Native American Tales

Wakiash and the First Totem Pole

Wakiash and the First Totem PoleWakiash and the First Totem Pole

Kwakiutl

Wakiash was a chief and all the other chiefs were presenting dances, but Wakiash felt that he did not have a good dance. He decided to go into the woods and see if one would come to him. He was there for four days, fasting and washing, when, one day, he woke up to find a frog on his chest. The frog told him to stay still because he was on the back of a raven, which would take Wakiash around the world to find something that he liked.

They flew over a house with a totem pole out front and Wakiash thought that he might like to have it. The frog, which could understand his thoughts, told the raven to land. At the house were a bunch of animals who were trying to dance, but they could not. They sent out the mouse to see if anyone was around; the mouse was small and could fit almost anywhere, so she could certainly find whoever or whatever was outside. The mouse put back on her mouse skin, all the animals had taken off their animal skins and looked like people.

Wakiash caught the mouse and gave it a piece of fat to eat and the mouse started talking to Wakiash. She asked him what he wanted and he told her that he wanted the house, the totem pole, and a dance. The mouse decided to help Wakiash out. The animals tried to dance again, but still couldn’t. The mouse was sent out several more times and on the last time, she told Wakiash to jump into the middle of the room when the animals begun to dance.

He did jump into the middle of the room and the animals were ashamed that a man had seen them looking as humans. They asked Wakiash what he wanted and he told them. They decided to dance for him so that he could pick out what dance he wanted. Afterwards, they gave him the house, which folded up. Wakiash took the folded up house and got back on the raven and left. When he awoke, he was back in the forest, but there was no frog or raven. He went home and threw down the folded-up house, which became the house he had seen before along with the totem pole. He danced there. His people came to him and he did have the best dance out of all of them. The thing was that Wakiash had not been gone four days, but four years.

After the dance was over, the house disappeared. Wakiash built his own house, along with a totem pole which was said to hold up the sky. The pole was called Kalukuyuwish, which Wakiash later took for his own name.

Observations

I do not know much of anything about totem poles. I am not from the northwest and have never even been there. I know that totem poles are a cherished piece of many cultures there. This is just one story about how totem poles came to be. Totem is not a work used purely to mean a carved pole. A totem can be a natural object believed to have spiritual power. For example, if you say, “Tina Fey is my spirit animal,” you’re sort of saying she’s your totem. If you were going to go all out with it and use the idea of a totem correctly, you would adopt Tina Fey as your crest or as a symbol that represented you.

Themes

I suppose that if you really want something, you can certainly get it. This man went out into the woods to be able to have a good dance and he found one, it took him four years, but he found one. He was given his dance, almost by divine power. He fasted and did the work to receive revelation and he did. It was a frog and a raven, but it happened.

I don’t know that wanting to do a good dance is a worthy endeavor for God, or the gods, to pay attention to, but maybe it is. Different things are important to different people. If your purpose in life was somehow tied up in being a good dancer or bringing a new art form to a people, then maybe, God, or the gods, would help you out in your journey.

Dancing, while enjoyable and beautiful, isn’t something you would consider to be so important that gods would interfere in human life to make it happen, but like I said, maybe it’s really important to that person and that thing just has to happen in their life. Wakiash was apparently supposed to bring a new dance and totem poles to the people, which he did, with the help from whoever sent the frog and the raven.

Overall

Very interesting story about where totem poles came from.

Weigh In

If you were going to adopt a totem, what would it be?

Do you think Wakiash deserved divine intervention to find a new dance?

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