For the full story of totems, purchase Totem
Poles. A common question, often asked, is "Is this totem real or fake?
|Are real totem poles still carved today? Alaskan
and Pacific Northwest Native totem poles once portrayed meaningful Native symbols,
stories and clan-family crests. Today, Northwest Pacific Coast First Nation's carvers
also construct totem poles for non-Native people -- technically not part of the old
totem tradition. However, if the totems are carved by a sanctioned carver and follow
the old rules (as much as possible), they are considered legitimate.
Since authentic full size totem poles today, cost in the region of $25,000 to $100,000
each, outsiders usually commission them to commemorate a great event or a great "coming
of age", to symbolize a pact between nations, or to illustrate some sort of
bond between Native people and the company , person or government entity that commissions
the pole. Raising a totem is a pretty important event.
|What makes a totem authentic ?
To be authentic, a totem pole needs to be sanctioned.
First, it must be made by a trained Northwest Pacific Coast native person, or in
rare cases, a non-Native apprentice who is approved by a Northwest Pacific Coast
Tribe from southeastern Alaska, coastal British Columbia or northern Washington state.
Secondly, it must be raised and "blessed" by Northwest Coast natives or
elders who are part of the totem pole tradition.
If chainsaw artists, non-Native imitators, or (non-apprenticed) Natives from tribes
far away from the Northwest Pacific Coast claim to produce "totem poles",
under the rules of the Northwest Pacific Coast native totemic tradition, the poles
they produce are fakes. Not just anyone can produce an authentic totem. It's not
just the art, it's the tradition and ceremonies that go with it.
But let's give credit where credit is due. Most chain saw artists do not claim to
produce real totem poles.
Fun fake Totems
What about argillite totems?
Small argillite totems, a kind of black slate found
only in northern BC, made for the tourist trade, are "real", under the
-they are miniature prototypes of poles that were never built
-they are authentic copies of poles that once stood
-they are miniature copies of poles still standing
-they are assembled under the rules of protocol still practiced today.
A great number of the miniature totem poles found
in souvenir stores fall into the last category.
However, totems are not truly "authentic"
if an outsider just "made them up". But they can still be fun to own.
Argillite Totem Pole
|What about make-believe magic "totem"
Recently, the word "totem" has come into use as part of the elaborate "Dungeons
and Dragons" game playing strategy. Players give and receive "totems,"
talisman-like magical-charms that are said to empower its users with certain powers
and attributes. These include totems named "Parrot," "Jaguar,"
"Tiger," "King Arthur," etc.
Some New Age artists and jewelers also employ the "totem" as a image for
various qualities they imbue into the object. Confusion arises if these groups claim
their artificial "totem" constructs are part of the "ancient"
First People's practice of building totem poles. These types of talismen-totems are/were
not part of any Pacific Northwest Coast First Nations' traditions.
Totem poles are emblems, not talismen. The difference is significant.
Totem Talisman are not part of the tradition
|Do other nations or countries make totem poles?
Certain indigenous (first) people in Japan, Africa, India, New Zealand, Tahiti, Hawaii
and Africa produce wooden figures that are sometimes referred to as "totems".
But they are more properly called "carvings", "greet figures"
"ancestor figures" or "tikis".
Technically it might be argued in the widest sense
that they are some sort of "totems". However, they often represent some
sort of ancestor worship, taboos, or depiction of "gods" and none of these
practices have ever been a part of the Pacific West Coast totem tradition .
Japanese Ainu totem poles
New Zealand Maori "totems"