What is a totem pole?
They are monuments that the First Nations made of the Pacific Northwest represent and remember their ancestors, people, family lineage, history, or any special event. They are erected by the Indian tribes of the Northwest coast of North America.
In North America, they are a part of various indigenous peoples of Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and British Columbia. They are not just carved to increase the beauty of the place but are also made as it has numerous meanings attached to it.
These Totem poles do not represent God, but they represent traits and characteristics every clan embodies.
There are seven types of totem poles which have different meanings:
- Memorial or Heraldic poles: They are carved in honour of the deceased clan member and to identify the present one
- Mortuary poles: These are the poles in which the remains of a deceased are placed and are made in honour of the dead
- Genealogy poles: They are made in front of the house to represent the owner or their social status
- Shame Pole: They are made for people who have done something terrible. Thus, they are erected to make them feel embarrassed and ashamed of whatever they did.
- House frontal pole: They are created at the main entrance and has an opening for entry in the house
- House posts: They are carved with human or animal forms to support the building’s main beams.
- Welcoming poles: They are placed at the edge of the water to identify the waterfront owner.
Totem pole colours
The prominent colours used on totem poles were black, red, white, and blue-green. Minimal colours were used on totem poles as the artists were dependant on the natural pigments. They made the black colour by grinding soot, graphite, or charcoal. Artists made the red colour from red ochre and blue-green colour from the copper sulfide.
Totem poles are usually very tall as some of them are as high as 18m. You must have seen a street light that measures around 7.5-9m and imagine they are double its height.
What would be used?
They are usually made from large trees like the red or yellow Western Cedar trees. This tress is used because they do not rot and can survive for a very long period.
Animals seen on Poles
Usually, you would see an eagle, raven, wolf, bear, killer whale, frog, and beaver. There are meanings attached to these animals, which is why they are made as the raven symbolizes the Creator, the eagle signifies peace and friendship, the killer whale signifies strength, and so does the others.
The tools used primitively were bones, sharpened stones, seashells, or even the beaver’s teeth. It takes a lot of time to create a totem pole, but it also depends on a totem pole’s size. Usually, it takes 3-9 months for making a totem pole.