Another old BC Jargon song


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There might be an audio recording in existence of this intriguing link to Franz Boas’s much earlier work on similar British Columbia “Chinook Songs”. READER CHALLENGE: CAN YOU FIND IT?

Marius Barbeau of the National Museum of Canada recorded a large collection of songs onto wax cylinders in Canadian Tsimshian territory. (The finding aid at the museum’s website is in a format my computer’s unable to read…)

The singer of today’s song was Tralahaet, a.k.a. Gitiks, a.k.a. Frank Bolton, “the aged chief of an Eagle clan whose original home on the lower Nass [River] was Gwunwauq…His home was Kincolith…many of his most valuable songs were recorded in 1927 at Arrandale [at the mouth of the Nass River].”

I infer that the Tlingit who taught then-teenaged Tralahaet this Chinook song in Wrangell, Alaska, could have learned it in Victoria in the same era when Boas was working there.

Here is Barbeau’s transcription of the song, with my own interpretation:

kanaweesan transcription

(page 194)

ḳanawi san ‘a nɛḳa ḳiłai (‘ai) (alda) neḳa sɛsta məłait [Ø] saya ‘ile
kánawi sán(,) áy*(,) náyka kʰiláy(,) álta náyka sísta* míłayt Ø sayá iliʔi
every/all day oh* I cry now my sister be.located in far country
‘All day I cry, oh, now my sister is in a far-away place.’

— from “Tsimshian Songs: Transcribed from the Phonograph…” by Marius Barbeau, in “The Tsimshian: Their Arts and Music” (New York, NY: J.J. Augustin Publisher, [1951]) (Publications of the American Ethnological Society, XVIII)

In its theme, its tropes, its grammar, and its lexicon, this lyric is highly similar to those found in Franz Boas’s “Chinook Songs” (1888) documented from northern coastal Indigenous people in Victoria, BC, in 1886.

Next here, I’ll show you the comments Barbeau offers about the above song. He seems to have been thoroughly unfamiliar with Chinuk Wawa. This may tell us something, if the bosses who sent him to northern coastal BC decided he wouldn’t need much CW.

His Tsimshian experts, who first identified it as “Chinook” but then “corrected” themselves to call it “Stikeen” (Tlingit), may have been barely more conversant in the language, as you can see, although they did give a decent translation of it.

That’s just another piece of support for our ongoing observation about Tsimshians being a sort of a gap in the general Northwest Coast-wide distribution of the Jargon.

Anyway, reading the following, you can see that the singer considered sísta a word for a ‘sweetheart’! When you go back to Boas’s “Chinook Songs” you’ll see that this is another North Coast Jargon detail that Dr. B. didn’t catch — more than one song there, including one from a Tlingit, uses < sister > in a way that probably also refers to one’s lover. Just another new Chinuk Wawa discovery on this website…

kanaweesan notes

(page 121)

What have you learned?