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 Home >> Art & Craft >> Jangseung (Totem pole)

Jangseung (Totem Poles) - An Object of Worship.

Totem poles are usually located at the entrance of a village. The Totem pole, Sotdae, is an object of worship in shamanism, where it plays an important role in protecting villages from evil.

Totem Poles are usually made from wood or stone. Poles made from wood are called ¡®Mok Jangseung¡¯, and ones made of stone are called ¡®Seok Jangseung¡¯.
In general, two totem poles would be built together.   Totem poles with a masculine figure wear crowns, and are engraved ¡®Cheonhadae janggun¡¯ meaning ¡®general of the country¡¯. Ones with feminine figures are engraved ¡®Jihayeo Janggun¡¯ literally meaning ¡®general feminine under ground¡¯.

The Totem Pole is probably one of Korea¡¯s most important artifacts.   Villagers make Totem Poles annually, and still practice their communal worship in front of them in some areas of Chungcheong-do.

The purpose the totem pole varies greatly. Originally they were built to protect villages against misfortune, and to wish for a good harvest or for the safe return of their children.   Sometimes, totem poles indicate a distance from somewhere or mark a borderline.   Some totem poles are made in the image of a village guardian, and feature prominent eyes and canine teeth. There are two different shapes of totem pole - one has the shape of a guardian deity, like ¡®Sacheon Wang¡¯, 4 gods in heaven, and the other is shaped into a person¡¯s portrait. These two kinds can be classified into several categories such as real expression, humoristic expression or typical totem expression.

The significance of ¡®Jangseung¡¯, totem poles

The totem pole is an object of traditional worship based on shamanism, which sometimes plays a role in indicating distances or borderlines, or in protecting a village and villagers. Many totem poles symbolize all three of these roles. Totem poles are regarded as sacred objects, and it is considered unlucky not to worship them.

Shapes and Figures of Totem Poles
The basic shape of a totem pole is made by carving an image or figure onto wood or stone.

The body of the totem pole varies, some are round, long or flat, and some have the appearance of a human being rather than a pillar.

Head, Forehead
The shape of head also varies - long, short, broad, etc., and the same applies to the forehead.

Some totem poles have prominent or peaked eyes, some wear glasses, and some are without eyebrows.

Totem poles can be placed into 2 categories - those with ears and those without ears. There are more without ears than with ears, and legend has it that this is to stop the totem pole from listening to demons.   

The Nose
The nose of the totem pole symbolizes masculinity. Most noses appear to take a normal form, although some have an aquiline or triangular shape.

The Mouth
The mouth symbolizes femininity, and is in general fairly big. There are various shapes of mouth which express different things – a closed mouth means that it is speculating something, while an open mouth expresses feelings of pity for someone. Teeth come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, and are present to ward off evil spirits.   

Most of the feminine totem poles don¡¯t have beards, however, there is one that shows an image of a general with a beard. Masculine totem poles sometimes have beards, many of which feature an artificial beard plaited into braids.

Modern totem poles
After latter period of Joseon, many people expressed their feeling of community by making totem poles.

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