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Copper

Houston Museum of Natural Science

Houston Museum of Natural Science

The most valuable potlatch gift was a “copper”, a symbol of wealth, power, and prestige. The shield-shaped sheets of copper were usually decorated with the crest animal of the original owner. Some coppers were even given names. Owning a copper was a sign of prestige. During potlatches, coppers would sometimes be “auctioned off” and enormous sums of trade goods would be exchanged in return for the honor of owning a copper. The head of a village might sometimes break a piece off of his copper in the presence of another village head. The other man would be expected to beak a piece from a copper of equal of greater value or risk being shamed. During rituals in which different villages would come together, this was a way of showing “who’s boss”.

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  • Title: Copper

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