Our bus-tour-driver-guide took us to Potlatch Park. The park was built on the old fishing grounds of the Tlingit tribe. Along with the Tlingit, the Haida and Tsimshian also play a part in the community. One of Ketchikan’s many names is: Native American Capital of Alaska.
Another Ketchikan name: Rain Capital of the U.S. (They get forty inches of rain in October.) We slogged our way through Potlatch Park to the clan house and past the five types of Totem Poles:
1) Story Poles – obviously told a story
2) House Poles – gave the history of the family or clan
3) Grave or Mortuary Poles
4) Commemorative Poles – to remember various events.
5) Shame Poles – easy to spot because the ears of the human figure(s) were painted red
In 1867 William H. Seward (Secretary of State at the time) toured Alaska. He was given a potlatch—a great honor in the Tlingit culture.
A potlatch is a large elaborate feast. The host often gives presents according to the guests’ importance. The host may even destroy expensive items to show he is wealthy enough to afford the loss. Dancing and feasting may last several days. Dancers may take a short nap and then dance again for hours.
Guests honored by a potlatch were expected to give one in return. The only problem was Seward never returned to Alaska. A Shame Pole was carved in his honor. Its large red ears extended prominently from the sides of the carved face.
If you are ever treated to a potlatch on your visit to Alaska, make sure you give one in return. You don’t want a shame pole raised in your honor.
Travel Light Humor
Our bus-tour-driver-guide had a very clever monologue. When we asked him about it, he looked chagrined. “My wife tells me I mumble it every night in my sleep.”
A wise acre a few rows back asked, “And how does your wife feel about that?”
A few people chuckled.
“I think you can guess the answer,” our bus-tour-driver-guide said.
Hearty laughter followed.
No wonder he could rattle off his spiel so easily. He practiced in his sleep.
©2015 SuZan Klassen