Chiefly Feasts Summary
by Aldona Jonaitis

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Chiefly Feasts

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

A tour de force overview of Kwakiutl history and culture, CHIEFLY FEASTS delights the eye as it educates and informs a misinformed world about a vibrant Native American society. As though incapable of holding back, the writer, Aldona Jonaitis, drops the impersonal mask of the fastidious observer to immerse herself in the people who are the focus of this study. Admitting her hero-worship of Franz Boas, the early twentieth century German-Jewish anthropologist who joined with associate George Hunt to introduce the Kwakiutl to America and Europe, Jonaitis revels in myriad details of tribal life, feasting, dance, storytelling, worship, ritual, and craft. She describes how she was captivated by the frenzied monster dance, fragrant native salmon dishes, gift-giving, and pageantry of the potlatch. Her eyewitness account lends charm to a book which comes perilously close to inundating the reader in minute details, particularly those that describe the red cedar character masks and puppets which are a Kwakiutl specialty.

Jonaitis achieves a balance in her surprisingly readable work by interspersing text and the smorgasbord of color plates with black and white candid shots of humble, everyday activities, usually set on lakeshore or seashore and filled with expressive native faces. Festive ritual bowls, spoons, rattles, and headbands contrast with photographs of historical figures who influenced Kwakiutl history, particularly Boas and Hunt. Expanded commentary accompanies color plates and snapshots, at times interfering in the flow of the text. Bibliography and index help bring order to the melange and anchor the work in its scholarly purpose. Neither ponderous tome nor coffee-table album, CHIEFLY FEASTS dramatizes a vigorous people, glowing with enthusiasm for their way of life and determined to carry it forward into the twenty-first century.