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


(Image credit: Pinterest)

If you haven’t yet grasped what a low-culture burlesque this Keel-A-Pie was, today we learn it was performed in drag! But first, to the Chinook Jargon…

Two more chunks of it, to be precise. Then enjoy some final notes.

[…] so. With his towahawk [sic] he cut down a tall fir sapling which made a ladder by which he overcame difficulties in reaching the cavern. Before dark he returned, in time to prevent sacrificing of dogs and children. 


Similar to Scene 5.

Enter Moses. Presenting the baby to Mary, he sings: 

Mah-mah Mary here’s your baby, 
Saved with all his magic charms. 
I have found him, now I give him 
Safe return to his mother’s arms.” 

Then he chants: 

“Kon-o-way klax-tah mah-muk tee-hee
kánawi-ɬáksta mamuk-[tíhi]
all-who make-fun
” ‘Everyone, enjoy yourselves’

De-late hy-ass kloshe si-wash ill-a-hee
dlét hayas(h)-ɬúsh s(h)áwásh-íliʔi 

really big-good Indian-land
‘Indian country is quite fine’

De-late hy-ass kloshe ny-kah tum-tum
dlét hayas(h)-ɬúsh nayka tə́mtəm 

really big-good my heart
‘I have the best of will’

Ko-pah kon-o-way si-wash till-i-kum.”
kʰapa kánawi s(h)áwásh tílixam

to all Indian people
‘For all Indians.’ “

The festivities were resumed with enhanced glee, and the host gave away all of his property. 


“Mah-sie Moses, hy-ass skoo-kum ty-ee.
mási Moses hayas(h)-skúkum táyí 
thanks Moses big-powerful chief
” ‘Thank you Moses, great chief.’

Ten-ass la-ly klat-a-wah sok-a-ly;
tənəs-líli ɬátawa sáx̣ali 

little-while go upward
‘Go on to heaven soon;’

Kim-tah chah-ko hi-yu till-i-kum
kimt’á cháku háyú tílixam 
behind come many people
‘Afterward will come many people’

Kwan-i-sum kum-tux Moses tum-tum [1].”
kwánisəm kə́mtəks Moses tə́mtəm 
always know Moses heart
‘Who will remember Moses’s spirit.’

“Glory, glory! hal-le-lu-jah, 
Glory, glory! hal-le-lu-jah, 
Glory, glory! hal-le-lu-jah, 
Forever ever more.” 

End of the opera. 

In the era of halcyon days in Port Townsend, a clever entertainer known as [Professor C.B.Yankee Plummer, who was proficient in use of Chinook jargon, assumed directorship of an amateur company that produced Keel-a-pie with complete success. General Rossel G[albraith]. O’Brien of Olympia [who started the custom of standing up during the U.S. national anthem], a gentleman of fine presence who seldom missed an opportunity to use his superb voice in singing, acted the part of Moses. His rudy [sic] complexion and red hair detracted naught from resemblance to a brave Indian. A talented young lady was perfectly bewitching in the character of Mihmy. Major J.J.H. Van Bokkelen, a very large man, acted the part of Sampson all the better for having to restrain indignation on being called a coward in public, that being contrary to his nature; agony of his countenance was visible and his fists clenched involuntarily, giving realistic effect to the scenes. Yankee Plummer reserved for himself the part of Lem-e-eye; he had the knack of changing the features of his face to look like a sweet rosebud, and without any make-up change to a scowling, wrinkled old harridan. 

Comments (footnote is at the bottom of the page):

That’s an interesting cast of regional celebrities; have a look at the links I’ve provided. They make me think that O’Brien’s presence explains the weirdly heavy Irish content in the production.

Just a little housekeeping here:

First, the book that this operetta is found in (“Halcyon Days in Port Townsend”) is cataloged as fiction, maybe having to do with its including this piece of art. But as far as I’ve made out, this is actually Hanford’s memoirs and it tells invaluable historical details of specific people and of Chinook Jargon as they spoke it.

Second, I’ve located a contemporary review of an operetta in Port Townsend, which is helpful because it tells us the year (1880).

operetta review-page-004The relevant edition of that city’s Puget Sound Weekly Argus is from Friday, December 1 (page 4, column 4). A couple of preceding numbers (September 10 and October 1) come up with it when I search the WA Secretary of State’s website for “operetta Hanford”, but the links to them are dead. So I haven’t firmly established that it was “Keel-A-Pie” that was being reported on. If indeed it was — and this prewar book reports the operetta’s existence — we may need to infer that Hanford rewrote it for his 1926 book, adding the World War I hit song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” (known to have been composed in 1912).

A visit to the physical archives is called for to solve this minor mystery!


[1] < Moses tum-tum > ‘Moses’s spirit’ is a nonstandard Chinuk Wawa formation. We would normally expect < Moses yaka tum-tum >, literally ‘Moses his spirit’, in all dialects. I have three things to say in this connection.

  1. First, certain heavily English-language influenced religious speech registers in some dialects display prominent, but still exceptional and rare, examples of such possessives when the possessor ends in an “S” sound. Some of you have heard the Jargon hymn “Nika wash kopa Jesus pilpil” (‘I’m washed/baptized in Jesus’s blood’), for example.
  2. Second, one CJ dialect of southwest Washington state — a region that I’ve already strongly suggested influenced author Hanford’s Jargon in his youth — shows signs of a specialized inalienable-possession formation that likewise omits the possessor pronoun yaka. Theodore Winthrop is our main source of data on this structure.
  3. There existed a recognized idiom < X tum-tum > meaning ‘(having) a heart/spirit characterized by X’. A really well-known example is the Chinuk Wawa name of the Indian Shaker Church, known from at least 1888 as < Slocum tum-tum >, literally ‘having the [John] Slocum spirit’. It’s not crazy to hypothesize that < Moses tum-tum > is a pun on that specific expression!

Which of these explanations for < Moses tum-tum > are most applicable remains to be determined.