Marcel Mauss's 'Indian Gift'

1548 WordsOct 25, 20177 Pages
Gift giving, particularly during the holidays, is regular facet of our daily lives. Whether or not all gifts carry the obligation of reciprocity is characterized by the gift’s cultural context. The Gift: The Form and the Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, (1925) Marcel Mauss’ ethnographic book, presents the necessity of reciprocation through analysing the gift giving practices of the Maori and the Kwakiutl. Jonathan Parry revisits Mauss’ theory in his essay, “The Gift, the Indian Gift and the ‘Indian Gift’,” (1986) addressing its connection as well as contradiction to the Hindu law of gift giving. Ultimately, Mauss and Parry propose differing perspectives on the obligation to reciprocate when given a gift. Their opposing conclusions…show more content…
The obligation to reciprocate is based on the belief that the recipient receives and possesses something that belongs to the donor (Mauss 1925: 17). In reciprocating a gift, Mauss explains that the receiver balances and restores the hau of the first gift to its origin (Mauss 1925: 15-17). Moreover, the potlatch, the North American Indian practice of exchanging gifts competitively, is characterized by themes of rivalry and destruction, requiring one to reciprocate or risk losing authority (Mauss 1925: 11-12). In Northeast Siberia and among the Eskimos of West Alaska, the exchange of gifts is imbued with additional spiritual significance (Mauss 1925: 18-19). In destroying by sacrifice, as in the potlach, the people are fulfilling their obligations to the gods, to whom they owe their use of the land (Mauss 1925: 20-21). Marcel Mauss asserts this exchange of gifts between the humans and the gods is a necessary element of buying peace between them (Mauss 1925: 21). Mauss argues that reciprocation is a mandatory element of gift giving because of the social contract that is formed by the first gift, which contains in it the donor’s spirit (Mauss 1925: 14-21). We can see Mauss’ theory at work today in western society when we obligated to bring back gifts from a holiday for a friend who has already done the same for us. This pressure is the result of the need to restore the balance in the social contract that Mauss

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