Origins of the Forty Day Party - P.O.W. Report

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Origins of the Forty Day Party

Photo Description: This picture shows guests from Hoonah at the so-called "Last Potlatch" in December 1904", mainly T'akdeintaan, in front of one of three houses called Gooch Hit (Wolf House) in Sitka, AK. This house was also known as Xoots Hit (Bear House) and is the house the Multiplying Wolf House-front and House-posts come from.

Tlingit and Haida:

#TBT The origins of the Forty Day Party (considered by many elders to be a recent trend) remain unclear. There are two opposing theories and one middle position. Most Tlingit elders believe that the Forty Day Party was not originally Tlingit but was a relatively recent innovation imported by the Russians, even though non-Orthodox communities follow the tradition today. Some middle aged and older Tlingit people have commented that, in their youth, only the Orthodox Tlingit held Forty Day Parties; they say the idea spread from there.

In Orthodox tradition the requiem service called πανικηιδα (panikhida) is also observed as a memorial service forty days after death. In most Orthodox parishes the fortieth day is still observed. The opposing opinion states that the Tlingit people have always had a small ceremony or feast observed forty days after death. The middle position holds that some kind of smaller memorial was observed in pre-contact time, but was reinforced and set at forty days under Russian influence.

Still, others will say we had this custom before the arrival of Russian Orthodoxy and we used it to put an end to crying. Crying “is like rain in the next world” and causes it to rain on our loved ones if we continue to cry. By not letting go of a deceased relative, we prohibit them from moving on. With the arrival of Russian Orthodox beliefs, it was easy to compare the two and adapt their beliefs with our own, which is why the 40 day party exists today as part of our grieving process.

Today, these “potlatches” are mostly reserved for “memorials” however the “memorial party” is not the only type of koo.éex’. They were also celebrated for new house dedications (hít wooshdei yadukícht), dedicating ceremonial objects such as house-posts, hats, new blankets, or giving a new name or adopting someone.

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