Ducks yaka chaco!

port essington bc.jpg

Port Essington, BC, 1888 (image source: Jonathon Reed)

Humor! A post-frontier reminiscence of frontier days on the north coast of British Columbia…

Background info:

“Port Essington was a cannery town on the south bank of the Skeena River estuary in northwestern British Columbia, Canada, between Prince Rupert and Terrace, and at the confluence of the Skeena and Ecstall Rivers. It was founded in 1871 by Robert Cunningham and Thomas Hankin…” (Wikipedia)

[no image here — the website where I found this was having server issues — so I’m guessing at paragraph breaks]


Now that George Cunningham is safely on his road to Mexico, is the proper time to repeat one of his true stories of early days in Port Essington.

In those days there was a parson located here who was very fond of duck-shooting, especially canvas-backs. At this season of the year, when the birds arrive exhausted by their long flight, they bunch up in the river eddies and are an easy mark for the hunter.

One Sunday the people were in church and the parson in the pulpit, when the church door was cautiously opened and an Indian poked his head in with a beckoning finger. “Well, what is it?” asked the parson. “Ducks yaka chaco!” *

The parson hurriedly shut up his sermon case. “Shut the door and lock it,” he cried to the clerk. “Keep the people in church till I’ve got my surplice off. Let’s all have a fair chance.”

— from the Port Essington (BC) Loyalist of January 30, 1909, page 4, column ??

* < Ducks yaka chaco! > is good Chinuk Wawa.

  • The use of a recently borrowed English word for < ducks > instead of an older CW word (there are a couple) fits a historical pattern: The Jargon tended to get stripped down to a smaller vocabulary size whenever it was imported to a new locale, typically in a general northward direction, typically in BC. After such an event, resulting gaps in the pidgin’s vocabulary would be filled with other words in daily use at the new place. By definition, those were predominantly English lexemes at such a late point in the frontier period. By about 1880, the Indigenous population was outnumbered by Settlers in BC, and a rough rule of thumb, that implies the dominance of English.
  • < Yaka > is, as you know, a sign of the best Chinook Jargon style, where you literally say ‘ducks they’re coming’ for ‘ducks are coming’.

That’s all folks!

What do you think?
qʰáta msáyka tə́mtəm?