Totem pole

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Totem poles are monumental sculptures carved from large trees, mostly Western Red Cedar, by cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America. The word totem is derived from the Ojibwe word odoodem, "his kinship group".

Contents

History

Being made of cedar, which decays eventually in the rainforest environment of the Northwest Coast, few examples of poles carved before 1900 exist. Noteworthy examples include those at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, BC and the Museum of Anthropology at UBC in Vancouver, BC, dating as far back as 1880. And, while 18th century accounts of European explorers along the coast indicate that poles certainly existed prior to 1800, they were smaller and few in number. In all likelihood, the freestanding poles seen by the first European explorers were preceded by a long history of monumental carving, particularly interior house posts. Eddie Malin has proposed that totem poles progressed from house posts, funerary containers, and memorial markers into symbols of clan and family wealth and prestige. He argues that pole construction centered around the Haida people of the Queen Charlotte Islands, from whence it spread outward to the Tsimshian and Tlingit, and then down the coast to the tribes of British Columbia and northern Washington.[1] This is supported by the photographic history of the Northwest Coast and the deeper sophistication of Haida poles. The regional stylistic differences between poles would then be due not to a change in style over time, but to application of existing regional artistic styles to a new medium. Early-20th-century theories, such as those of the anthropologist Marius Barbeau who considered the poles an entirely post-contact phenomenon made possible by the introduction of metal tools, were treated with skepticism at the time and are now discredited.

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