbit. It got cut from the original writing, but in retrospect I decided it was just too good not to share with you.
So we were talking about the potlatch and the ritual giving away of goods by tribes of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Somewhere in the late 1800’s the meddling government agencies and missionaries in that territory decided that this practice just had to go. They considered it “a worse than useless custom.”
According to these groups, the practice was flagrantly wasteful and flew in the face of “civilized” values, so they made it illegal. Yes, they made it a crime to give your stuff away. Punishable by imprisonment for 2 to 6 months, in fact.
In 1951 they decided that this law was a bit nutty (yes, it did take them 50+ years to come to this conclusion) and the laws banning potlatch were repealed.