Tuesday, May 19, 2009

MyWorld Tuesday - A Haida Pole Raising

In the culture of the Pacific Northwest a totem pole is raised to celebrate a chieftanship, marriage, death, important event or to identify who lives where. The Haida totem poles are legendary and can be found in many private and public collections and museums around the world. The art of pole carving nearly died out with the decimation of the First nations cultures from smallpox, influenza, church and government. In the Haida Nation it was Bill Reid who started the rebirth of this almost lost art and mentored others. Today there is a strong and vibrant resurgance of these beautiful poles.

Today we were invited to witness the raising of a pole dedicated to "Communities Working Together" to build the newly opened Haida Gwaii Hospital on north Haida Gwaii. The old 4 bed army hospital no longer supported the community needs, however there was no money in the public coffers to build a new one...so the communities took it upon themselves to find the money through provincial, federal, municipal and foundations grants to build the infrastructure and then leased the building back to Northern Health. This pole is dedicated to the community spirit that saw this happen.

The Haida Village of Old Masset commissioned the pole and then contracted the carver. The story of what the pole represents is told to the carver and then he sets out to design and carve the pole with the help of other carvers and in this case apprentices. The right cedar tree must be found, which is becoming more and more difficult with industrial logging. The tree is cut down and prepared for the carver...it is blessed with eagle down, peeled, cut to size, in this case 60 feet and split to hollow out the back. This prevents the likelihood of the pole splitting as it dries. The pole is carved and painted... never on time and always over "budget"! It is not uncommon for a pole to be raised with the paint still wet!



When the pole is ready, a hole is dug about 15 ft deep on an angle so the pole can be "walked" into the hole. It is braced at the bottom, cedar braided ropes are tied just below the top crest figure and under the guidance of the loudest chief and with everyone helping the pole is slowly and carefully pulled up.

It is truly an amazing sight to witness a pole being raised. It is a precision exercise and can easily be toppled if someone is not paying attention. Once up, it must be leveled(front to back and side to side) and straightened to the carver's satisfaction.


Today as the pole was being twisted so that is was facing straight out to sea the base of the pole cracked as the pole slipped off a rock in the hole and dropped several inches....we all held our breath!


You can see the crack at the base of the pole which was bound by rope above and around the split until rocks, sand and gravel where filled in to secure the pole. Everyone is encouraged to help throw in the rocks and shovel the sand.


Once filled in the pole will never come down. It will decay before it is blown down.


When the pole is secure, climbers will go up the pole and untie the ropes. The pole stands facing the sea in a u-shaped court yard in front of the hospital. The grounds will be landscaped with indigenous vegetation and benches for staff, residents and visitors to enjoy.

The carver, Christian White(in white t shirt) and his family.

To thank everyone for honouring their invitation a feast or potlatch is held where there is much eating, drumming, dancing and speeches and each person will be gifted for coming to witness this great event. As the Haida history is an oral history it is important for people to witness such events so that they may retell the event they have witnessed and for doing that you are paid! More to come.....

Please click on any photo to get a better look.
To find out more about other interesting places around the world why not join us at MyWorld Tuesday

23 comments:

sixstars said...

Very interesting story and photo presentation of the rasing of the Totem pole. We have a Totem pole at the airport all the way in Christchurch New Zealand.

SandyCarlson said...

That's an interesting sight! A lovely work of art, too.

Wolynski said...

That's one beautiful totem pole - wonderful thing such traditions are being preserved. How long will it last? Forever?

Jenn said...

That's a lovely totem pole and an activity for the community. Great camaraderie. Nice story! Thanks!

fishing guy said...

Carolyn: What a neat neat feat to observe. That is a beautiful totem pole.

Cedar ... said...

Interesting story, I wish I could be there to see the pole and hear the stories about the different carvings on it.

Rob Inukshuk said...

I loved watching the raising of the Totem Pole and reading about the process and the tradition. Thanks.

Arija said...

What a beautiful community event. A totem pole welds them together even more than the effor for the hospital.

Anne said...

Wow, thanks for this posting! Beautiful pole, and interesting description of the pole-raising process and ceremony.

Syaa_Fiqq said...

This is interesting post. Great stories and wonderful photos..

chrome3d said...

So many people pulling it up! That couldn´t be possible around my place. People are too lazy and it would have to be done with a machine.

ms toast burner said...

What a fantastic post!

It's wonderful to see a community coming to together to celebrate something (the hospital) that they worked hard to achieve. A perfect model for any community.

I hope the crack doesn't affect the pole in a bad way.

Meandering Michael said...

Amazing carving and an amazing post. Thanks!!!

Tammie Lee said...

Thank you sharing this story. I did not realize how full of people coming together an event like this is. Though it makes complete sense. It is such a beautiful piece of art and full of living meaning. That crack must have been horrifying.

at the cottage said...

How nice to honour the community with such a tribute! The craftsmanship is amazing!

I learned something new about raising totem poles. What a cherished tradition. Thanks Carolyn

Deb

Deborah Godin said...

Nice to see a pole in its original colorful state. I'm used to seeing (in books) the old weathered ones, like at Ninstints, and couldn't imagine them in "living color" - thanks for a great post!

Janie said...

I'm glad to hear that a tradition that nearly died out is coming back. Great information about the totem pole and how and why one is made. It's beautiful.

Canarybird said...

So lucky that you could be present to watch this amazing ceremony. I'm originally from Vancouver Island where there are also some wonderful totems but sorry to say I never got up to see the Queen Charlotte Islands. I've always thought the Haidas had an interesting history and some beautiful art and handicrafts.

CoyoteFe said...

Carolyn, thank you so much for sharing this! I do not use the word inspirational very often, but now is such a time. Community is such a precious thing, and the antidote for much that ails us today. So wonderful that this art is re-emerging, and that apprentices were on hand to continue this great thing. Blessing on your community that came together to build a hospital and a lasting reminder of who you all are.

P.S. Love your Muir quote.

Gaelyn said...

What an honor to be present for this awesomely carved pole raising. And for such a good thing as the community coming together. So glad this tradition is being passed on. And thank you for sharing the story.

Ruth said...

What an interesting experience. I would have loved to have been there. I do enjoy Emily Carr's books and paintings so much and have always thought the Haida poles were fascinating.

Martha Z said...

A wonderful and informative post, thank your.

Glennis said...

Wow thats a big pole to raise, thanks for showing us how it is done.
Its a real work of art, a labour of love.

LinkWithin

Blog Widget by LinkWithin