Memaloose Illahees & “dead houses”
[Edited to add a possible Salish source for this phrase — see at the end of this article.] Indigenous people and Settlers always knew that míməlust-íliʔi (míməlus-ílihi, etc.) is an old Chinuk Wawa phrase.
It’s fully documented in place names, contemporary accounts, etc.
Literally meaning ‘dead-place’, this expression conventionally meant an Indigenous people’s cemetery. I don’t say “burial ground” because quite often a deceased person was put above-ground.
Prototypically, a míməlust-íliʔi was an island in the Columbia River. This has to do of course with the long association between the Jargon and the river. There were also “memaloose illahes”, though, inland.
So it’s revealing that an old alternative way, not included in dictionaries, to say this phrase is míməlust-tənəs-íliʔi; the Diminutive form tənəs-íliʔi (literally ‘small-place’) means ‘island’. (Also, míməlust-tənəs-íliʔi is a beautiful early example of fairly elaborate compounding .) The following article kind of garbles that — I’ve found many instances where the editor of The Oregon Naturalist was incredible sloppy — but it’s an example nonetheless.
The above article also introduces what I’m suggesting was another conventionally recognized Chinuk Wawa term, but one that’s in none of the old dictionaries: míməlust-háws (dead-house, ‘grave house; mausoleum’).
When I research in old newspapers of this region, there’s ample proof for everything said above. The cultural associations of ‘dead places’ and ‘dead houses’ guarantee that there are many riveting stories involving them…
Including this reburial by Indigenous people of a number of their relatives, to prevent Settlers from looting their previous traditional-style graves —
The fate of one such White miscreant (unloved by both Natives and Settlers): “Will Rob No More Graves” —
An article clarifying that there are multiple Memaloose Islands, even quite close to each other —
A long and highly detailed eyewitness remembrance of such islands and houses in frontier times —
Settler authorities sometimes punished pillagers of Indigenous graves, including anthropologists —
Evidence that “dead house” was a Chinuk Wawa phrase —
Picture of Memaloose Island, with a monument to a settler added —
Long story short: update your dictionaries.
We keep finding so many words that were left out of them, you can count on all this research massively increasing our knowledge of Chinook Jargon!
[Addendum: after I wrote the above, I bought an interesting-looking book by O.M. Salisbury, “The Customs and Legends of the Thlinget Indians of Alaska“, and lo and behold, following page 180, the second page of photos has one captioned “Burial island outside of Canoe Pass, with its ‘dead houses’…” The author, from Outside of course, maintains that he insisted on the Indigenous people speaking English with him although he makes fun of their scant command of it, and he shows no real awareness of the Jargon’s existence in 1920’s Southeast Alaska, even though we know it was alive and well in that setting. His quoting the preceding phrase suggests he heard it spoken (like “the smaller, older ‘smoke houses’ of earlier days” on page 4) in local English, courteously translated for him from either Jargon or Lingít.]
What do you think?
[Added note: A possible Salish model that míməlust-íliʔi could have been “calqued” on (i.e. literally translated from, into Chinuk Wawa) occurred to me shortly after I posted this article. It’s in Lower Chehalis, the southwest Washington Salish language that we’ve been finding contributed a previously unrealized large amount of material to Chinook Jargon. The expression I’m thinking of in Lo. Cheh. is mák̓ʷt-əlməš, which is literally ‘dead (people) – place’, an exact match for míməlust-íliʔi.
The next question to ask is, which way did the translating happen? Was it earlier, from Lo. Cheh. to Jargon, or was it was later, coming from Jargon into Lo. Cheh.?
It would help resolve this newly brought-up concern if we could find out whether old Lower Chinookan tribal languages expressed the concept in a similar way. I’ve only been able to find nouns for a related traditional concept in Shoalwater-Clatsop (i-gímx̣atk ‘canoe-burial’, Boas 1894:254), Clackamas (it-k̓ímx̣atg-max̣ba ‘to the graveyard’, Jacobs 1958-1959:491), and in Kiksht-Wishram (t-k̓ímx̣atg-maxiamt ‘to the burial vault’ Sapir 1901:204), all related to each other but not obviously (to me, yet) analyzable as containing the usual Chinookan words for ‘dead’ and ‘place’.
Mini-summary: for the moment the evidence we have does look like Lower Chehalis Salish and Chinuk Wawa ‘dead-place’ parallel each other, while old Chinookan may say it differently.]