St Nazarius & St Celsus (part 1)

As promised yesterday, let’s begin a live demonstration of Chinuk Wawa research!

What’s going on here?

In a mixed batch of documents that I had an archive photocopy for me, most were letters written in Chinuk pipa (“Chinook Writing”) — also known as “the shorthand”, or “Duployan stenography”.

Because these were primarily personal correspondence, I went through the stack of paper looking for the signatures of the letter writers, so that I could file stuff alphabetically.

One document stood out in puzzling ways. It was loooong: eight pages. That’s about twice as long as any of the letters I’ve found before. Nice!

It wasn’t signed. I couldn’t find a signature to help me figure out who the anonymous, ambitious writer was. Darn it!

And for some reason, the phrase Sin Nasariyus pi Sin Silsyus was at the top of the first page. After all these years studying Catholic missionary stuff in Chinook Jargon, I recognize that as the names of Saint Nazarius and Saint Celsus, a pair of early Christian martyrs from Milan, northwest Italy. Huh??

Realizing this, I looked again, and this document isn’t a letter at all. It’s a manuscript telling of an episode from early Church history, which was a favorite source of material for Father Le Jeune to fill the pages of his Kamloops Wawa newspaper.

Sometimes I think he did more storytelling there than teaching the actual bible, really an interesting strategic choice for us to ponder. We know straight out that Kamloops Wawa‘s readers demanded piktyurs ‘pictures’ in preference to all other material in this newspaper; these were talked about constantly, and were even the free bonus gift that was offered to anyone who paid their subscription credit, sha bon (‘jawbone’), on time.

I suspect we can infer that the Aboriginal readership also preferred the liveliness of essentially true-adventure stories (secrets! soldiers! murder!) over the comparatively rote and repetitive recitation of foreign scenes that form much of the Bible. That’s my two cents anyway; Canada has phased out the penny, so round it up to a nickel and believe me.

Now, having realized what kind of text this mystery document is, I want to know who wrote it, at what point in the heyday of Chinook Writing literacy, and why it wound up where it did (in those of Father Le Jeune’s papers that were preserved after he passed on).

Finding an author

Because this document turned up among a bunch of incoming letters addressed to Father Le Jeune, we can guess that it’s from another BC missionary priest. I have a good idea who that was. Let’s compare some Chinuk pipa handwriting samples…

For our point of reference, here’s a randomly picked section from the undated Nazarius manuscript:

Nazarius ms handwriting sample.jpg

St Nazarius & St Celsus handwriting sample

Compare that with this portion from a letter written by Father François-Marie Thomas from William’s [sic] Lake Industrial School in 1909:

Thomas letter handwriting sample

Father Thomas handwriting sample

Let me direct your attention to a tendency that Thomas had in writing the sequence of Chinook Writing letters klThese both are short straight lines, so when they join, they should form a “V” shape. But looking at the beginning of the first words in lines 1 and 3 of Thomas’ handwriting illustration, we see a short straight line followed by a curve. I see this (albeit in a more subtle fashion) in the Nazarius sample just preceding, for example in the second word of line 2 and the beginning of line 3.

A similar point in common is that the writer in both samples above has an idiosyncratic tendency to put a little curved flourish at the start of what are supposed to be perfectly horizontal straight-line Chinook Writing letters. In the Nazarius sample, look at line 3’s third-from-last word ston, and line 4’s second word til ‘tired’, where the t‘s should be this shape: . Instead, they’re curved, as are the t‘s in sitkom ‘half’ at the end of line 3 and in kaltash ‘worthless’ starting out line 4 in the Thomas sample.

Keeping this discussion short, I feel that the two samples above match each other more than they resemble the following sample of Le Jeune’s handwriting:

Le Jeune handwriting sample Nazarius

Father Le Jeune handwriting sample

Le Jeune is highly consistent about writing the letters carefully in their correct shapes. Straight-line letters are rigorously straight here.

Compare the handwriting of one more priest, Victor Rohr OMI. He seems to have corresponded in shorthand with Le Jeune more than practically anyone, but I only have a sample of his writing in French. (It’s about Kamloops Wawa, though!*). This should let us see, at any rate, that Rohr’s penmanship was more like Le Jeune’s, and less like that of the Nazarius author:

Rohr handwriting sample.jpg

 Father Rohr handwriting sample, 1901

* Rohr writes here, “Hier soir j’ai reçu votre dernière édition du Wawa. Elle est charmante. Je tâcherai de les offrir a mes sauvages au plan indiqué. J’espère les débiter.” (“Last night I received your last edition of Wawa. She’s lovely. I will try to offer them to my savages on the plan indicated. I hope to retail them.”)

Nice straight horizontals there.

In sum, I lean toward thinking that the Nazarius manuscript was written by Father Thomas.

Dating the document

When was this document written? The earliest letter in Chinook Jargon that I have from Father Thomas is dated 1909. But he was involved with Chinook Writing much earlier, and Le Jeune’s fellow native Breton (Kamloops Wawa #211 (September 1904), page 19) was in southern BC by December 1894 (Kamloops Wawa #123, page 200). I suspect the Nazarius manuscript was written not long after that, because…

The story of a story

Another lucky lead on this cold case comes in the form of two issues of Kamloops Wawa that carry a St. Nazarius & St. Celsus story: I got the above sample of Le Jeune’s handwriting from the installment in issue #159 (December 1897, page 185; by the way, this issue’s “Supplement” carries the delightfully goofy “Chinook Marseillaise” sheet music!) and it’s concluded in issue #160 (January 1898, pages 7-8).

Lucky us, we can compare those published versions with what’s on our eight manuscript sheets! I’ve often found that useful clues emerge when you have two or more versions of a text to compare and contrast. So I’m going to lay out both versions here, basically side-by-side, in my following posts here, to let you see how closely they match.

Stay tuned!