In terms of real totem poles
this expression is so contrary, one wonders why people say
At first glance it might appear
that the lowest figure on a totem pole, has the weight of
an entire menagerie on top. Interestingly enough however,
the lowest end of an authentic totem pole is as important
as any other part.
Why is the low man
Totem poles are carved, not by one carver, but by a head carver
and a number of apprentice-carvers. The head carver has a
reputation to uphold. Therefore he or she is well aware that
the viewers of a finished upright pole range in size from
3 feet (children) to about 7 feet (basketball players). So,
to be certain the totem looks professional, the chief carver
personally carves or seriously supervises the bottom ten feet
of the pole. Inexperienced apprentices are allowed more freedom
to carve the higher regions. Therefore the bottom of all totem
pole is sometimes the best carved part of the whole pole.
Meaning wise, the low man has a much or more meaning than
What's on top of totems?
Many poles (but certainly not all of them!) are topped off
with a Thunderbird, sort of a generic capper
figure, something like a Christmas star. This figure gained
importance in the 1930s when the Roosevelt administration
encouraged tribes such as the Ojibway and others to carve
totem poles for sale to the public. Though they had no totem
tradition, they carved generic totem poles making the Thunderbird
topper a common sight.
Thunderbird (sometimes simply
called "Eagle") is a regal figure, but in many cases
has far less meaning than all the carefully thought out symbolic
creatures carved into the lower regions.
Also it's important to note
that many Pacific Northwest Native tribes never put Thunderbird
on top of their totems.
The Haida often place three
Watchmen on top of their totems.
And there can be all sorts
of other figures placed on the sky-end of a totem pole.