Totem poles are nothing unheard of. They have been around for what seems like forever. Being carved from poles, pillars or posts; totem poles are monumental sculptures depicting symbols and figures. Large trees are usually the canvas, with western red cedar being the most common. Odoodem is word that evolved into the word totem, coming from the Algonquian, or more specifically, Ojibwe; Odoodem translation is “his kinship group”. The good news is totem poles are still being made today! Carve Me A Bear! Chainsaw Carvings offer a variety of totem poles from historical to more modern depictions of animals and figures.
What Are Totem Poles For?
A common misconception is that totem poles are religious pieces, but they are not. Instead, they communicate paramount aspects in native culture. The various animals or symbols simply relate the characters or events that transpired. In other words, totem poles were used to record many things including cultural beliefs, legends, clan lineage and memorable events. Being found through the Northwestern United States, and Western Canada; natives would be the ones responsible in carving totem poles.
Northwest Totem Pole Animal Meanings
Each tribe or region would have a few variations of meaning behind specific animals or symbols, but there common relations in the meaning of certain animals. Animals were not worshiped; however, they were deeply respected and inspired the people. For example, the wolf is a natural leader and highly intelligent with a strong sense of family. So when it was carved into the totem it would symbolize leadership and intelligence, with strong family bonds. Eagles are seen as prestigious creatures. Having an eagle on a totem would represent great courage, leadership qualities and prestige. The fox is crafty and sneaky. A fox etched into the totem pole would be a symbol of cunning, stealth, and feminine courage.
Types of Totem Poles
There are traditionally 6 types of totem poles utilized. They are house frontal poles, house posts, mortuary poles, memorial poles, welcome poles and shaming or ridicule poles.
House Frontal Poles: This type of pole is typically between 20-30 feet, and is the most decorative and ornamental. The carvings crafted into them tell the story of the family or clan that they belong to. These poles are also referred to as crest, family or heraldic poles. The house frontal poles are adorning the exterior of the clan house, or outside the village leader’s home. More often than not, a guardian figure will be carved on top to watch over the village or homeowner.
House Posts: House posts are found inside and run 8-10 feet high. The house post actually supports the roof beam of the clan house, featuring a large notch on the top where the beam nestles into. Depending on the native group who constructed the home, there could be 2-4 house posts inside. Much like the house frontal poles, the house posts tell the story of the family history, to aid in the story telling to children.
Mortuary Poles: This particular pole is rare. It also serves as a structure to harbor grave boxes in conjunction with carved supporting poles. It is the tallest totem pole designed, ranging between 50-60 feet and is the most striking. The Haida and Tlingit people would erect the mortuary pole at the death of important people within their community. Generally a single figure would be displayed on top, which depicts the clan crest. Covering the entire length would be other carvings. Ashes or the body of the deceased are lay to rest on the upper levels of the totem pole.
Memorial Poles: For a year of mourning, the memorial pole is erected in front of the clan house just after a death. In the case of the clan’s chief or leader, the memorial pole is set in the middle of the village. It is used to honor the dead and to identify the successor. Traditionally, there is only one figure at the top of the pole, and sometimes a second might be carved into the bottom.
Welcome Poles: A welcome pole is generally 40 feet tall and carved with human figures. Placed at beach or stream to welcome guests and intimidate threatening strangers!
Shame or Ridicule Poles: Just as the name suggests, shaming poles were made to publicly ridicule or embarrass specific people or groups. Unpaid debts or doing wrongful deeds were the receivers of these poles. Once the wrong is corrected or debt repaid, the pole would be removed.
Custom Chainsaw Carved Totem Poles, Sculptures, Statues & Home Decor & More in Las Vegas, Nevada, Helena, Montana & Nampa, Idaho
In modern society, people are still intrigued with the unique designs that are so perfectly carved onto a totem pole. At Carve Me A Bear! Chainsaw Carvings, we can create the perfect totem pole for you. Using modified chainsaws and high quality wood, a custom totem pole would be a great addition to your home and also a great housewarming or anytime gift! Call us today for details!