1915: Collison, “In the Wake of the War Canoe”

collison illo

between pages 160 & 161

In the Wake of the War Canoe: A Stirring Record of Forty Years’ Successful Labour, Peril & Adventure Amongst the Savage Indian Tribes of the Pacific Coast, and the Piratical Head-hunting Haidas of the Queen Charlotte Islands, B.C.” by William Henry Collison (London: Seeley, Service & Co., 1915).

Crammed with truly excellent photos, this firsthand memoir of later frontier, and post-frontier, times (circa 1873-1915) by a British missionary has the power to open eyes.

I’m a scholar of pidgin and creole languages in general, so I’m really curious whether someone in the know could take a look at the things Collison says and quotes in the “Tsimshian” & Haida languages. Will these turn out to be pidginized versions of both? Here’s a preliminary list of the data to be checked on:

  • Page 124 both.
  • Note his description on pages 125-126 of the difficulties he had in learning the tribal languages, and the evidence we see in the laughter greeting his reading back of his pupils’ names.
  • He gives some grammatical description on those pages as well.
  • 174 Haida bible quotation.
  • 201 Tsimshian.
  • 203 Haida.
  • 215 Haida.
  • 231 Tsimshian.
  • 240, 242 Tsimshian.
collison cover


Moving on to Chinuk Wawa-related material — pages 86-87 evaluates North Coast Indians’ acculturation, both religious and linguistic (they’ve largely moved beyond using CW) :

collison 086 087

Pages 126ff: the author repeats some less than accurate folklore about Chinook Jargon:

collison 126ff

collison 126ff 2

On page 131, Chinuk Wawa is used by a Haida man working for Collison, to threaten a White storekeeper:

collison 130

In this section of the book, it’s interesting to see Collison arguing for a milder White attitude toward the Indigenous “potlatch“, which he says has become quite acculturated by the time of writing. Still, he calls it a “harmful” tradition! On a similar note, Collison is overall a better than average observer of Native people’s customs, but still insists on trying to replace them with Euro-American ones.

Page 151 tells us the origin of (at least local) terms for ‘Saturday’ & ‘Sunday’ in Tsimshian, perhaps partly from Chinuk Wawa’s word for ‘Sunday / week’:

collison 150

Page 154 notes a Tsimshian captain & crew who, pretty typically for their people, know no CJ:

collison 154

On page 160, a shipwrecked “Hudsons Bay Company factor”, Mr. Williams (?), reaches a village of Tlingits who luckily do turn out to know Jargon:

collison 160

On page 164, “hootchino” is mentioned; it’s a Tongass Tlingit place name that’s the ancestor of the modern slang “hooch” for ‘liquor’. (Collison goes on to describe their town as having distilling equipment outside every single house.) Sometimes folks have claimed it to be a Chinuk Wawa word; we have scant direct evidence for that, although it was certainly used in a CW environment.

On page 165, Collison preaches in Jargon in a Tongass Tlingit town, as he doesn’t speak Tlingit. He repeats the hoary old anecdote of the missionary who had terrible results preaching through a Chinuk Wawa interpreter, an incident that I can tell you was due to the dude’s flowery literary English, which is extremely hard to translate into CW:

collison 165

On page 173, a Haida man’s description of the “fighting fire-ship” (a steam-powered naval vessel) suggests speech in or influenced by Chinuk Wawa:

collison 173

Similarly, pages 305-306 report the phrasing “white man’s fire canoe” for a steamboat:

collison 305

What do you think?