Fireworks in Chinuk Wawa

Two words I know for ‘fireworks’ in Chinuk Wawa are borrowed…the second in what may be a surprising way!


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I admit that I’ve mentioned part of this info before, but it’s so topical in our “new normal” of extreme wildfire risk, I couldn’t resist enlarging on the subject.

From Kamloops Wawa, we know 2 Jargon words for fireworks —

  • Bingal paia, which comes from 1800s English “Bengal fire” and/or French “feu de Bengal”. This was specifically what are now sold as “sparklers” at PNW tribal fireworks stands.
  • Chinuk paia ‘Chinook fire’ is a unique coinage in the BC Chinook Wawa environment! I would be really interested to hear anyone’s believable explanation for why ‘Chinook’ got used this way. My own best guess at the moment is that locals heard the same era’s English “China/Chinese fire” (French likewise said “feu de Chine/chinois”). Note as always, “China fire” is borrowed from, or influenced by, immigrants’ Chinese Pidgin English, another pidgin language commonly heard in daily life here. Thus, maybe BC CW also had *Chaina paia*. Folk-etymology may have turned that into the equally exotic- (and equally familiar)-sounding Chinuk paia. The funny thing is that the CW news article using this phrase says “Tkop man mamuk nim…Bingal paia”, ‘the White people call it…Bengal fire’, and indeed another KW issue refers to Chinuk paia stik! And just to complicate things, Chinuk paia is sometimes described in Jargon as a powder rather than a finished firework product…

What do you think?