Friday, September 04, 2015

Vancouver Girls Trip- Museum of Anthropology and Wrapping Up the Trip

The forecast said rain for the entire weekend, but we had lucked out the day before and only gotten some rain in the morning. Saturday looked like it was going to be rainier though, so we planned on doing an indoor activity that day. We went to the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology! They have one of the best collections of Northwest Native American artifacts around, and also a good size international collection. 

Above, the Great Hall.

 The architecture of the building is supposed to mimic the openness and large supports of a big house (a large building where the First Nations people lived with their extended family). The room was full of large totem poles, canoes, potlatch dishes, and other First Nations carvings.
Potlatch dishes above and below.

Potlaches were large, elaborate feasts and celebrations that a family group would host on special occasions such as a birth, marriage, or death. The purpose of the potlatch though was to assert your family group's power, not by showing the other groups that you had the most wealth, but by showing the other groups that you could distribute the most wealth. Therefore, potlatch dishes were giant dishes to hold the large amounts of food needed to host an elaborate feast. The container above was only used for one potlach and held just sugar. Sometimes the hosts would also give gifts away, and sometimes they would destroy some of their possessions to show how much they possessed.

To us it seems a little counter-intuitive, but the potlatch served as an economic system in the First Nations that kept any one group from amassing too much wealth. Because they were constantly giving away, they all ended up being equal. Another important aspect of potlaches were that important titles that went along with certain artifacts -if you owned the artifact you owned the title-were passed along during potlaches.

In 1884 potlaches were made illegal in Canada because white lawmakers considered them wasteful. It was an unpopular and hard law to enforce however, and the law was repealed in 1951. Potlaches continue today, however in today's global economy the purpose of potlaches has changed from a wealth equalizer to a way to connect to culture and old traditions.

A carved interior post, a house post. Big houses were built with huge beams, and inside some of the wood would have been carved and painted.
With it's partner.

After we passed through the Great Hall we started looking at some of the smaller artifacts the museum has, and it has a ton. There were so much that they couldn't display them all in the cases and instead had drawers that you could pull out to see artifacts behind glass in the drawers. They had computers too so you could look up an artifact on the computer and then find it in the drawer or display case.

A lot of the museum's artifacts were collected in the 1950's when they were bought from the Native people. Many of them were traditionally used in ceremonies and ceremonial dances. Some of them were only supposed to be taken out and seen during these ceremonies. And some of the artifacts were the special objects that were associated with honorable titles that I mentioned before (if you own the object you own the title).

Recently the museum has gone back to the First Nations people and gathered input from the descendants of those who once owned the objects. The descendants wanted to make clear that these objects were ceremonial and were special, but they were also proud that they were included and preserved in the museum's collections. There were some objects that were covered to show that these objects were not for everyday view. And the people who had once held the titles associated with the objects had still been allowed to keep the title, even if the object is in the museum's collection.

After we saw the Northwest Peoples collection we wandered on to the international collection. They have objects from all over the world.

Wind Chimes. I should know where they are from but I don't remember, somewhere in Africa. We were allowed to gently tap each of these to show that each had it's own tone.

Owls of all sizes. Again, I forget the exact tribe, but it was a Southwest United States tribe.

Saw these paper figures from Veracruz, where my mom is from, that I had never seen before.

 I thought all the patterns were beautiful.

Then we went outside where they have a recreated 19th century Haida First Nations village complete with a mortuary house, big house, and totem poles.

The totem poles were traditionally raised at potlatches, for a special occasion, and would tell an important story or have important figures to the family. The totem poles were usually left standing out in the elements and would over the years eventually weather away and fall down. Then they would be replaced at another special event years.

Early in the 20th century anthropologists started asking permission to remove the totem poles to keep them preserved. That is where a lot of the totem poles in the Great Hall came from. There was a great quote from one of the anthropologists who helped remove them that showed how ambiguous the work was. It went something like (very paraphrased) "I fear that one day people will look back at this and think of it as a great folly." They wanted to preserve the totem poles, but every anthropologist is always afraid that their work will cause more harm than good to the culture because just by being there the anthropologist has disturbed or influenced the culture.

Standing in front of carved (supposed to be interior) house posts.

Afterwards we walked back to the bus stop and I noticed there were a lot of leaves and branches on the ground. Later we learned that it was really windy and rainy while we were in the museum and a lot of places had lost power. It eventually caught up to us because our plans for the evening, a street fair, ended up being cancelled because of the weather. Instead we met the sister missionaries on the train going to the street fair, and then met the elders on the way back after finding out it was cancelled, which convinced us we were supposed to go to church the next day.

Every time I'm in a crowded subway I always think of all the great Seinfeld episodes on the subway.

That night we went to the Canadian version of Denny's, White Spot, and had some blueberry pie based on a recommendation from our flight attendant from our flight into Vancouver. There was wifi in the restaurant so we called Lauren and shared our pie with her.

 And we had to get some poutine too since we were in Canada. This one was extra special with mushroom and bacon on top, along with the traditional gravy and cheese.

On Sunday we went to church in China, er, Richmond. The ward we went to was English, but the Chinese ward met right after.

After church we rushed off to the the airport and headed back to our separate hometowns. We also met a friendly bearded man in the airport in Phoenix ;) (It was Dad Wheat). One last great accomplishment was that I got to read an entire book on my flights that weekend.

After we got back I gave the kids some maple leaf shaped maple syrup suckers. I thought it tasted a little strong, but I guess they love sugar in any form because they ate them all. We've been slowly trying some more candy I've brought back and so far the Kinder Bueno bars are the winners. Yum!

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