Few remember the expeditions, mainly of Britain and Spain, in this part of the world where Bodega Y Quadra and George Vancouver cooperated in exploring and mapping the area for their respective monarchs. Though they noted the many Chieftainships in the region these were envisioned as mere curiosities and being mostly peaceful, were incorporated into their schemes to take the wealth of the rainforests and seacoasts. Today Vancouver Island still carries the name of one of the explorers, but originally it was put on the charts as Isla de Quada y Vancouver (Spanish) or Quadra and Vancouver Island (English). Is was named such in light of the unusual cooperation between Spain and Britain in exploring the Nootka Sound area.
Bodega kept and extensive journal an excerpt of which is reproduced below. Welcome to 1792 as a Spanish explorer attempts to describe the inhabitants of the Northwest Coast who had lived there for thousands of years.
Here Bodega describes his relationship with a local headman.
"The natives are of a most peaceful nature and little disposed to revenge. I have never had to fear any one of them. On the contrary, I can say with assurance that it is not possible to mistake the confidence they have in me and the affection the commoners declare they have for me but the chiefs as well, because they frequently sleep at night in my house with the satisfaction that perhaps they would not have in the houses of their most immediate relatives. Thus I have no difficulty in establishing with them the kind of personal relationship towards which my disposition inclines. I constantly treat Maquinna as a friend, singling him out among all with the clearest demonstrations of esteem. He always occupies a place of honor when he eats at my table, and I myself take the trouble to serve him. I favor him with anything that might give him pleasure, and he boasts of my friendship and very much appreciates my visits to his villages"
Bodega continues with a description of a potlatch.
"On the occasion of the first visit I made to one he had on the point that bears his name, he offered a dance in my honor, himself dancing solo to the rhythm of a song being sung by his female relatives and servant, striking the floor with the shafts of their spears and their muskets for the bass of the music even though somewhat stylized. At the conclusion of each short dance he presented me through his brother Qua-tla-zape a beautiful sea otter pelt, loudly testifying to his goodwill. To the boat crews he gave shells and muskets, which for them are jewels of value. I repaid him with a coat of mail made of leaves of tin plate beautifully embroidered in the shape of scales, which he received with immense gratitude. I also distributed among his people trifles of the kind that please them most."
Bodega's response to being feasted at the potlatch was typical of Europeans, who practice specific reciprocity. The Europeans saw (and see) gift-gifting as a roughly balanced exchange of values. Maquinna was, through his lavish potlatch, displaying his wealth and importance to the Europeans. Tribes of the Northwest Coast practiced non-specific reciprocity, essentially giving gifts without expectation of getting something of equal value in return. The potlatch served to keep too much wealth accumulating in a few hands by dispersing it through such gift giving ceremonies. These ceremonies cemented relationships between clans. Bodega's only obligation of having a potlatch in his honor was, whenever Bodega sponsored a potlatch in the future, the expectation that Maquinna and his kin be invited as an honored guests. The Nootkans politely ignored Bodega's breach of etiquette of turning the potlatch into a diplomatic exchange of gifts.