Totem poles tell a story about an important event or person, favorite fable, lesson learned, belief or origin of a tribe, clan or particular family.
A fixture of the American Northwest and the Haida people, these monumental sculptures consisting of poles, posts or pillars, are carved with symbols or figures. The carvings may symbolize or commemorate cultural beliefs that recount familiar legends, clan lineages, or notable events.
Among some tribes, they were very important for memorializing the life of a chief, shaman, or warrior. The person’s remains were placed into a small wooden box that would be placed atop the mortuary totem pole. The pole icons are believed to be guardians for the spirits’ journey to the afterlife.
It is interesting to note that these memorial poles, which usually stands in front of a clan house, is erected about a year after a person has died. The clan chief’s memorial pole may be raised at the center of the village. Its purpose is to honor the deceased person and identify the relative who is taking over as his successor within the clan and the community. Traditionally, the memorial pole has one carved figure at the top, but an additional figure may also be added at the bottom of the pole
Totem poles range from 4 feet to 75 feet high and each crest or symbol is carefully arranged. These symbols – often animal designs – are considered to be a means of communication, similar to a poem that is familiar to the entire community.
Here are a few examples of symbols:
Beaver: Wise, creative, artistic and determined.
Frog: Spring/new life, communicator, stability, rich in life,
Hawk: Strength, quick to assist others, messenger.
Salmon: Provider, instinctive, dependable and persistent.
Totem poles provide a public way to tell others about one who has passed away. The act of doing so is important in almost every culture. This touches upon how important it is to appropriately honor the life of a loved one. At Santa Rosa Mortuary our options can help you honor your loved ones your way. Contact us today to learn more.