Totem Poles

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by trahantag
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Social Studies
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Totem Poles

Totem Poles

Totem Poles were made to fill a variety of needs, but their primary purposes were to commemorate people or special events. The first Totem Poles were carved as part of an elaborate Potlatch ceremony which was a great, expensive feast with deep meaning. Totem Poles later were made for different reasons.

A totem is a spirit being, a sacred object, or symbol of a tribe, clan, family, or individual Native American tribe. A totem pole is a monumental sculpture carved on poles, posts, or pillars with symbols or figures made from large trees, mostly western red cedar, by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest coast of North America.

Purpose for Totem Poles

What are Totem Poles?

Types of Totem Poles

Common Figures

Where Do They Get The Colors?

Common figures include the eagle, which represents peace and friendship, the raven, which represents "the creator," and the killer whale, which is a symbol of strength. Other figures include the frog, the wolf, the bear, the beaver, and the thunderbird.

There are six principle types of totem poles: memorial of heraldic, grave figures, house front or portal, welcoming, and mortuary. Totem poles are skillfully carved of red cedar and are usually painted with blue, black, red, and sometimes white and yellow. They vary in size, but house front totem poles can be over one meter in the base, reaching heights of over 20 m and generally facing the shores of rivers or the ocean. "Shame totem poles" were a less common element of tradition, but were used to disparage neighbors for slights like unpaid debts. Contemporary communities may use similar tactics now in protesting external - government or corporate - entities.

Natural pigments had to be used to get the colors for the totem poles. Black was the easiest to obtain. Simply grind soot, graphite, or charcoal. Red is made from a clay life material called red ochre, and copper sulfide could be used to make a blue-green color.



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