Posted by R. John Howe on 10-17-2003 06:09 AM:

The Role of the Chilkat Blanket at Death

Dear folks -

You will recall that the Chilkat dancing blanket was reserved for the nobility in Chilkat society. Its primary function was at potlatch gatherings as a indicator of prestige.

This continued even when the owner of one died.

First, the noble would be dressed in his ceremonial garments and "laid in state amidst a display of his wealth.

A mourning ceremony took place which lasted for four days..." The Chilkats practiced cremation, excepting that the heart was buried. In the case of a shaman, more of the vital organs were also buried. "...On the final day (ed. of the four-day mourning) a funeral pyre of yellow cedar logs was built and people gathered to feast and sing in honor of the dead. Special dishes filled with steaming fish, claims and goat meat were burned so that the spirit of the deceased would not go hungry. Ordinary blankets were thrown on the fire so that the chief would not be cold."

Subsequent, to the cremation of most of the noble's body, his/her heart would be placed in a special box in a log grave house. The noble's Dancing blanket was hung on the outside of this grave house.

It was left there, and met its own demise, gradually decaying in the weather.


R. John Howe