The assault on tradition continues


Yesterday the priest mocked traditional “wailing like Coyote” in mourning.  Today, ritual bathing comes under fire.

     Iaka na tlus pus msaika ayu
Is it good for you folks to be

wash msaika itluil pus msaika
washing your bodies, for you

Page 48

ayu taim wash msaika itluil pus
to be bathing several times when

msaika tilikom mimlus? = Pus
your relative dies?  = If

klaksta wash iaka itluil kanawi
someone bathes every

son, wik masachi ukuk; pi
day, that’s not bad; but

pus klaksta man ilo iaka wash iaka
if some person doesn’t bathe

itluil kanawi son, pi iaka chako
daily, but

mimlus iaka tilikom, pi iawa iaka wash
his relative dies, and then he

iaka itluil iht taim, mokst taim
bathes once, twice

iht son, wik tlus ukuk.
a day, that’s no good.

— Kamloops Wawa #205 (June 1903), pages 47-48

The “bathing” referred to would seem to be the kind where you immerse yourself in water, or at least scrub your body with it.  In Chinook Jargon, wash (iaka itluil) “wash (one’s body)” crucially involves water; compare the use of wash to mean “baptize(d)”.  If it were sweatbaths that were meant, the expression swit haws “sweathouse” would have been used.

For more details, I have taken just a brief look into George M. Dawson’s “Notes on the Shuswap People of British Columbia” and Marianne B. Ignace’s ethnographic sketch in volume 12 “Plateau” of the Handbook of North American Indians.

In neither of those places does this ritual mourning bathing leap off the pages at me, so I’m curious whether any of my more-specialized readers can supply background information on it.

But since Father Le Jeune, the priest-editor of Kamloops Wawa, goes on at some length against Indigenous customs around death (more to come in this space), I take it that this is a practice that he witnessed firsthand in his many years living at Kamloops Reserve.

The culture wars go on.