May 26, 2021
26. Does our knowledge depend on our interactions with other knowers?
Object 1. Totem Pole Thunderbird House Post, British Columbia, Canada
My first object is a picture of a Totem Pole located in Stanley Park, Vancouver, which I have taken when I was on a roundtrip in Canada. One of the six First Nations of the Pacific Northwest, called Kwakwaka’wakw created the Totem Poles. This object is a replica Thunderbird, created by Charlie James, and belongs to the Thunderbird clan, a family from Vancouver Island.1 To get more information, I went into the visitor center and learned that the material used is red cedar, painted in colors of black, red, blue, green, white and yellow. Each Totem Pole can be divided into 3 sections, each of those having their own designated figures. The top section shows mythical creatures or monsters that can depict a tribe, as in my object, the Thunderbird. 2
This object links to the prompt because even though I got a lot of background information what each of the figures means, this doesn’t signify that I got an in-depth understanding of how it is embedded in Indigenous culture. Since we acquire knowledge from the interaction of others through family, peers or experts who learned from their ancestors the knowledge each Pole has in terms of belief and cultural identity cannot be easily transferred.
This object is particularly interesting for this exhibition because through the interaction with an indigenous person (knower), I was able to acquire the knowledge that each Totem Pole traces back a family’s ancestry, verifies the rights, and privileges the family had. The Totem Pole in Stanley Park should not be recognized as art, but rather acknowledged as an established part of the broader community to ensure that this knowledge passes on to a new generation.
Object 2. Wall petroglyph from Arches National Park, Utah
The second object I choose is a wall petroglyph from the Arches National Park in Utah. I took this picture when hiking on Delicate Arch trail. In the mid 1600’s, interactions with other knowers across time were not only done by different kind of languages, but also by carving petroglyphs into the rocks with a chisel or a hammerstone by removing a part of the rocks surface. These symbols requires a greater understanding of the meaning to Native Americans and knowledge of the history and traditions of the tribe. The petroglyph was a sacred place to perform a tribal ritual and the symbols reflect the different societies and religions. The panel which is called Wolfe Ranch shows bighorn sheep and riders on Horseback. Ute and or Paiute Indians made them after Spanish explorers arrived in North America and were created to teach or warn.
This object links to the prompt because until today it is not known what the exact profound meaning of these carved symbols are. So, in this particular case, it was not only a painting on the wall, but also that it reflected significant cultural themes, messages, and beliefs to a tribe. Even though most of my family saw petroglyphs on a paper before, it developed our knowledge and experience to a broader perspective, along with the information that was shared with us. Thinking about this object, I have realized how important communication through language or visuals is, to passing on or gain new knowledge. This indicates that a big part of our knowledge relies on the interaction which we have on a daily basis.
Object 3: “BBC Newsbeat. 2017. “German Advertisement Criticised for Using Maori Haka.” BBC. May 11, 2017. Accessed April 12, 2021. https://www.bbc.co.uk
My third object is an online article from BBC News from the year 2017, reporting about a German insurance company called ARAG performing the Māori Haka. This TV spot got backlash all over the world, reaching my attention as well, because I have seen many traditional performances of indigenous people around the world (including the Hula in Hawaii, ‘Ori Tahiti in French Polynesia and the Powwow in the United States). “Foot stamping, loud chanting, tongue protrusions, and rhythmic body slapping are all part of the haka dance, which is performed in a group to demonstrate their tribe’s pride, strength, and unity.“ This dance was introduced in the 19th century to prepare warriors mentally and physically on the battlefield for combat, or to come together in peace.8 Thinking about this object, I realized that it is not just a dance for entertainment like we have it in Bavaria, Germany with the “Schuhplattler”, but behind it there are long-standing traditions and cultures that need to be cherished and respected.
I have chosen this object to show that unlike the first 2 objects, there is no interaction with knowers taking place. This proves that if you don’t have interactions, your knowledge is limited and without doing this intentionally, you cannot be respectful of the indigenous culture. This won’t assist the development of our knowledge.