TOTEM POLES, ALASKA — In front of the rude cabins of Alaska Indians rise frequently tall, hideous posts sometimes 100 feet in height. They are called Totem Poles. From top to bottom they are usually carved into grotesque resemblances to human faces or else to forms of bears, wolves, birds and fishes. Just what they signify is not always clear. Some certainly commemorate heroic deeds in the lives of those beside whose homes or graves they are erected. Some also indicate by certain marks, resembling coats-of-arms, the family or tribe to which the dead may have belonged. One totem pole, for example, may represent a bear and a gun, rude symbols doubtless of the fact that the man whose memory is thus evoked once shot a bear, and probably under some peculiar circumstances deemed worthy of commemoration. Most of them are three or four feet in diameter and about thirty feet high; though some attain an altitude of sixty, eighty and even one hundred feet. The height of the pole is supposed to have denoted the rank of the deceased. Some of the natives value these ancestral relics to such a degree that they refuse to part with them at any price. It is supposed that only rich natives could have had the honor of a totem pole. The carving, however crude it may seem to us, represented a great deal of time and labor for the native sculptor. Moreover, it was customary to give a grand banquet, free to all comers, whenever such a pole was raised. Hence one of these decorated family ornaments probably involved, in all, an expenditure of several hundred dollars. (from John L. Stoddard, Glimpses of the world; a portfolio of photographs of the marvelous works of God and man – 1892)


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