Friday, July 14, 2006

Cultural Sharing

Main Entry: totem
Function: noun
Etymology: Ojibwa his totem
1 a : an object (as an animal or plant) serving as the emblem of a family or clan and often as a reminder of its ancestry; also : a usually carved or painted representation of such an object b : a family or clan identified by a common totemic object
2 : one that serves as an emblem or revered symbol

Main Entry: totem pole
Function: noun
1 : a pole or pillar carved and painted with a series of totemic symbols representing family lineage and often mythical or historical incidents and erected by Indian tribes of the northwest coast of North America
2 : an order of rank : HIERARCHY

Earlier this morning l was listening to the radio and heard news of a Scottish artisan, Kenny Grieve who has started a project to erect totem poles all over Scotland in collaboration with the Canadian First Nation Indian carvers. An unusual thing to do in Scotland you many think but believe it or not we have many similarities, none least, our own historical totems - standing stones, cairns, clan crests, tartans, the Wallace monument, etc. Our Neolithic communities also had a special affinity with certain animals: some with dogs, some with deer, or with white-tailed sea eagles. Many eagle bones and talons have been found in highland cairns - a totem of the people who lived there. It is thought that the standing stones were even thought to be portals into other worlds.
These newly raised totem poles will be national monuments for the future- to share with future generations. They will combine symbolism from Celtic and Canadian Northwest Coast cultures.
A thought however occurs to me that without a story to go along with them, how will the future understand their meaning. In this country, before we could read we passed our traditions and tales by story/song- the old Scottish Bards, Folksongs etc.
If l had a totem pole perhaps it would reflect my love for the garden, nature, design and mothering. For some it would reflect playing an instrument, the Good Shepherd or achievements in sports. We have to ask ourselves however, ‘how do we explain these carvings?’ I have heard the phrase, ‘A picture paints a thousand words’- is a thousand therefore enough? What if that sport or particular instrument is no longer in play, who was the Good Shepherd anyway? Stories give meanings to things- a description of order. How else could you explain that your Granny was such a character? If a totem pole has a story to tell (good or bad) then how do we understand the story unless we know the poles history? What were the stacked symbols meant to honour or memorialize?
I think that the new totem poles and this transatlantic sharing is a wonderful idea and it does not really surprise me that the Scottish people are soaking up the idea and that these sculptured cedars are popping up all over the Highlands. School children are being given the opportunity to help design the carvings – a fantastic hands on experience for them.
Hopefully these totems will depict the history and achievements of Scotland and its people - perhaps even with an accompanying folksong or story.


Sorlil said...

aargh don't tell J or I'll have a dozen sprouting up in my backgarden!

weirdbunny said...

How cool is that!! Totem poles!! I want one too.

Tammy said...

As I was reading this, I thought, well, maybe our new totum pole for us women is...our it we store who and what we we are thinking at this point in time...what we care about...we design and fix and fuss...or I do...we put symbols in and "Tell" about our lives.
What do you think??

PEA said...

I found this post so interesting Horizon...I hadn't realized that this project was going on over there!! Canada has a large population of Native people and totem poles are certainly part of their culture...we don't see many here in Ontario but in other provinces like British Columbia, they are everywhere. Hopefully the new generation of Scots will understand what they represent and depict in their own homeland:-)

jellyhead said...

Wow, how freakily topical for me - I've just been admiring totem poles in the Vancouver museum today.
What a great idea. The totem pole need not be something solely carved by North American native people. I'd be interested to see pictures of the end results.

Connie and Rob said...

I am glad children are involved in the designing. Sometimes adults get caught up in too much detail where kids can get the point across quite simply.

Really a great idea. Thanks for sharing.

Granny said...

I'll enjoy seeing the finished products.

slap me happy said...

Your begining to scare me here by sounding like another family member lol. Just kidding. What would your totem have on it???
xx sw

Grish said...

I've seen Totems in movies so I know they exist. That's about it. hehe

Nah, reall enjoyed reading about it. Interesting stuff.

Sigrun said...

Hi Horizon, I have posted something for you! :-)


Merle said...

Hello Horizon ~~ I tried a couple of times to comment on your next post up, but get a cannot be found message.
Glad you had a great trip to Rothesay
and a break away from home. Thanks for your comments and glad you liked the
Adoption Poem and the jokes.
Take care, Merle.

Sue said...

We saw lots of totems in Alaska on our visits. The people of the town seemed to know the story behind them. They were quite interesting!

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