Ketchikan Local Customs

  • Understanding Totem Poles
    Understanding Totem Poles
    by mcpangie
  • Chiken of the Woods
    Chiken of the Woods
    by mcpangie
  • Haida Master Carver Eagle Totem
    Haida Master Carver Eagle Totem
    by peach93

Most Recent Local Customs in Ketchikan

  • Totem Poles

    by peach93 Written Oct 18, 2006

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    Haida Master Carver Eagle Totem
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    The totem poles one sees in Ketchikan are mostly made by people from the Tlingit tribe, but some are also made by Haidas. Experts can tell which tribe made a pole by looking at the way it is carved and the layout of its designs. Poles are also carved for many purposes. Often they tell stories, as the native people in Alaska had no written language. They are also used to mark celebrations and occasions, to honor leaders and as memorials or grave markings. Some poles, though rarely seen, are also used to "shame" people who have done something to greatly disgrace themselves or their tribe, though because of the amount of work involved in making a totem pole, these are rarely seen.

    The symbols on totem poles often represent animals. Common ones seen in the Ketchikan area are eagles, ravens, wolves and killer whales. Each animal represents something different and has a distinct personality. The raven, for example, is a trickster who can often fool people into doing his will without them knowing it.

    Several native artists in Ketchikan still make totem poles to order which can cost thousands of dollars per foot and take up to a year to complete.

    Related to:
    • Historical Travel

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    Understanding Totem Poles - Watchman

    by mcpangie Written Jan 13, 2004
    Watchman

    The sign says...

    Watchman:
    Standing watch atop a totem pole, the watchman warns the owner of an approaching enemy.

    - human figure
    - ears on side of head
    - hat often has concentric rings signifying the number of potlatches the owner has given.

    Related to:
    • Arts and Culture
    • National/State Park

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    Understanding Totem Poles - Thunderbird

    by mcpangie Written Jan 13, 2004

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    Thunderbird

    The sign says...

    Mystical Thunderbird:
    This is the most powerful of all spirits. Only the most prestigious of chiefs have Thunderbird crests.

    - out-stretched wings
    - upper beak sharply recurved
    - curved appendages on top of head

    Related to:
    • National/State Park
    • Arts and Culture

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    Legend of the Creation of Water

    by mcpangie Updated Jan 13, 2004
    Raven

    A Thleen-Git Legend of the Creation of Water - adapted by The North Star, Vol.4, No. 12, November 1891, Sitka, Alaska

    When Yea'hl created the world for his people, Thleen-Git, he did not provide water for them to drink. Ganook, a most powerful chief and magician had control of all fresh water. Ganook lived in a distant world; it was almost impossible to gain access into the house where he jealously guarded the water. But Yea'hl was wise. The White Yea'hl must provide water for his people whom he had created.

    After a journey of many days he came to the magician's house. The White Bird changed into a man. He saluted Ganook with the familiarity of an old friend, "I am cold, my noble partner, you have there a nice warm fire. You will let me warm myself?"

    By some power Yea'hl exercised over Ganook he forgot for the time his precious water. The house was very warm, and after a time Ganook, the mighty magician fell asleep. Immediately Yea'hl changed into a beautiful white bird again. Filling his beak with the coveted water, he flew straight to the opening in the roof, which served as a chimney and ventilator to Ganook's house.

    But the White Bird was not to escape so easily. The magician awoke and saw the trap in which he had been so artfully ensnared. "My powers, hold him I command you!" he roared. Instantly Yea'hl felt himself held by a thousand invisible chains. The magician built a fire of pitch and wet wood, from which a thick cloud of smoke rolled upwards and enveloped the White Bird completely.

    When, almost dead, Yea'hl flew out into the world through the opening, he found himself totally black. The smoke from the fire of the wicked magician had blackened forever the beautiful white feathers. To this day the Raven is black. As he flew he dropped the water from his beak; the large drops made great lakes and rivers, small drops made ponds and springs.

    Thus the Raven distributed water over the land which he created.

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    • Arts and Culture

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    Understanding Totem Poles - Raven

    by mcpangie Written Jan 13, 2004
    Raven

    The sign says...

    Raven:
    Raven was thought to have supernatural powers and be creator of the world. It is one of two main Tlingit and Haida crests.

    - long straight beak having blunt or short turned down tip
    - ears visible
    - tongue visible

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    • National/State Park
    • Arts and Culture

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    Understanding Totem Poles - Killer Whales

    by mcpangie Written Jan 13, 2004
    Blackfish

    The sign says...

    Blackfish or Killer Whale:
    Haida believed killer whales were drowned persons returning to visit.

    - round head with a snout filled with large teeth
    - blow hole often carved as small human-like face
    - prominent dorsal fin and pectoral fins
    - round eyes

    Related to:
    • Arts and Culture
    • National/State Park

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    Understanding Totem Poles - Beaver

    by mcpangie Updated Jan 13, 2004
    Beaver

    The sign says...

    Beaver:
    This important crest of the Haida is the subject of many legends.
    - An open mouth
    - Two large incisor teeth
    - Stick held in mouth or fore-paws
    - Cross-hatched pattern on tail

    The Haida are one of the main tribal groupings within Southeast Alaska.

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    • National/State Park
    • Arts and Culture

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    Understanding Totem Poles - Bear

    by mcpangie Updated Jan 13, 2004
    Bear

    Bears are considered to be powerful and possess human-like qualities.

    One summer I went camping/hunting in Bristol Bay and my friends shot a black bear. When it was being dressed out, I was amazed at how the bear's feet were about the same size and shape as my hand. I have never been surprised that different cultural groups identify with the bear as human-like.

    The sign says...

    Bears:
    Because of its power and human-like qualities, a killed bear was taken to the chief’s house and treated as a high ranking guest.

    - large flaring nostrils
    - wide-mouth with sharp canine teeth
    - claw-like paws
    - short tail or no tail
    - protruding tongue
    - prominent ears

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    • Arts and Culture
    • National/State Park

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    An Annoying Local Custom

    by mcpangie Updated Jan 8, 2004

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    Chiken of the Woods

    One of the most annoying "local customs" is some yahoos (just some, and it only took a few) were fond of chucking rocks at these beautiful orange fungi known as "Chicken of the Woods" along the hiking trails. It wasn't just kids, I went places kid's don't have access to without their parents and the fungi were still knocked down. It's like picking flowers in a National Park. If everyone picks one, soon there won't be any left for the people that follow. Hopefully you find picture-taking spots before other's spoil the beauty.

    Related to:
    • Eco-Tourism
    • Hiking and Walking
    • Family Travel

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    Understanding Totem Poles - Frog

    by mcpangie Written Jan 13, 2004

    2 out of 5 starsHelpfulness

    Frog

    The sign says...

    Frog:
    It is said that carved frogs on house poles prevent them from falling over.

    - wide mouth
    - thick lips
    - toed feet in flexed position
    - no teeth, ears or tail

    Related to:
    • National/State Park
    • Arts and Culture

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    Understanding Totem Poles - Eagle

    by mcpangie Updated Jan 13, 2004
    Eagle

    The sign says...

    Eagle:
    Eagle is one of the two main Haida and Tlingit crests.

    - curved down beak, shorter than Raven's
    - tongue
    - prominent U form ears
    - U form feathers

    Related to:
    • Arts and Culture
    • National/State Park

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    Understanding Totem Poles

    by mcpangie Written Jan 13, 2004
    Understanding Totem Poles

    Here is a posted sign at the Totem Bight State Park to help people understand what it is they are seeing on totem poles.

    Related to:
    • National/State Park
    • Arts and Culture

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Ketchikan Local Customs

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