Nesika klose ilahe Umatilla! (& Grand Ronde)

File under “Grand Ronde” (surprisingly), plus the usual “Doggerel”, “Poetry”, and “Pioneers”…

This post-frontier poem from eastern Oregon is in English and Chinuk Wawa, so it’s able to rhyme, unlike most CW-only compositions. If it were part of the SAT, there’d be a question asking you “What would be a more appropriate title for this piece?” and offering as one choice “My Oregon Autobiography”.

Under the heading “CURRENT THINKING”, we have the nostalgic contribution of G[eorge].W. Kennedy, who as far as I have learned may have been a pioneer Methodist minister in Oregon.

gw kennedy portrait from his book

Portrait of GW Kennedy from the frontispiece of his memoirs

How about I let you read through the whole thing, and afterward, I’ll talk about why its Chinook Jargon is surprisingly interesting…

Nesika klose ilahe Umatilla



In eighteen hundred and fifty three,
     Nika Charco.
Cross the plains and mountains grand,
     Nika Charco.
Siwash tilacums nanich Nika,
Halo white man mitlite Yaka.
The emigrant journey not yet done,
The prize which he so nobly won,
Was farther towards the setting setting [sic] sun.


In eighteen hundred and sixty-three,
     Nika Charco.
Up from the wild Willamette Vale,
     Nika charco.
Hiu Siwash mitlite Yaka;
Halo white man nanich Nika
The miner then with spirit bold,
True pattern of the western mould,
Went eastward to the fields of gold.


In eighteen hundred and seventy-eight
     Nika Charco.
Up Columbia’s dashing river,
     Nika Charco.
Tena’s [sic] white men nanich Nika;
Hiu wigman [sic], tenas siya.
The pioneers had brought their cattle,
Thus provoking Indian battle,
The warwhoop and the war-dance rattle.


In eighteen hundred and eighty-one,
     Nika Charco.
To this ambitious Pendleton,
     Nika Charco.
Siwash tilacums clatawa-clatawa;
White man momic hiu wa-wa.
Thus the civil empire grows;
Thus this commonwealth arose;
All brothers now — no longer goes.


— from the Pendleton (OR) East Oregonian of February 09, 1915, DAILY EVENING EDITION, page 4, column 3

So, now on to the Chinuk Wawa contents:

nsáyka łúsh ílihi — yumatíla
our good land — Umatilla

The recurring nika charco is náyka cháku, ‘I came’.

Verse I:

Siwash tilacums [1] nanich Nika,
sáwásh-tílixam-s nánich náyka,
Indian people-PLURAL see me,

‘Indian people saw me,’

Halo white man [2] mitlite Yaka. [3]
hílu (x)wáyt-mán míłayt yáka/yákwá
none white-man exist he/here
‘No White people were here.’

Verse II:

Hiu Siwash mitlite Yaka;
háyú sáwásh míłayt yáka/yákwá;
many Indian exist he/here;

‘Many Indians were here;’

Halo white man nanich Nika
hílu (x)wáyt-mán nánich náyka
none white-man see me
‘No White people watched me’

Verse III:

Tena’s [sic] [4] white men nanich Nika;
tənás (x)wáyt-mán nánich náyka;
little white-man see me;

‘White children watched me;’

Hiu wigman [sic] [5], tenas siya.
háyú wígwam, tənəs-sayá.
many wigwam, DIMINUTIVE-far
‘Many wigwams were nearby.’

Verse IV:

Siwash tilacums clatawa-clatawa [6];
sáwash-tílixam-s łátwa-łátwa;
Indian-people-PLURAL go-go;

‘Indian people were on the move;’

White man momic hiu wa-wa. [7]
(x)wáyt-mán mámuk háyú wáwa.
white-man make much talk.
‘White people were talking a lot.’

[1] tilacums is a typical usage among Settlers, who often tacked the English-language noun plural suffix onto the most frequent Jargon words — the same words that quickly became loans into regional English dialect. 

[2] white man is indeed a Jargon word. It’s known from the Kamloops, BC, area Chinuk Wawa letters written by Aboriginal people. 

[3] Yaka here is striking for two reasons. First, I think it’s being made to broadly rhyme with Nika ‘me’, thus the phonetics would be something like [næka]:[yæka]. We have indeed seen and heard such pronunciations, famously in the 1951 Hollywood historical drama “Across the Wide Missouri“. Second, it seems most sensible to me to infer that the author mean ‘were here’ (mitlite yakwa) rather than ‘had he’ [sic] (mitlite yaka).

[4] Tena’s seems to specify, with its unusual apostrophe, the common old pronunciation [tənæs], with final-syllable stress. If so, contrast this with non-apostrophized tenas in the following line. 

[5] wigman for ‘wigwam’ (Indian houses, tipis, etc.) — I have little doubt that Settlers used this word in Jargon. A number of actually known words were, like this one, obviously brought by English speakers from Eastern North America, such as papus (‘papoose; baby’) in Kamloops-area Chinuk Wawa. 

[6] clatawa-clatawa is quite something. Settler speakers were not given to repeating words in Jargon, except in ways that colloquial English does. (Like “real real good”, or “a red, red sunset”.) Here, though, we have an action verb reduplicated in exactly the way that’s specific to Grand Ronde’s creole Chinuk Wawa grammar. There, łátwa-łatwa means ‘be going around; be going along; be in constant motion’ (Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary 2012:139-140). If we can take the narrator’s Nika as referring to himself, the poem tells how he initially immigrated to the Willamette Valley (thus near Grand Ronde), and only after decades’ experience with the Jargon, came east to Pendleton. (Read on for confirmation.) Assuming it amounts to remembered 1850’s Jargon, I believe this clatawa-clatawa takes its place among the earliest documentation we have of GR-style “productive reduplication”, besides the work of the missionaries Blanchet, Demers, and St. Onge.

[7] momic hiu wa-wa is however not idiomatic Jargon. It’s once again more of the type of thing anglophone Settlers were prone to saying in this language, deploying momic (mamuk) ‘do; make’ as a kind of random “here’s a verb” tag before already self-sufficient Jargon verbs.

I’d summarize Kennedy’s Chinook Jargon as not the most fluent, but its spellings and other evidence hint that it was genuinely learned from experience. This seems to have included early exposure to Grand Ronde’s creolized Chinuk Wawa.

Here is a little more information I was able to find about the author:

GW Kennedy pioneer preacher

Pioneer Preacher Here.

Rev. and Mrs. G.W. Kennedy of Hood River are in the city today visiting friends. Rev. Kennedy is one of the pioneer ministers of the state, having crossed the plains to Oregon in 1853. He is the author of “The Pioneer Campfire,” a history of the early days in Oregon.

— from the East Oregonian of October 23, 1915, page 8, column 3

Also this. And this autobiographical sketch, indicating that Kennedy preached both to Whites and Indians.

A couple of selections from Kennedy’s book (“The Pioneer Campfire: In Four Parts“, published in Portland, OR, by the Clarke-Kundret Publishing Company in 1914), which you can read in its entirety online free of charge…

pioneer campfire cover

Circa 1855, in the Willamette Valley, Kennedy’s family apparently translate Christian hymns, creating some Jargon songs that we haven’t heard of before:

pioneer campfire 159

Circa 1873, the influential Wanapum chief and spiritual leader (prophet) Smohalla tells Kennedy “Klose tillacum mika” (you are a good friend):

pioneer campfire 200

pioneer campfire 201

What do you think?