Gifts and Gift Giving (American Indians Ready Reference)
Article abstract: Gift exchange was an essential mode of strategic interaction with other tribes and with the colonial powers
Gift giving was a central feature of exchange customs common to North American Indians. Treaties, trade, and other interactions demanded the distribution of various gifts among the parties. These presents symbolized the social bonds between the participants. Indians presented gifts to make and sustain alliances and to demonstrate continued control to the colonial powers. They used this gift giving to symbolize, sustain, and equalize human relationships. Presents were also given to create and alter social relationships. Other functions of gift giving were to establish an identity, to maintain peaceful interactions, to provide a basis for genuine friendships, to foster an egalitarian social order, and to create an economic order based on the redistribution of wealth.
The European powers were forced to comply with a gift-giving political economy in order to obtain commercial advantages. They presented gifts to guarantee loyalty from tribes and chiefs, to buy service from Indian leaders, to counter influence from rival colonial governments, and to foster trade. In addition, European gift giving served to create kinship ties to important chiefs and to signify respect for Indians.
There were many varieties of items in the gift-exchange economy. Among these items were artifacts such as looms,...
(The entire section is 361 words.)
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