Ketchikan’s Liquid Sunshine and Totem Village

With special thanks to Slice of Life for giving writers inspiration, space, and voice

Slice of Life Day 24 of 31: Journeys (my March theme)

I recently went to see the movie Redeeming Love, and an avalanche of memories of Ketchikan, Alaska came rushing forward from my week in May 1998 spent learning about life in the Gold Rush days of Alaska. Women did what they had to do to survive, and the lines were heavily slanted toward survival over living. Dolly Arthur’s house along Creek Street offered a sobering glimpse of life known to the women of those days in Ketchikan. We didn’t stick around this former red light district too long with the kids – we moved on to some G-Rated stories.

In the rainiest city in the state, we were pleased that our excursion to Totem Bight State Park did not get cancelled; we’d looked forward to seeing the totem poles carved by the Tlingit tribe.

The Liquid Sunshine Gauge in Ketchikan
Mallory and Marshall standing at the entrance to historic Creek Street in Ketchikan – May 1998

Each of the totem poles tells a story that you can read here, and there is also a map of the village as well.

Mallory stands below Raven at the Head of Nass

Pole 10 is Raven at the Head of Nass – a chief in a dance hat tops the pole. At the bottom is the chief, Raven-at-the-Head-of-Nass. Raven stole daylight from Chief. The small human figure represents ancestors of the Raven clan who were happy to have daylight. The space between the figures represents respect for the chief.

Marshall listens to the tour guide tell about Man Wearing Bear Hat

Pole 3, Man Wearing Bear Hat, is a man of the Bear Clan wearing a large
carved wooden hat with a bear’s head, its brim surrounded by painted whales. The hat was worn on storytelling occasions.

As we listened to the tour guide tell the totem stories, I felt a deep connection to the power of the oral tradition of storytelling. I thought of its impact throughout history and its importance to future generations. The preservation of stories through totems and monuments combines art and reverence for what is held sacred. The experience here in this Native American village was spiritual and moving.

I reflected on my recent afternoon at the Azalea Storytelling Festival in Lagrange, Georgia and the entertainment and messages that are so powerfully felt when a human voice is sharing lessons through story. What a gift – one I need to savor more frequently.

Matt 13:34

All these things Jesus said to the people in the form of stories; and without a story he said nothing to them.

2 Replies to “Ketchikan’s Liquid Sunshine and Totem Village”

  1. Kim, reading your post reminds me of how totems have been turned into souvenirs and how little reverence we pay not only to oral traditions but also to the rhetorical value of material culture. This, I think, is something we need to do better in our schools.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The preservation of stories, art and reverence for what is held sacred – so much of these totems are expressing honor and gratitude. For daylight, for whales … powerful symbolism. Storytelling is a fine art. I think of all the history that has been preserved through it over the ages, and how we are wired, at our very core, for story. I was casually telling a story to the family the other day and Micah, sitting on her dad’s lap, was watching me intently. At five months, she knows something important is happening…planning to write on that…this also brings to mind the power of the read-aloud. It’s an unparalleled theatrical performance, if done well, and should continue through every grade level in school. One never outgrows the need for it.


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