1862: Travels in British Columbia by Barrett-Lennard

There isn’t a ton of “Chinnook” Wawa in today’s featured book, but it’s nonetheless a snapshot of early coastal BC use of this language.

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Victoria, from this book

I’m looking at a pretty obscure publication, one of many filling the insatiable public curiosity about early gold-rush era BC. It’s “Travels in British Columbia: With the Narrative of a Yacht Voyage round Vancouver’s Island”, by Charles Edward Barrett-Lennard (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1862).

Barrett-Lennard (1835-1874), who was an educated upper-class Englishman, was quite a young man when he made these journeys, so his powers of clear observation impress me all the more. I can recommend his book both for entertainment and for research purposes.

Pages 57-58 tell of early Indian schooling in Victoria, which leaned fairly heavily on the Jargon; the author accurately specifies what the literal translation of the quoted phrase is:

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A school, exclusively for Indians, has been established at Victoria on the Indian reserve, which is attended by both children and adults, who receive secular and religious instruction. They were beginning to learn the use of written characters when I left, and I have heard a chapter in the Bible translated and expounded to them in Chinnook, as well as the
Decalogue with the very appropriate introduction of an eleventh commandment — [“]Wake klosh mucka-muck whisky:[wík-łúsh mə́kʰmək wíski] “Thou shalt not drink whisky;” or as it stands in Chinnook, “It is not good to drink whisky.” [wíski was a generic word for ‘alcohol’ in BC.] Much of the success of this institution is due to the tact and energy of the master, a clergyman of the Church of England, who, to his other undoubted qualifications for the post he fills, is adding a knowledge of several Indian dialects.

Page 70 adds to the general historical picture that Kwak’wala-speaking tribes, like Tsimshians further north, tended not to have as much knowledge of Chinuk Wawa as other Indigenous nations did:

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By the time we were fully convinced that we must have passed our destination, we caught sight of a canoe, to which we signalled. After considerable hesitation and delay, the Indians, being evidently astonished and alarmed at our unwonted appearance, came alongside. As these Indians could not talk Chinnook, the ordinary medium of communication with all the tribes on the opposite coasts of the island, we were a long time before we could understand them. At length we made out that they were Quatsinoughs, and that their village lay beyond a point of land which we had determined to explore. We were somewhat startled by this announcement on the part of the Indians, as it made us some 24 miles further to the southward than we had intended to go that day…

Page 76 tells an anecdote of an Indigenous man using Chinuk Wawa to maintain a degree of social advantage in dealing with Whites:

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This phlegm is not a little provoking at times, and I remember feeling considerably nettled, on a previous occasion, at the indifference displayed by a fellow on receiving the gift of a claspknife, an article of great value really in the eyes of an Indian. Perceiving that he did not manifest any great degree of pleasure or gratitude on my presenting it to him, I asked him if it was not “hyas klosh ookook” [hayas-łúsh úkuk? ‘is this very good?’] (very good), to which he replied, with well-feigned indifference,“wake hyas klosh — tenas klosh,” [wík-hayas-łúsh — tənəs-łush ‘not so great — (just) sort of good’] meaning that it was very well, but nothing to boast of. I thought this a rather cool way of receiving what was, in fact, a valued gift, but soon found that it is part of an Indian’s nature to assume this studied sang-froid.

Page 97 introduces a Nuučaan’uł man of the author’s acquaintance, who is known by a Chinuk Wawa nickname:

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Pe Sha Klim, as he called himself, was a thoroughly good-natured, and, in his savage fashion, good-hearted fellow. In person he was stalwart and robust, his expression was goodtempered and agreeable, his countenance being lighted up by a frequent smile, displaying a good set of teeth. At times, however, I am bound to confess that I have seen, when engaged in an excited discussion with his fellows, the true fire of the savage flash into his eye, and give animation to his gestures. The title of “Scokum tum-tum Siwash,” [skúkum-tə́mtəm sáwásh ~ ‘brave Indian’] or, “Strong-hearted Savage,” which he was much given to insist upon as being one of his special designations, has often seemed to me not inaptly to describe him.

Page 102, “Mowichats”, tells of one Native man’s pejorative opinion of a telescope; it was probably given in Chinuk Wawa, perhaps as t’łəmínxwət-glás:

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Proceeding on our course I frequently made use of a double-barrelled field-glass I carried with me. The attention of our Indian being drawn to this object, I showed him how to use it. He was undoubtedly much astonished at the result, although the remarks he made upon it were by no means flattering. He evidently regarded it as an uncanny, if not absolutely diabolical contrivance for getting an unfair advantage over nature, and returned us our “lying glass,” as he expressively termed it, with unmistakable marks of disapprobation.

Page 105 brings us further confirmation of a discovery I’ve previously shared, that man-of-war” (a type of ship) was a regional Chinuk Wawa term around southern Vancouver Island; the phrase “man-of-war Tyhee” is reused e.g. on page 116:

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As we continued, however, to assure them that our intentions were friendly, they at length mustered sufficient courage to come alongside, but were thrown into a state of considerable consternation on learning from our interpreter that I was “Man-of-war Tyhee,” [~mə́nuwa-táyí ‘man-o’-war chief’] and highly indignant at being fired on, as we had done nothing to provoke a misunderstanding, and they could have had no reason to doubt our good faith.

King George’s men” [kʰinchúch-mán] (Britishers) and “Boston men[bástən-mán] (Americans) are of course mentioned. Because these phrases struck readers as relatively unexotic, they tend to be used freely in old books like this one. 

Page 116:

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Being accustomed to wear the jacket of the Thames Yacht Club, with its brass buttons, to which I sometimes added, when it was blowing, on account of its weight, an old cavalry cap, with its gold band, I always passed in this nondescript costume for a man-of-war Tyhee, or officer, among the Indians of these coasts.

Page 150, among the “Tum Sioux” (Thompson?!) Salish Indians in the vicinity of Fort Hope, a good ways up the Fraser River, the writer recalls Vancouver Island medicine men:

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Before taking leave of our Indian friends, of whom I hope the reader is not yet wearied, I must say a few words about that important functionary the “Tumanas,” [t’əmánəwas] as he is called on the western shores of Vancouver, or Medicine Man. His post is, I believe, a lucrative one, but at the same time, as a set off against its advantages, should a patient happen to expire under his treatment — a consummation by no means improbable, considering the nature of the curative process—it is quite within the limits of possibility that the friends and relatives of the deceased may take it into their heads to sacrifice the unfortunate “Tumanas” to the manes [revered souls] of their relatives.

Still remembering experiences from Vancouver Island, on page 152:

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[A relative of someone being treated by a medicine man, in] a state of silence and composure, probably not unmixed with awe, bent on me from time to time looks of reproving gravity, until at length, finding that these failed to check my irresistible inclination to laugh, he abruptly exclaimed, with mingled indignation and astonishment, “Kopa kha mika hee hee?” — “What are you laughing at?”[ kʰupa qʰá mayka híhi? ‘from where is your laughter?’]

I’m wondering if Barrett-Lennard’s spelling < kha > might indicate (A) the UK typesetter, completely unfamiliar with the Jargon, misreading < ikta > (‘what’), or (B) an attempt by the author to show that he perceived a distinct sound ( /q/ ) at the start of the word for ‘where’.

There’s more general valuable information to be gotten from the above snippets than the specific words cited. 

For instance, Nuuchahnulth and Vancouver Island Salish people knew good Chinuk Wawa by circa 1860, but the language hadn’t spread very far to the north. 

And the author’s portrayal of the CW spoken in these coastal areas meshes very well with what we’ve reconstructed via other research, e.g. when we’ve looked into dictionaries of the Indigenous languages to see what traces of Jargon remain there.

What do you think?