Keel-A-Pie, the Chinuk Wawa operetta (second page)

Seattle 1850s

Seattle, 1850s (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Today’s page brings us our first Chinook Jargon song of the piece, but I have other major points to make. One is courtesy of my readers…

One: In the Facebook Chinook Jargon group (457 members and always growing!), Eric Brunner-Williams commented about my blog post from yesterday. He pointed out that there was an actual genre in the 1800s of “Indian operas“. Mormons were involved. It’s fascinating.

Two: Another concept that this operetta’s author C.H. Hanford makes important, but that will rub many the wrong way, is that a potlatch implies “giving for keeps” — strongly implying that it’s not “Indian giving“. Ugh.

Oh, and make sure to read the Footnotes today for some terrific stuff! It spoils nothing to tell you that Seattle plays an unexpectedly big role.

Now today’s installment: the second page of…

“KEEL-A-PIE: An Indian Opera”

(first page)

“There’s a low green valley by the old Kentucky shore, 
Where I’ve whiled many happy hours away, 
Sitting and a’singing by the little cottage door 
Where lived my darling Nellie Gray. 

When the moon had climbed the mountain, 
And the stars were shining, too, 
Then I’d take my darling Nellie Gray 
And float down the river in my little red canoe 
While my banjo sweetly I would play. 

Oh! my darling Nellie Gray, 
They have taken you away, 
And I’ll never see you any more. 
I am sitting by the river, 
And I’m weeping every day, 
For you’ve gone from the old Kentucky shore. 

My canoe is under water 
And my banjo is unstrung. 
I am tired of living any more. 
Mine eyes shall look downward, 
And my song shall be unsung, 
While I stay on the old Kentucky shore. 

Up in heaven there they say 
That they’ll never take from me any more. 
I am coming, darling, coming, 
As the angels clear the way — 
Farewell to the old Kentucky shore.” 



A wigwam village with an adjacent grassy plat used as a place for assemblages and performance of ceremonies. 

Enter Lem-e-eye. Holding a wand in her right hand she calls three times: Lale-set! Lale-set! Lale-set! [1]

The villagers come and drop to seats on the grass. A dozen men, each having a short club, take positions ranging along a sounding board on which they pound with their clubs. 

Lem-e-eye waves her wand to silence them, and sings: 

Kon-o-way till-a-kum chah-ko yuk-wah
Kánawi tílixam cháku yakwá
all people come here
‘Everyone, come here’ 

Kon-o-wy meh-si-kah kum-tux [2] tee-hee [3]
Kánawi msáyka kə́mtəks [tíhi]
all you.plural know laugh
‘All of you are (so) devoted to having fun’ 

Skoo-kum tah-man-ous hi-yu [4] mah-muk
Skúkum t’əmánəwas háyú mámuk
powerful spirit much make
‘A powerful spirit is turning’

Kah-kwah de-late kul-a-kully [5] my-kah [6].
Kákwa dlét kə́ləkələ máyka.
like real bird you.singular
‘You into real birds.’

The crowd becomes noisy, jabbering and shouting: Ki-yi, ki-yi [7]. [Is the following again said by Lem-e-eye? — DDR] Lale-set! lale-set. Lem-e-eye waves her wand and the troupe of dancers spring to their feet. They are garbed in black gowns with wide sleeves to simulate a flock of crows. Started by another wave of the wand they execute the bird dance, with noise of jangling[…]


[1] < lale-set > looks like a Salish reflexive verb; maybe it’s intended to mean something like ‘come here’, ‘quiet down’, or ‘sit down’. We can compare Klallam (the Native language of the Port Townsend area where the operetta is set) -ct/-cut ‘reflexive; self; become’, but because the sound “L” is rare in that language, I don’t find any verb roots similar to < lale >. Interestingly, Lushootseed (the Native language of the Seattle area, of which author and Seattle pioneer Hanford would have had some experience from 1854-1861) has líl-cut ‘go away; get away; git!’ — where the root líl ‘far’ would sound similar to < lale > and is related to our Chinuk Wawa líli ‘a long time’. I think here we’ve found the source of < lale-set >. With the word’s semantic shift away from that original, and Hanford’s seeming expectation that his audience would understand it as well as they grasped Chinook Jargon, it’s not unreasonable to speculate that we have here a tiny piece of evidence for a pidginized White folks’ Lushootseed, or, as we’ve seen from other sources, Lushootseed influence on local Chinuk Wawa.

[2] < kum-tux > ‘know’ is used in < kum-tux tee-hee > in a way that I find fascinating, because it’s most typical of the lower Columbia/Grand Ronde region’s fluent Jargon. There, by the late 1800s, kə́mtəks was starting to grammaticalize from a separate verb with literal meaning and into a prefix signaling a habitual action or state of being. (“Aspect”, as a linguist calls it.) To see what I mean by that, consider two examples.

  • Father St Onge’s 1892 manuscript dictionary with its equivalent, < komtoks-hihi > translated as the more “time-stable” (thus habitual) concepts of adjective or even noun instead of as a ‘know’ verb: ‘sportive, sportful, jolly, hilarious, gay, festive, jovial, merry, mirthful, playful, player’.
  • Grand Ronde’s 2012 tribal dictionary with its kə́mtəks-t’álapas ‘be prone or predisposed to deceit; be sneaky, devious, deceptive. This expression would be literally ‘know Coyote’, but the first word is indeed our Habitual marker, and the second word shouldn’t be taken as a noun so much as a verb ‘to be Coyote’. So the notion here is ‘tends to be (a) Coyote’ or as my Pacific Northwest dialect of English might say, ‘is always pulling a Coyote’.

[3] < tee-hee > is a rarer variant for ‘laugh’ than híhi. It’s known quite early, from James G Swan 1857 and Theodore Winthrop 1863, both documenting southwest Washington state, and as < te hee hee > from a Grand Ronde Indian in 1905. Possibly this word reflects the Chinook Jargon that Hanford learned as a boy in very early Seattle, which was largely settled from the south, via Olympia.

[4] < hi-yu > in < hi-yu mah-muk > reads for me more plausibly like a progressive form ‘is making’ than a literal ‘is much/?often making’. I acknowledge that we’re parsing a really short text here, which means we’re deprived of contextual clues to intended meanings, so here, have a grain of salt with my analysis. But you can see from the preceding footnotes that we may be able to make a case that Hanford’s Jargon reflects the influence of the lower Columbia-area hotbed of fluency. If that influence extends to his < hi-yu mah-muk >, we have here a parallel with the Grand Ronde creole’s well-known grammaticalization of hayu/hay into a Progressive aspect marker. What do you think?

[5] < kul-a-kully>: I have a great temptation to lay that final “y” at the feet of 19th-century American English dialects, which I perceive as having had a tendency to mutate unstressed word-final “uh” sounds (schwas) into “ee” sounds ( /i/ ). “Californy” comes to mind. But in the light of the preceding footnotes, I find it unignorable that the only other source that renders kə́ləkələ with a final “ee” sound is…Winthrop 1863 again, from southwest Washington, with his unique < kulla, kullie >. Hm!

[6] < my-kah > is the singular ‘you’. The speaker is addressing a crowd, and she started out correctly using the plural pronoun. Here I suppose Hanford’s Chinuk Wawa betrays the influence of his first language, English, which doesn’t distinguish grammatical number in the second person. This isn’t the first instance of that happening, although what’s of interest is that anglophones usually learned the máyka – msáyka distinction quite well.

[7] < ki-yi > is, I bet, Lushootseed Salish káyə ‘vocative for grandmother’. Speaking, as I was in note 5, of English dialect writing of Native words, in the 19th century we often find “ah”-type sounds rendered with spellings that you’d expect to sound like “I” ( /ay/ ). For instance you sometimes see Chinuk Wawa púlakʰli as < politely >! So I’m able to understand Hanford’s final < yi > here as an intended /ya/ or /yə/, making a good match for the Lushootseed. And here we have our second Lushootseed-influencing-local-Seattle-Chinuk-Wawa word of the day; see my remarks in footnote 1. Let’s not neglect the fact that < ki-yi > doubles as a crow-like bird call here, in both English and Lushootseed, where ‘crow’ is k̓’áʔk̓’aʔ! (Essentially identical with Grand Ronde Chinuk Wawa’s k’ák’aʔ.)

I’m going to end with a general note. Today’s batch of Chinuk Wawa from the operetta is once again characterized by totally original spellings and some new vocabulary. I find little to suggest that Hanford might have been influenced by anyone else’s written versions of the Jargon.

It’s looking as if this writer was really drawing from his own early-frontier fluent experience of Chinook Jargon. Which makes this operetta even more exciting to find.

Coming pages of it may show us how well this evaluation holds up 🙂