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Totem Pole (A)


A pole, elaborately carved, erected before the dwelling of certain American Indians. It is a sort of symbol, like a public-house sign or flagstaff.

“Imagine a huge log, forty or fifty feet high, set up flagstaff fashion in front or at the side of a low one-storied wooden house, and carved in its whole height into immense but grotesque representations of man, beast, and bird… . [It is emblematic of] family pride, veneration of ancestors … and legendary religion. Sometimes [the totem] is only a massive pole, with a bird or some weird animal at the top … the crest of the chief by whose house it stands… . Sometimes it was so broad at the base as to allow a doorway to be cut through it. Usually the whole pole was carved into grotesque figures one above the other, and the effect heightened . . by dabs of paintblue, red, and green.”—Nineteenth Century, December, 1892, p. 993.

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Entry taken from Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, edited by the Rev. E. Cobham Brewer, LL.D. and revised in 1895.

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