Hurry up Henry! And an urban legend in Chinuk Wawa

This is important: today we antedate “Henli” in Chinuk Wawa back to circa 1854 🙂 The long multi-installment newspaper article by H.C. Coe, “Recollections of Mid-Columbia Indians”, is a worthy read for those willing to wade through some typically indelicate language. (The editor seems to indicate that a copy of Coe’s piece is on deposit with the Hood River Historical Society, by the way.)

H.C. being the son of Nathaniel Coe, the first permanent settler of Hood River, he ought to know a thing or two, leading me to look beyond first impressions.

One jaundiced remark in the first installment that I want to single out can be partly blamed on a poor-quality translation from Chinuk Wawa to English.

mid-columbia indians

I have often seen mothers picking lice from their offpsring [sic] and cracking them in their teeth, the reason being “retaliation,” or as one squaw said, “Clasks mucimuo nesiks, nesika mucimuc clasks,” (they eat us, we eat them).

— from the Hood River (OR) Glacier of November 16, 1916, page 3, columns 2-4

This represents Jargon łáska mə́kʰmək nsáyka, nsáyka mə́kʰmək łáska. Mr. Coe’s translation is justifiable on the grounds that mə́kʰmək most often means ‘eat’. But when we notice that the action being described is cracking the lice to prevent their doing further harm, this points to the nuance that mə́kʰmək also means ‘bite’. Mind you, history books about Europe and anthropological studies in general document the eating of lice worldwide, but I just want to add the observation that the person quoted wasn’t necessarily meaning ‘eat’.

Aside from that, the bigger problem is that Coe is probably repeating an urban legend.  He attributes his quote to one woman, but alarm bells ring because the exact same quote (in English translation) shows up in sources not connected with him — and attributed to a man! (For example in William Dietrich’s fine book “Northwest Passage“.) So this looks to have been a prejudiced cliché that circulated among Settlers.

Other Jargon details from this pioneer of 1854 are:

  • his equation of the Great Spirit with < Tomannawas > (t’əmánəwas ‘spirit power, spiritual curing’)
  • his homestead location known as < Polally Ilahee > (which he translates as Powder or Sand Land, as he also does here for the spelling Polala Illahe, both = púlali-íliʔi), likely connected with the local “Polally” / Wasco Chinookan “Wallachin” tribe. [Note, neither of these names used by Coe are documented in David & Kathrine French’s authoritative ethnographic sketch of upriver Chinookans in volume 12 “Plateau” of the Smithsonian’s Handbook of North American Indians.]
  • the Native burial site called < Memaloose, Illshee > [sic] (míməlus-íliʔi, which he explains as “Dead Land”)

Here is the second installment of Coe’s memoir.

Lest you conclude from his louse-eating comments that Mr. Coe was flatly anti-Indian, I’ll point you to the third installment, which shows him complimenting their work ethic and testifying to a friendly relationship with the local tribe.

hurry up henry

They were faithful in their work in field and orchards. I never had to urge or hurry them. In fact the shoe was on the other foot, when, as I was starting home, some old woman with a load of fruit or potatoes would call out, “Hunnah, Henly, hiak, clouwak, mika” (Oh hurry up Henry, you are awful slow).

— from the Hood River (OR) Glacier of December 7, 1916, page 4, column 4

I haven’t found anything closely resembling that novelty of a word hunnah; it strikes me as likely to be a Chinookan interjection, and it might simply be our familiar aná. Maybe it’s even a pronunciation of “hurry”! So the sentence is something like “aná Hénli, (h)áyáq, ławá máyka!” This is excellent Chinuk Wawa, for example in placing the subject máyka ‘you’ after the intransitive predicate ławá ‘be slow’. It’s also the earliest occurrence I think we’ve found of the Jargon personal name Hénli.

Go read the whole article, it beats the heck out of the current news any day 🙂

What do you think?