A Siwash Knot

“A Siwash Knot” — Charles Suimptken’s and Harriet Quinpitcher’s wedding announcement from Twisp, WA ran as a curio — I know! — in The Ledge (with which is incorporated the Boundary Creek Times), out of Greenwood, BC, on Thursday, September 28, 1911 (Vol. XVIII no. 11), on page 1 in column 4.  (It’s reprinted from the Chesaw (WA) News.)

Siwash knot

George Banner performed the service, whose vows were given in Chinuk Wawa, “and when assayed in cold type they appear thusly:”

Alia mesika tumtum mesika kwanesum mitlite kopa ikt illahie, pe okook saghalie tyee yaka kumtuks kopa mika waw waw, pe konaway okook tillicum yaka kumtuks, pe mika mamook delate okook kopa mika konaway moxt iskum lami; alta kopa okook Boston law, kopa Washington, nika waw waw mika man pe wife.

Volumes are spoken when you find Chinook published in the local paper with no one bothering to translate it into English.  Know what I’m saying?  Everyone who mattered understood it already.  This claim certainly fits with my understanding that in 1911 the pidgin was only beginning its decline in this particular region.  (See my dissertation.)  In case any of my readers will benefit, here is my translation:

Now you folks’ heart is that you’ll stay in the same place, and this God hears your words, and all these people hear them, and you’ll make it happen with your joining hands; now by this American law of Washington, I say you’re a man and a wife.

It drives certain people crazy when colorful stuff like this is viewed with an analytical eye, but it would be a disservice to Chinook Jargon studies if I remained tacit about a couple of points:

  • This here, unlike a lot of what you find written down by white people, is some fluent Jargon as actually spoken.
  • I wonder if this Jargon was only the end of the service, or if it’s the whole short & sweet justice-of-the-peace treatment.  (Been there.)
  • Alia is a simple typesetter’s error for alta.  
  • …kopa ikt illahie… is a little ambiguous.  It could have reasonably been heard as telling this Aboriginal couple to remain on-reserve, thus reinforcing the laws of the day.  Ouch.
  • …yaka kumtuks kopa… is an unusual way of of expressing “he’s listening to”.  From experience of Interior WA and BC Jargon I would expect hiyu kumtuks or k’olan as ways of indicating focused attention by a hearer.
  • …okook tillicum yaka… is straight street Chinook of that region, because it uses yaka in agreement with a plural subject.  (See my dissertation.)  In other regions, yaka is singular only.
  • …tillicum yaka kumtuks… for ‘they hear them’ [hear your words] uses the ‘null’, non-pronounced 3rd-person inanimate direct object pronoun.  A sign of very good fluency.  (See my dissertation.)
  • …mika mamook … mika … iskum lami… uses the singular ‘you’ mika, which either implies that the same vow (up to the last clause anyway!) was repeated individually to to the bride and the groom, or that George Banner was a white English speaker making a typical CJ grammatical mistake for his kind.
  • …konaway moxt… is a less common but perfectly clear strategy for saying “both” or “together” (otherwise konamoxt).
  • …kopa Washington… is also kind of vague because the ceremony was performed in Washington State; in Jargon, Washington of course commonly refers to the federal government.
  • …wife is transparently a recent English borrowing.  As is normal in a case like that, it supplies a more specific synonym for an existing generic — kloochman ‘woman, wife, etc.’

Please let me know when you use these Jargon marriage vows in your actual wedding.  Send me the video, I’ll blog it 🙂