Totem Poles at Totem Bight State Historical Park


Pole 1. Thunderbird and Whale: A similar carving of this Haida mortuary pole was originally from the old village of Klinkwan on Prince of Whales Island. The pole was first copied for Totem Bight by John Wallace during the Civilian Conservation Corps. In 1990 Nathan Jackson was commissioned to carve a second replica.

The intent of the carving is to illustrate the mythological conception of thunder. Thunder is created by the beating of the bird’s wings, and lightening by the blink of its eyes. This huge bird lives high on the mountaintop. The whale at the base of the pole symbolizes the mountaintop where the bird rests before devouring his prey. It is said that whale bones may be found on many mountain tops that have been carried there from ages past.

Pole 2. Eagle Grave Marker: The original stood in the old village of Howkan, and was copied from memory by John Wallace. The addition of the Chilkat blanket to this pole makes it unique, and not a common art form found on totem poles. The design is interpreted as mountains, clouds and creatures that live there.

Pole 3. Man wearing Bear Hat: This Tlingit grave marker was copied from Cat Island by Tlingit carver Charles Brown. In 1995 Israel Shotridge carved a second replica. It depicts a man of the Bear clan wearing a large carved wooden hat surmounted by a bear’s head and surrounded on the brim by painted whales. The hat was worn at a potlatch or an important occasion during which stories were told or dramatized.

Pole 4. Wandering Raven House Entrance Pole: This Tlingit pole was designed and carved for Totem Bight by Charles Brown. The low oval entrance through the pole was typical of ancient times, and a good means of protection during times of war.

The top figure is Raven, recognized by his straight black beak, with a carved box at his feet containing daylight. Below a mink and a frog is the standing figure of a man, Natsihline, representing the story of how he brought life to the blackfish or killer whale by carving them. The figure with the large turned back beak at the lower end of the pole is Raven-at-the-Head-of-Nass, the powerful chief who owned the sun, moon, and stars. Below the chief, the figure with a large labret in the lower lip is Raven’s mother. These figures illustrate the story of Raven creating daylight in a darkened world.

Pole 5. Pole on the Point: This Tlingit pole was also designed by Charles Brown. The shaman, dressed in ceremonial garb, is wearing a headdress of bear claws and a fringed leather apron. A carved club in his hands symbolizes one of his spirit powers. A halibut and two land otters below the shaman are also spirit aides. The animals and people below depict a series of adventures.

Pole 6. Blackfish Pole: This Tlingit pole symbolizes the story of the origin of the blackfish, as told previously on the Wandering Raven pole. The original was copied from Tongass Island, where it had stood in front of Forested Island House. The dorsal fin of a blackfish at the upper end of the pole extends from the Raven, which is a special crest. The tiny faces on each blackfish represent the blowhole. Below the special crest is Natsihline holding the blackfish by the tail. The human figure at the lower end represents the evil brothers-in-law.

Pole 7. Land Otter Pole: This Haida pole was designed and carved in 1947 by John Wallace from Hydaburg. In 1996 Nathan Jackson carved a second replica which now stands here. The hero of the story stands on top wearing a dogskin headdress. An art form frequently used by Haida craftsmen is to overlap a carved figure with the figure below, as illustrated here with the hero’s feet carved into the ears of the human figure below.

The hero holds in one hand the tail of an otter, and in the other hand a carved club. The carved club is symbolic of magical powers allowing him to outwit his enemies. Below is a drowned man holding onto two logs begin taken to the home of the land otters, represented by the human-like cave being below the logs. At the base is a devil-fish.

Pole 8. Master Carver Pole: This pole was also designed and carved by John Wallace. It was set up in 1941. The Eagle at the top of the pole is the main crest of the Haida Eagle clan. Other Eagle clan symbols following the main crest are the Beaver and Bullhead.

It was customary on Haida poles to carve the crests of a husband and wife. The wife would be of the opposite clan, the Raven clan, represented by the Raven, the Bear, the Blackfish beneath him and the Hootowl at the base of the pole.

Under the bear’s feet are representations of two copper shields which were used as mediums of exchange. Each was named and its value increased with age and number of times it exchanged hands.

The large human figure second from the base, is the Master Carver or Master Carpenter, who taught the Haida woodcarving. The faces carved on the necklace, originally carved on his fingernails, represented daily experiences and lessons learned, thus revealing the secrets of carving.

Pole 9. Sea Monster Pole: Carved by John Wallace, this pole resembles one from the deserted Haida village of Klinkwan. A village watchman stands guard at the top. Below are two eagles. Underneath are painted faces representing mountains and clouds, the habitat of eagles. Below is a small carved face, a personification of the undersea home of the supernatural blackfish which holds a seal. The duck-like beaked creature is the mythical sea monster. The small face under the beak is the monster’s spirit power. Tentacles with a face beneath represent a devilfish in the act of devouring the human being at the base of the pole.

Pole 10. Raven at the Head of Nass: Copied from a Tlingit pole on Tongass Island, a chief in a spruce root dance hat tops the pole. At the base is the chief, Raven-at-the-head-of-Nass, from whom Raven stole daylight. The small human figure represents ancestors of the Raven clan who were benefited by the theft. The space between the top figure and the figures below represents high regard held for the chief.

Pole 11. Kat’s Bear Wife: This pole, copied from Tongass Island, is of the bear and tracks, symbolizing Kat’s Bear Wife. Kat was a character out of Tlingit mythology known across the country and claimed by many as an ancestor. He hunted grizzly bears for a living. After his death, his wife retreated into the hill country with songs of sorrow. The pole was carved to commemorate his bear wife. In 1985, carver Israel Shotridge replaced the bear portion of the pole.

Pole 12. Kadjuk Bird Pole: This Tlingit pole was copied from Cat Island. A similar pole can also be found in Ketchikan. The fabled Kadjuk bird sits on the top of the pole. The undecorated portion of the pole symbolizes the lofty habitat of the bird and the high esteem in which the crest is held.

Raven is the next figure, with his breast forming the headdress of his wife, Fog Woman, wearing the labret in her lower lip. In her hands she holds two salmon, which she produced, the first in the world. The two large faces at the base represent the two slaves of Raven.

Pole 13. Halibut Pole: This Tlingit pole honors the Halibut House people of the Nexadi clan. The original pole stood in the park from the CCC period until 1970, when it was replaced by carver Nathan Jackson. The original is now at the Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan.

Pole 14. Thunderer’s Pole: The original of this totem was at Tongass Island, and it symbolizes Thunder, belonging to the Thunder House people. Four brothers were changed into Thunderers. Like the Thunderbird, they create thunder and lightening and live high in the sky and on the mountain tops.

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