Totem Poles: An Adventure in Culture and Remberance

AlaskaI got off the cruise ship and admired the landscape surrounding the dock. This was one of the last stops on this Alaskan adventure. Everything is so beautiful here and different from Mississippi.

The small town was directly off the dock and had a unique architecture to the buildings. They were two stories and made of wood with brightly colored exteriors. Each shop had its own unique goods to sell. The buildings fit in perfectly with the mountains in the backdrop.

I adjusted my coat and hat as we entered the small boat for the tour. It is cold in Alaska this May morning with a bit of a biting wind. The boat is going to take us on a tour of an old fish factory, a rain forest, and a totem pole village. This was going to be an exciting day.

The fishing factory had provided employment and food to the people of this Alaskan island for many years. I was impressed how the people of this cold land took advantage of the natural resources surrounding them. The factory had been closed for many years and now it was a museum. The history and resilience of the people in Alaska is fascinating.

The last stop on this tour is a totem pole village. It is a wonderful site to behold. In a circle are very large totem poles. They are extremely colorful and are beautiful in their tall structure.

The native Alaskans believe that everything comes from Mother Earth. They do not tear any structure down but allow Mother Earth to retake it. There are many old abandoned buildings falling down on this island. They will continue to deteriorate until Mother Earth completely recycles them back into the soil.

This deterioration is a wonderful example of the symbiotic relationship the people have with the land. Each thing taken from the land is returned and nourishes the environment. The same principle is true of the totem poles.

The native Alaskans used the totem poles as an impression of their culture. The totem poles are constructed out of wood and have elaborate carvings in the wood. The colorful carvings represent different parts of the belief system of the people.

There are times when a deceased person’s remains are inserted into the totem pole. The pole serves as a representation of that person’s life. Each event in that person’s life is represented by a carving. It is an interesting testament to life.

While viewing some of the totem poles I pondered at how our lives would be depicted if this was a common practice. Would our lives be depicted as a positive influence filled with love and joy or would the totem poles reflect our negatives influences such as hatred and bitterness? It is an interesting question for each of us to answer.

Each totem pole has a series of carvings on them that represent parts of the culture. The Alaskan totem poles have carvings of animals in them. Many believe that these animals will guide their deceased loved ones to the spiritual world.

Other totem poles have carvings that represent a certain part of a family’s heritage. Each impression is used to express what is important to be passed on to future generations. This is a wonderful legacy.

The totem poles remain until Mother Earth reclaims them. The totem pole deteriorates and returns to the soil where it provides nourishment. This is a continuance of the cycle of life.

Before leaving the totem pole village we visit the gift shop. I find a small totem pole that has been carved by the native Alaskan people. It is small and has beautiful vibrant colors. There is a small card attached that indicates the artist. I wonder what the artist had wanted to express about his life in this small carving.

We return to the tour bus and proceed back to town. We are instructed to look out the windows of  the bus while passing over a bridge. There is a bear gathering and eating salmon from the creek. This is a common occurrence as people and animals live in harmony in this community.

While standing in the cold biting wind waiting to get back on the cruise ship I look at my small totem pole and reflect on the impression the tour has made on me. From this time forward I will try to fill my life with positive influences. Perhaps if a totem pole was erected as my grave marker it would reflect a life of service to others.

Finally we enter the cruise ship and it is warm again. I am blessed to have been on this tour and my soul is nourished. The totem poles have made a wonderful impression on me.

copyright 2017 Debbie Pierce

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6 responses to “Totem Poles: An Adventure in Culture and Remberance

  1. My husband watches a television program about Alaska and says we should go there for a visit (or to live). Visit ok, but living there no so much. We could learn a great deal from native people all over the world if we would just stop thinking we are better than they are.

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