Hawaiian and Canadian totem poles

some recent research by Yuri Kuchinsky


Totem poles from Hawaii and from the Canadian Pacific coast show some pretty amazing similarities. Of course, one can assume that these similarities were even greater about 1000 years ago or so, when these peoples seem to have been in contact with each other, and travelling across all those thousands of miles across the Pacific.

Unfortunately, a few of the links below don't work any more (in Dec 2004). I mark these now as 'INACTIVE'.

Message ID:

 From: Yuri Kuchinsky (yuku@clio.trends.ca)
 Subject: Hawaiian and Canadian totem poles
 Newsgroups: sci.archaeology, alt.culture.hawaii,
 soc.culture.pacific-island, sci.anthropology
 Date: 2003-12-04 11:28:05 PST

Greetings, all,

Recently I've been searching the Net for some totem poles from Hawaii,
and from the Canadian Pacific coast. And I've been able to find quite
a few!

I was inspired by this website from Peter Marsh,

Polynesian Pathways

And especially by this article,

Canadian Connection

According to Peter Marsh, the Canadian Haida Totem poles, are "almost
Hawai'ian in appearance". Well, I think he's basically correct. I've
found quite a few similarities there between many of these figures.

The following exploration of totem poles from Canada and from Hawaii
is mostly for those who are interested in these sorts of things. All
the links below are currently active, although they may change in the

These comparisons will probably impress only those who have no prior
bias against these sorts of cultural connections. Those who are
inclined to deny them will probably keep on rejecting such evidence.
But of course such evidence must be taken in conjunction with much
other evidence to the same effect, as outlined, for example, in the
above site by Marsh...

In any case, one of the big scholarly authorities on Canadian totem
poles was Marius Barbeau (1883 - 1969),

Civilization.ca - Scholars - Marius Barbeau

He published quite a few studies on this subject. And this is what he
wrote in his 1929 monograph TOTEM POLES OF THE GITKSAN,

"The totem poles, as fairly recently carved and erected on both sides
of the Pacific, offer the same compelling resemblance. The technique
for their erection was also identical."


Great many Canadian totem poles can be found on the Net. This seems
like the best site, with lots of totem poles,


And here are some selected images, with my comments. The Hawaiian
totems will come next.


Kalugwis (Turnour Island)
A simple standing figure, just like in Hawaii.

"Welcome Figure" at K'we (Mt. Stephens)
This is an old Kwakiutl totem. A deity with a large animal-like head
-- similar to some Hawaiian figures. This woodcut by Walter Phillips
is the only record of this figure that we have.


The totem in the background (the upper figure on it) has a similar
head-dress and face, compared to Hawaii totems.

Also, this one seems to have a large head-dress.

Similar to Hawaii totems.

Something like the Maori spirals and head-dresses are visible here on
some of the totems,


This Canadian totem has similar mouth and eyes, compared to the
Hawaiian totems. Compare the following Hawaiian totem,

Totem Pole at Foster Gardens, O`ahu


It seems like most of these totems, known as ki'i, have been destroyed
by Christian missionaries, who first arrived to Hawaii in substantial
numbers in the 1820s, and by their local converts. But some of these
images still survive, because they were taken off the island by
foreign sailors and whalers as souvenirs. Also, some images remained
hidden in caves, and have been discovered more recently.

Here's a good account of traditional Hawaiian culture and religion,

Ancient Hawaii - Kahuna

The definitive volume on old Hawaiian totems is,

Cox, J. Halley, William H. Davenport, HAWAIIAN SCULPTURE, Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press, 1988 (1st edition, 1974).

This includes just about all available old Hawaiian totems. Some are
preserved in the Bishop Museum, Honolulu, but most of them, taken away
by early visitors, seem to be now scattered in museums around the

The following are some traditional Hawaiian totems,

The layout of a traditional Hawaiian temple (known as "heiau"),
including the totems.

An old painting of a Hawaiian temple, portraying human-like totems.

A detailed portrayal of the Akua ka'ai image with a large head-dress,
plus another totem.

A picture of totems from the 1782 book by Ellis.

A Hawaiian temple with totems, from an old book.

An old Hawaiian totem (an image removed from Hale-o-Keawe by Henry


The following are the Hawaiian totems that can be seen now at some
popular tourist sites in Hawaii.

http://www.richhavas.com/hawaii/PoR-Guardians.jpg INACTIVE
A collection of totems with large head-dresses, including a simple
standing figure. (Guardians: Place of Refuge, Kona, Hawaii.)

Same group, but better quality photo.

Same totems as above.

Two of the same totems as above.

"Along the Big Island's South Kona shore, traditional ki'i totems near
Captain Cook guard the place of refuge."

Simple Maori totem. Traditional Hawaiian and Canadian totems are quite

The following are recent commercially produced images, that may be
based on some old prototypes,

Carved tikis for sale in Paradise Cove, Oahu.

All the best,


Yuri Kuchinsky  -=O=- http://www.trends.ca/~yuku

Comparative studies of primitive art have probably been
jeopardized by the zeal of investigators of cultural contacts and
borrowings. But let us state in no uncertain terms that these
studies have been jeopardized even more by intellectual pharisees
who prefer to deny obvious relationships because science does not
yet provide an adequate method for their interpretation
   -=-   Claude Levi-Strauss, ANTHROPOLOGIE STRUCTURALE, 1958

Go to Yuri's Recent Research.

Go to Yuri's Ancient Travellers Page.