Of Names and Signs

Of Names and Signs: Reincarnation, Inheritance and Social Structure on the Northwest Coast

1990. Of names and signs: Reincarnation, inheritance and social structure on the Northwest Coast. Anthropology of Consciousness, 1(3-4), 9-18.

Anthropologists working within the tradition of Durkheim and Weber consider reincarnation to be an abstract concept, a symbolic construct whose referents are to be found in the cultural milieu and social order of a given society. For societies with the belief, however, reincarnation is more than an abstraction: it is a psychological and emotional reality. This paper explores reincarnation beliefs and their expression among the Tlingit and the Kwakiutl, two Northwest Coast peoples with very different social organizations. Reincarnation beliefs are shown to be related to the social structure of both, through the desire to reincarnate in such a way as to reclaim tangible and intangible property owned in one's present life. The relationship between belief and signs of reincarnation is also explored.

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