The pole acts as a visual illustration. It narrates oral history. It displays important characters to evoke its meaning. These characters have family significance. All carvers must have an acute sense of oral history because they are ones who transfer the story onto the pole. After hearing the story, the carver begins to conceptualize the design while looking for the right tree.
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The choice of a tree: Choosing a tree for a pole is based on two main criteria, size and location. In choosing a tree for a pole you want one that is tall, straight, and free of knots. Knots are caused by branches, so for a pole you go to the dense forest where branches are only at the top of the tree canopy. The location of the tree is also important, you need it to be near a waterway so after it is brought down it can be transported by water back to the carving site. The tree is too heavy to pack out of the bush by hand for long distances.
Tree selection is also dependant on size. A tree must be large enough to be debarked, rounded and still have enough girth to be carved.
harvesting the tree
The best time to harvest a cedar tree is in late summer to early spring.
After a tree is selected, a test hole is chiseled into a flare at its base. This is to check the grain of the wood and if the interior of the tree is rotten. An immature cedar tree doesn't produce Thujaplicin and can become inflicted with rot causing infections. This infection manifests in mature trees as a rotted core.
After checking the tree and finding no extensive rot, the tree feller then addresses the spirit of the tree with a prayer. This prayer thanks the tree for its contribution and asks it to fall well and in a particular direction.
There are three main methods of felling a tree:
This is the least labour intensive of the methods. First wet clay is packed around the trunk of the tree above where you are going to build the fire. This is to control the fire and stop it from burning up the tree trunk. Then a fire is built at the base of the tree. The fire is then cultivated to burn and fell the tree in a particular direction. The other end is separated in the same manner.
burning and adzing
First a cavity is chiseled into the trunk of the tree . Then red hot stones from a nearby fire are placed into the cavity. The fire in the trunk is controlled by using branches dipped in water applied around the burning area. The stones are periodically replaced with new ones to keep the process going. In between stone replacements the charcoal is removed with an adze. The location of the cavity determines which direction the tree will fall. The other end of the pole is also separated in a similar manner.
Chisel, maul, and wedge
First the tree is circumnavigated with 2 chisel cuts about a foot apart. The wood between these cuts is then removed with a wedge and maul. After one section around the trunk is complete the whole process is then repeated . This is done again and again until the tree falls. The other end is the separated in a similar manner after it is propped up.