The Totem Poles

These are straight massive and tall trunks reaching up from
earth and carved with different symbols from nature
(mostly animals). Most totem poles were made around
British Columbia. We know of five tribes that lived there
and each had a totem animal that represents ancient
qualities connected to its creation, way of life and place
in nature. These qualities evolved with time.

Individual natives identified with a specific totem animal
after a special encounter with that animal in nature and
developed a close bond with it. The people respected
the characteristic of their totem and strove to emulate
them. They would not eat the flesh of their totem animal
but kept pieces of that animal’s body, such as fur, horns,
feathers, etc. which were used as protective amulets.

One tribal elder tells that some 500 years ago the ocean
brought to the beach a gigantic carved tree trunk.
The natives found it, were fascinated by it and examined it.
With time they made carving tools and started carving
massive cedar trees that told their stories.

 

There are several types of totems:

Heraldic totems
This is a totem pole that tells about a specific event in
the life of the tribe or of one of its families.
These are usually commissioned by the people to whom this event happened.

Memorial Totem
These are usually erected in honor or memory of a specific leader. These are tall and thin with one totem image at the top. Sometimes the pole included more images. The elders would approve the totem and the story it told then hold the “potluch” ceremony, a ceremony of mutual giving and receiving and of mutual recognition between the tribes.

House Totem
These were carved in the main pillar or in one of the corner pillars of the house. They told about the names of the family members and their totem animals. Sometimes when the family moved to a new house, the totem pole would move with it.

Welcoming Totem
A relatively short totem positioned on the beach at the entrance to the tribe’s compound and made in the shape of the totem of the tribe’s primal ancestor.

Burial Totem
These are about 4 meters tall. On top of the pole was a box containing the remains of the dead person. This box was carved with the image of that person’s totem animal.

Ridicule Totem
These were made to ridicule and shame people who broke promises.