Results 1-3of 3 Reviews
January 24, 2006
From journal Alaska by Cruise Ship: You stay, scenery travels
Ayr, Scotland, United Kingdom
July 14, 2005
The totem pole symbolises a bygone age of the Native people of southeast Alaska, an age now preserved by the Totem Heritage Centre in Ketchikan. Totems have become a valued art form and a symbol of pride and tradition for both the native and non-native people of the Pacific Northwest.
What did totem poles represent? I visited the Heritage Centre to find out. It seems they had a variety of purposes. They might honour ancestors, show the clan's standing and its rights and accomplishments, record a memorable ceremony or record a spiritual experience. Totem figures are not gods. Native Indians neither worshipped them like religious icons nor used them as a talisman to ward off evil spirits.
The Native peoples developed totem poles into a distinctive sophisticated art form. Originally their carvers relied on tools of stone, shell, bone, and animal teeth. Furs exchanged with Europeans for iron tools allowed them to perfect the art form. By 1850, diseases such as smallpox had reduced the Native population and imported cultures caused a decline in the traditional way of life. The Totem Heritage Centre opened in 1976 to preserve totem poles rescued from uninhabited Tlingit and Haida villages before they rotted.
This centre near City Park contains the largest collection of original 19th-century totem poles in existence. Poles had a normal life span of about 70 years before crumbling, but some of the samples here are up to 160 years old. A high ceiling and muted lighting highlight the spirituality of the art. Well-trained guides and good interpretive signs explain what you are looking at. The gift shop, open during the summer, carries genuine Native crafts.
The poles display mythological images, usually animal spirits, whose significance is their association with the lineage. Each figure represents a family crest. Some poles tell a family legend in the form of pictographs. Poles may identify the owner of a house or other property, welcome visitors, point out a portal or passageway, mark a gravesite, contain ashes of the dead, and even ridicule an important person who failed in some way.
Early totems carved from mature cedar trees formed part of the Potlatch ceremonies, a ceremonial distribution of property and gifts among family clans in Alaska and British Columbia. With the growth of non-Native settlements in southeast Alaska in the early 1900s and the decline of a barter economy, Natives moved to communities where work was available. The villages and totem poles they left behind were soon overgrown by forests and eroded by weather.
The centre displays 33 magnificent, original poles and many other modern totems and displays of Native Alaskan artefacts. As well as its museum role, the Totem Heritage Centre also preserves and promotes traditional arts and crafts of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people through a nationally recognized program of Native Arts classes.
Saxman Totem Park and Totem Bight, a state park 10 miles north of town, also preserve the Indian culture.
From journal North to Alaska Princess Style
October 21, 2000
From journal Knowing Alaska's 'real' places