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 paint- blue, red, and green.” —Nineteenth Century, December, 1892, p. 993.

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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