Memorial Pole (RBCM 14684 a, b, d)
These are sections of a memorial pole from Gitanyow, previously known as Kitwancool, a Gitxsan community on the Kitwanga River north of the Skeena. Each Gitanyow git’man (totem pole) proclaims the lax’yip (territory) of a wilp (house group). The figures on the poles represent the adawaak (oral histories) and ayuuks (crests) of the wilp.
This is the On Sleeps the Raven pole of the wilp Lax Ganeda of Gamlakyeltxw. Erected about 1870 in memory of a household member, it is said to have been made by Hrstseeyae, a carver from a related household in the Nisga’a community of Gitlaxt’aamiks on the Nass River.
The human figure at the top of the pole (section RBCM 14684 d) symbolizes the People of the Smoke Hole or Real People of the Ladder crest. Now missing is a carving of a bird that originally perched on top of this figure and depicted the Sleeping Raven (On Sleeps the Raven) crest. The three birds carved on the pole are Mawdzeks, mythical creatures that resemble a hawk or eagle. They sat at the edge of the smoke hole in the roof and looked down into the house. The crouching figure with the twisted cedar bark headband symbolizes the People of the Smoke Hole, one of which sat at each of the four corners of the smoke hole. The human figure holding a small eagle-like bird represents the Boards of the Smoke Hole, covers for the smoke hole that often had carved Mawdzeks on them.
The pole was cut into three sections when it was removed from Gitanyow and acquired by curator Wilson Duff for the Royal BC Museum in 1962. The upper section (RBCM 14684 d) is on display behind glass at the museum’s east entrance; two other sections are in the First Peoples gallery; a fourth section that depicts another human figure is in storage. A replica was made in the Thunderbird Park carving program by Kwakwaka’wakw (Kwagu’ł) carvers Mungo Martin and Henry Hunt and returned to Gitanyow where it stands with other replica poles from the Royal BC Museum.
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