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Ampersand Indigenous Books

Writing the Hamat'sa
Ethnography, Colonialism, and the Cannibal Dance
By (author): Aaron Glass



Product Form:


Form detail:

Hardcover , Sewn


Jul 15, 2021
$95.00 CAD


9in x 6 x 1.45 in | 880 gr

Page Count:

512 pages


28 b&w photos, 2 maps
UBC Press
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural & Social

Writing the Hamat?sa critically surveys more than two centuries worth of published, archival, and oral sources to trace the attempted prohibition, intercultural mediation, and ultimate survival of one of Canada’s most iconic Indigenous ceremonies.

Long known as the Cannibal Dance, the Hamat'sa is among the most important hereditary prerogatives of the Kwakwa̱ka̱ꞌwakw of British Columbia. Drawing on published texts, extensive archival research, and fieldwork, Writing the Hamat'sa offers a critical survey of attempts to record, interpret, and prohibit the ceremony. Such textual mediation and Indigenous response over four centuries helped transform the Hamat'sa from a set of specific practices. into a generalized cultural icon. This meticulous work illuminates how Indigenous people contribute to, contest, and repurpose texts in the process of fashioning modern identities under settler colonialism.

Aaron Glass is an associate professor at the Bard Graduate Center, New York City. He is co-author, with Aldona Jonaitis, of The Totem Pole: An Intercultural History; editor of Objects of Exchange: Social and Material Transformation on the Late Nineteenth-Century Northwest Coast; and co-editor, wiht Brad Evans, of Return to the Land of the Head Hunters: Edward S. Curtis, the Kwakwa_ka_?wakw, and the Making of Modern Cinema. His documentary films include In Search of the Hamat?sa: A Tale of Headhunting.

A work of brilliant scholarship underpinned by decades of honourable collaborative work, Writing the Hamat?sa takes readers from fine-grained accounts of intertextual Kwakwa_ka_’wakw self-fashioning to the history of Boasian anthropology itself. This book traces the Hamat?sa dance from endangered private ritual to public icon of cultural heritage, reminding us that culture is not something that is, but something that is made – and, in this case, coproduced in ambivalent, but agentic relations of collaboration crafted under the pressures of colonialism.

- Philip J. Deloria, professor, history, Harvard University

Aaron Glass explores the multifaceted history of the Hamat?sa dance from an intercultural, intertextual viewpoint, demonstrating how it has circulated in various contexts for more than a century. This extraordinary work is fundamentally an ethnography of anthropology itself.

- Michael E. Harkin, professor, cultural anthropology, University of Wyoming

Writing the Hamat?sa incorporates probably every single text ever published on what is famously known as the Cannibal Dance. This is one of the best contributions to Northwest Coast anthropology, to the history of anthropology, and to Franz Boas’s rendition of ethnographic data available today.

- Marie Mauzé, Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale, Collège de France

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