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I can't verify that this is true, but I've heard that the idiom, "low man on the totem pole" might not be a negative in actuality, as the lower one was, the "higher" their standing. Can anyone verify this? What else do you know about totems? Not limited to Native North Americans.


I don't believe there are hard and fast rules for the order of carving images on poles, because it depends on the context of the pole itself. Poles may have political purposes, or they may be an announcement, or they can tell a story. The tallest pole in the world, at Alert Bay, has a large Sun on top of it. Since you mostly look at figures on the bottom from your line of sight, carvers often pay closest attention to the bottom figures to make them very impressive.

But "totems" as the figures on totem poles are not the same as the "totems" often associated with titles of clans. Poles may feature plenty of images which are not used as clan totems. However, a clan carving a pole may place their totem at the top as a sort of signature. A Bear clan carver, for example, might place a Bear figure on top of his pole, even though the pole's context may have nothing to do with actual bears or bear spirits.


Yeah, Totem Poles were often messages of communication, the same way the coat of arms would be. Not ever tribe created their totem poles the same way.