Tilikums Ikt Potlatch

Strangest Places Dept.:

I quote verbatim from San Francisco insurance-trade publication The Adjuster (volume 40, number 1; January 1910, page 14), adding [in brackets] my English translations.

My comments follow afterward.



Tilikums Ikt Potlatch.
[The Friends’ First Festival.]

The Tilikums, a society organized in San Francisco last year, the membership of which is limited to those who formerly belonged to the Special Agents’ Association of the Pacific Northwest and who are now or may become residents of California, entertained their visiting brothers of the Pacific northwest on last Tuesday evening at the Bismarck Cafe. There was a banquet, speeches, story telling, and, in the words of the invitation, “No ladies, no happy clothes, no water wagon.”

Further particulars are disclosed to those conversant with the Chinook language as follows:

Kopa Kloshe Siwash:
[Dear Indians:]

Tilikums ahnkutxie klatawa kopa mesika
[Friends who used to visit you folks]

sakhali Northwest tikegh mesika hokumehl
[in the far Northwest want you to gather]

ikt moon, tahtlelum pee ikt cole tahtlelum
[on January 11, the year]

pee quaisz tahtleum sitkum kimpta taghum
[nineteen-ten, half past six]

kimpta klipsum kopa house Bismark, way-
[in the evening at Bismark House,]

hut Market, San Francisco, illahie; mucka-
[Market Street, San Francisco city; to]

amuck chuck, smoke la peep halo soliks,
[drink, smoke the peace pipe,]

wauwau, hee hee, pee-kish sick tumtum
[chat, laugh, and chase low spirits]


Halo kloochman, halo clip-closhe passee-
[No ladies, no ?formal at-]

sie, halo chuck chick chick.
[tire, no water wagon.]

Ti kegh konawe kloshe siwashes kwan
[Wishing all good Indians a happy]

chee ikt cole. Mitlite Mesika, Kloshe Tili-
[new different year, Remaining Your Good]


Frank L. Hunter, Tyee.
[Frank L. Hunter, Chief.]

To perpetuate memories of good fellows and good times is about all the Tilikums, as a society, hope to accomplish, and with that end in view it is their intention to hold a “Potlatch” once a year, “welcoming as guests old and new friends from the grand old northwest.”

Translating these “old-timers’ associations'” formal documents from Chinook is often a special challenge.  (For more of these groups, see “Tilikums of Elttaes“, “It’s Mighty White of You“, “Potlatch Club Ball“, and so on. There’s enough of this material in the archive that I need to start a new blog tag for the subject.)

These announcements typically employ a bookish Jargon, using words found more in  the endlessly plagiarized dictionaries than in actual usage.

There’s a tendency to torture the language into saying things not normally expressed in its typical, unwritten, register; take a look at how they tell the date of the party!  (In fact, dates and numbers were typically expressed in Chinuk Wawa with English words by 1910, to judge by the Indigenous letters of the Kamloops region.)

Yet this text genre tends to be very English-language influenced, so that the copula, mitlite, is used to express “to be” someone (here I translate it as “remaining”), when in real usage the word stayed more in the vicinity of expressing a location.

More amusingly, you sometimes find intentional humor based in English-language slang.  A jocular tone is successfully rendered when the invitation ixnays what I take to be formal suits (“tight good clothes”) and non-alcoholic drinks (“the water wagon” is the origin of our present-day expression “to be on the wagon”, i.e. a teetotaller).

A translator in 2016 who is unfamiliar with the English lingo of our Northwest past would have heavy work there, as with the screwball word-order of house Bismark, wayhut Market, twists of phrase that I suspect are the kind of faux-French hautiness that we insecure Americans are known for resorting to in unaccustomedly fancy environments.  The Bismarck Café makes many appearances in San Francisco newspapers of the time, with the mayor spending time there and the proprietor considered a quotable notable.

Bismark Cafe

In this kind of text, we also have to deal with what could be considered egregious racism.  How many Indigenous people were members of this prosperous trade association in SF that called its members Siwashes and its president Tyee?

Nonetheless, today’s text is a fine find, demonstrating yet again that we continue to expand the corpus of documented Chinuk Wawa usage as increasingly enormous amounts of primary data get migrated online.  Chinookology is a different game from what it once was.

I hope you enjoyed the reading practice and the history lesson.