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The term "totem pole" is not a native Northwest Coast phrase. In fact, the use of the term "totem" to refer to the Northwest Coast images of family crests or emblems is not strictly accurate. The word "totem" itself derives from an Ojibwa word, "ototeman," and "totemism" in anthropological terms refers to the belief that a kin group is descended from a certain animal and treats it with special care, refraining from eating or hunting it. The figures carved on Northwest Coast poles generally represent ancestors and supernatural beings that were once encountered by the ancestors of the lineage, who thereby acquired the right to represent them as crests, symbols of their identity, and records of their history.

Several different types of these monumental poles include: tall house frontal poles placed against the house front (often serving as doorways of houses with the entrance through a hole at the bottom), carved interior house posts that support roof beams, free standing memorial poles placed in front of houses to honor deceased chiefs, and mortuary poles made to house the coffins of important people in a niche at the top. Tall multiple-figure poles were first made only by the northern Northwest Coast Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian peoples in Southeast Alaska and British Columbia. Large human welcome figures and interior house posts were made by the Kwakwaka'wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth people further south, and the Coast Salish people in Southern British Columbia and western Washington also carved large human figures representing ancestors and spirit helpers on interior house posts and as grave monuments.

Essay by Robin K. Wright from the University of Washington Libraries.

Model of a totem pole. North West Coast of USA.

totem pole model
22.11.56/1
Anthropology, Handling Collection

1 item (description level: whole)
Broad category
Belief
Additional names, titles, or classifications
classified as:  totem pole models
object name (Horniman Ethno.):  totem pole model

Place
USA
Additional place information
made or collected:  United States of America 
Culture
North West Coast

Materials and techniques
wood; pigment
Additional material & technique information
material: pigment (overall)
material: wood (overall)
Measurements
overall: 1126 x 500 x 270 mm
Additional measurement information
overall: 1126 x 500 x 270 mm

Use
Full sized totem poles similar to this model were displayed as memorials to the dead, as a record of the family history and the family spirit animals or to show wealth and status. How is it used? Although this model was probably made as a trade item, full sized totem poles were erected as memorials to ancestors and leaders and displayed family legends. The ‘totems’ (spirits which watch over you) carved on the pole showed the spirit animals of the family. One of the totems carved on this model pole is the Thunderbird, recognisable by the face painted on his chest. He was a mythical creature who lived in the mountains, made thunder by flapping his wings and lightning flashed from his eyes. He is carrying a killer whale in his claws. The skull may represent a famous ancestor. Raven with his long beak is a great trickster in legend who gave fire to the people after stealing it from Qok, the great snowy one.They had no written language but the totem poles allowed them to record stories, legends, and myths through images. Totem poles were erected to show wealth and status and to mark important occasions such as births, marriages and deaths. Although totem poles show spirit animals they are not used in any religious worship. Who is it used by and why them? Totem pole carving is a tradition unique to the peoples of the north west coast of North America. They lived in Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. Some of the tribes that inhabited those states were the Bella Coola, Haida, Kwakiuts, Makah, Nez Perce, Nisqualli, Nootka, Quinault, Puyallup, Salish, Snohomish, Spokane, Shuswap, Swinomish, Tlingit, and Tsimshian. The region was rugged, mountainous and heavily wooded. The people made good use of the abundance of wood and became skilled woodcarvers. Their legends reflect their surroundings and feature many spirit animals from both the sea and land. Their creation stories usually feature the Thunderbird, a mythical giant bird whose name comes from the belief that the beating of its wings creates thunder. It was also believed that lightning came from its eyes when it blinked it could control rainfall. It was the servant of the Great Spirit. The term "totem pole" is not a native Northwest Coast phrase. In fact, the use of the term "totem" to refer to the Northwest Coast images of family crests or emblems is not strictly accurate. The word "totem" itself derives from an Ojibwa word, "ototeman," and "totemism" in anthropological terms refers to the belief that a kin group is descended from a certain animal and treats it with special care, refraining from eating or hunting it. The figures carved on Northwest Coast poles generally represent ancestors and supernatural beings that were once encountered by the ancestors of the lineage, who thereby acquired the right to represent them as crests, symbols of their identity, and records of their history. Several different types of these monumental poles include: tall house frontal poles placed against the house front, often serving as doorways of houses with the entrance through a hole at the bottom; carved interior house posts that support roof beams; free standing memorial poles placed in front of houses to honor deceased chiefs; and mortuary poles made to house the coffins of important people in a niche at the top. Tall multiple-figure poles were first made only by the northern Northwest Coast Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian peoples in Southeast Alaska and British Columbia. Large human welcome figures and interior house posts were made by the Kwakwaka'wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth people further south, and the Coast Salish people in Southern British Columbia and western Washington also carved large human figures representing ancestors and spirit helpers on interior house posts and as grave monuments. Essay by Robin K. Wright from the University of Washington Libraries.
Manufacture
We don’t know what wood this model is made from but full sized totem poles are usually carved from western red cedar wood because it is easily available, water resistant and therefore long lasting. Only the best artists were commissioned to carve totem poles but in ancient times only a few noble families could afford them. In the nineteenth century the number and size of poles increased as people became wealthier from the fur trade and iron tools became more easily available.


Related subjects
learning subject: First Americans
learning subject: Thunderbird and Whale
learning subject: The girl who married the bear
material: pigment
classified as: totem pole models
object name (Horniman Ethno.): totem pole models
material: wood

Record created 1999-07-20 by IROONEY
Record last updated 2013-09-10 by RSHEPHERD

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