Americana music: Lelooska, Jock-a-mo, & Chinuk Wawa songs


(Image credit: Youtube)

This is an interesting version of a well-known Chinuk Wawa song, from an interesting source.

I’m aware that the person known as Chief Lelooska has a mixed reception, to say the least, among those concerned with Native art.

For today’s article, I’m steering wide of all that. I want to just show you an instance of how everybody remembers songs different, when learned by ear.

The slahal (traditional bone-game) song that I first heard from a Makah as “ya leyla ya ha” is so catchy that it’s pretty widely sung around the Pacific Northwest. Lelooska’s biography tells, on pages 134-135, that he learned the same song from a Yakama who had worked in the hop yards of the Puget Sound area. (Another Jargon-hops connection.) His way of singing it is a different one from what I’ve encountered, while totally recognizable at a glance if you’ve ever heard the song:

Ha lalah yahwa, ha lalah, ya lalah, yahwa lalah, 
ha lalah yahwa, ha lalah yahwa lalah, ha, lalah yahwa. 
Halo mika nanitsh siah, yukwa nika sla’hal, 
nika halo tseepe youtl. 
Ha lalah, ya lalah, ya lalah, yahwa lalah, ya lalah yahwa, 
lalah, ya lalah yahwa, ha lalah yahwa, 
lalah, ha lalah yahwa. 

Words are in the Chinook Jargon. Which should instantly tell you that this is a bi-tribal product. “Halo mika nanitsh.” “Halo” means “no.” “No, you see.” So the words are ordered like you were speaking traditional Indian. “Yukwa nika sla’hal.” That means, “When I hide the bones.” It is sla’hal game. “You won’t see, when I do it, so you’re going to be totally in the dark.” “You’ll not see, you’ll not see, when I hide the bones.” It is really funny the way these songs get around, in the old days.

— pages 134-135

I was interested reading Lelooska’s interpretation of the words. I felt like he explained them about the same way I understand them.

Except that he only explained about half of them 🙂 For instance, he actually sings halo mika nanitsh siah, where the last word would mean “far” or maybe “from far away”; I haven’t heard the lyrics put this way before, so I don’t know which.

Lelooska’s version of the words ends with an untranslated nika halo tseepe youtl. This is mighty tricky stuff — not your ordinary Jargon sentence. The first three words mean “I don’t/won’t make a mistake”. With youtl ‘glad’ at the end, though, my Jargon knowledge fails me.

When people learn a song by ear, they sometimes take it in as a string of sounds instead of words. Sometimes, though, when the song is mostly non-words such as the traditional-style vocables in this one, the learner perceives more words than are really there! Did that happen in this case?

What do you think?

This is my great excuse to mention the wonderful Americana that is the twisted-up indigenous Mobilian Jargon trade language in the “Jock-A-Mo” song!