Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Review of "The Wolf and the Raven: Totem Poles of Southeastern Alaska," by Viola E. Garfield and Linn A. Forrest

Review of

The Wolf and the Raven: Totem Poles of Southeastern Alaska, by Viola E. Garfield and Linn A. Forrest ISBN 0295739983

Five out of five stars

 The totem poles of the natives of British Columbia and Alaska are literally story poles in the sense that they are a physical representation of legends, myths and folklore. After many years of neglect, there was a concerted effort by the United States Forest Service starting in 1938 to preserve and restore the remaining poles. Unfortunately, for many of the poles, the preservation effort came too late.

 The physical structure of some of the most prominent poles along with the legends they represent is presented here. The stories are what one would expect from a hunter people, they are based on the animals in their world such as the wolf and raven. There are many images of the higher quality poles, they are an impressive art form, for they are majestic. The various tribes and their styles are also described.

 There is a depressing recounting on page 10 of a native carver that turned against the craft and his people. John Wallace was the son of a prominent carver who became a lay worker for the local church. He renounced a career in woodcarving, and he encouraged his people to cut down and destroy totem poles, personally destroying some of them. It is another unfortunate incident of a person finding one religion only to try to destroy the heritage of another.

  One of the items we studied in elementary school was the totem poles in Alaska. I still remember seeing the pictures and hearing the legends, some of which no doubt appears in this book. It is fortunate that this aspect of native culture is being preserved.

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