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Totem pole from Kitwancool Creek, B.C., Can.—W.E. Ferguson/Shostal Associates
Carved and painted vertical log, constructed by many Northwest Coast Indian peoples. The poles display mythological images, usually animal spirits, whose significance is their association with the lineage. Each figure represents a type of family crest. Some poles relate a family legend in the form of pictographs. Poles are erected to identify the owner of a house or other property, welcome visitors, indicate a portal or passageway, mark a gravesite, and even to ridicule an important person who failed in some way. See alsosymbol; totemism.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on totem pole, visit Britannica.com.