Weekly Photo Challenge: Culture #2 – My Yunnan Trip #9: What is the Totem Pole in Yunnan?

This post is in response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Culture. This is my second posting on this Challenge which is very interesting to me.

I always thought that totem poles only existed in places where natives Indians lived.  I saw quite a few in Alaska and Canada.  After my visit to Yunnan, I realized that I was so ignorant.  I saw totem poles in Lijiang, and then some for decorative purpose in Kunming.  So, Chinese people do have totem poles!  When I came back, I researched a little and educated myself.  If you are interested, here’s some information I got.

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What is a totem?

“A totem is a being, object, or symbol representing an animal or plant that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a familyclan, group, lineage, or tribe, reminding them of their ancestry (or mythic past).[1] In kinship and descent, if the apical ancestor of a clan is nonhuman, it is called a totem. Normally this belief is accompanied by a totemic myth. They have been around for many years.

Although the term is of Ojibwe origin in North Americatotemistic beliefs are not limited to Native Americans and Aboriginal peoples in Canada. Similar totem-like beliefs have been historically present in societies throughout much of the world, including Africa, Arabia, Asia, Australia, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and the Arctic polar region.”


What is a totem pole?

“Totem poles are monumental sculptures carved from large trees, mostly Western Red Cedar, by cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America.”


Even in wiki, there is no mention about totem pole in China.

Totem Poles in Yunnan

There are not a lot of information on line.  I found a picture and a short explanation:

Totem Poles of lahu nationality

“The lahu people consider that their own ancestors came from the gourds . thus,the folk people of the lahu nationality faithfully believe in animism. revere nature,and admire the gourds and reproductive organs. in areas inhabited by the lahu nationality, images of gourds and reproductive organs are always deified as totem and often erected in the form of totem poles with homage paid here is a one-sided view of the folk totem poles.”


Other References:

Yunnan Provincial Tourism Administration

An Introduction To Minority Cultures Of Yunnan

This is a very informative article.  Still, it only mentions about totem but not totem pole.


If you look at my pictures more closely by clicking one of the pictures, you may see the carving of a woman figure on the pole.  Who is that?  This is my guess:  in Lijiang,  the Naxi minority culture is women as the head of the family. Women work and men look after the household and children at home. I will discuss in more details about this minority culture in future posts.  It is possible that the woman figure represents the important position of women in the Naxi culture.  Another assumption is that:  in all ancient cultures, fertility is always represented by the body or figure of a woman.  As fertility is very important to the tribes for procreation, it is possible that woman figures are caved on these poles.  A third assumption is that the woman figure represents Mother Nature, who gives people rain and good climate, which are important for farmers etc in these minority areas.  This is however only a pure guess, as I am not knowledgeable enough to give the most accurate interpretation. .

I did see some other photos of the totem poles in China, including some in Tibet.  I tried to dig up my album of Tibet (and my friends’ Tibet albums as well).  None of us took any pictures of the totem poles in Tibet.  We were either unaware that they did exist, or we went to those sites where there was no totem pole.  If I get additional information in future, I will let you know.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. friendlytm says:

    Reblogged this on falling in love….with arts and commented:
    Arts and Cultures are inseparable!

  2. Clanmother says:

    What an extraordinary post! I did not know about Totem Poles in China. There is much to learn and I am glad that we are learning together!

    1. friendlytm says:

      Indeed, it is an interesting new “finds” for me. I hope to be able to find more information about totem poles in Yunnan.

I appreciate your comments

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