The Native Americans of the northwestern United States and Canada believe that each clan or kinship group is descended from a particular animal, such as a whale, wolf, or bear. Coincidentally, continents away the Africans practiced this exact belief. Their animal has become the group’s totem, a powerful symbol of its identity. People display their identity and status with totem poles? ‘–tall standing logs carved with images of mythical animals. Totem poles mark the approaches to villages and the burial sites of chieftains and stand at the entrance of each clan house.
Originally, totem poles were raised to represent a family clan, its kinship system, rights, prestige, accomplishments, dignity, adventures, major events, clan histories, stories, and ridicule. A totem pole could be raised in honor of a deceased elder, to show the names of a specific important person, to record an encounter with a spiritual being, or to symbolize generosity. Totem poles are an important icon of identity, and the symbols presented within the pole say a great deal about the family, person, or reason for creating the pole. Totem poles are usually carved from mature cedar trees by a team of carvers.Order now
The chief carver personally carves the bottom ten feet of the pole, while his apprentices carve the upper portions. The lower portion of the totem pole (the part most easily seen by viewers), therefore, is usually the most professional and important. However, not all totem poles are constructed this large. The Liberian Monkey is a totem pole barely a foot tall. Seeming to be carved out of wood, it looks old and tarnished. The monkey would symbolize mischievousness in the African folklore, however the position and stance this monkey was carved in was rather peculiar. Carved with it was a stool, which the monkey would be sitting upon.
The wood had sharp defined features with harsh shaping statures and curves. Elongated hands brought to it’s face in a rather religiously-suggestive matter, both sides symmetrically formed a U curve distinctly defining separation of the anatomy. Many symbols can be incorporated into a totem pole. Raven is identified by his straight beak and is a powerful trickster, curious and defiant but likable. Eagle has a downward-curved beak and is part of the Sky Realm. Bear has large paws and sometimes a protruding tongue and is one who can transform into human form – he must not be insulted.
Copper Woman grants wealth to her favorites and is the friend of Frog. A totem pole can be very difficult to decode for outsiders, as each symbol has many stories and legends associated with it. The true and deep meaning of a pole may only be known to the family, natives, or carver. Although it does not often occur, color is oftentimes incorporated in the production of these figures. As in the Liberian Monkey totem pole we’ve observed, there seems to be a faded off-tone color along the jaw to the elongated ears of the monkey. This is most likely to symbolize great age and bring more aesthetically pleasing features to the monkey’s bare scalp.
Many parts of the monkey were distinctly darkened such as the curve above the eyes (indicating eyebrows), as well as the limb of the the knees and separation of the stool on which the monkey sits upon. A combination of the slacked curve to delve into the face from the scalp with the enlarged eyes and low mouth gives the monkey a figure of wisdom and age. The hunched back of the monkey adds to this conclusion. The hands and fingers of the monkey are carved inaccurately but in a similar fashion to the haphazard yet smooth curvatures of the rest of the piece.
The rather large feet with the stool the monkey sits upon maintains the balance it needs to remain upright. Anatomically, the monkey seems to have shorter legs, but this must be necessary for the totem pole to balance upon the stool even with it’s hunched back. The ears of the monkey are also significantly enlarged. In my research I’ve found that one possibility this monkey might be preaching towards might be to the phrase “See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil”, though this is quite unlikely.