1941: Frank Drew’s Chinuk Wawa song…a Wám-Háws-Tánis-Sháti?

Huge thanks to my reader “Joe” for pointing this one out!

frank drew

Frank Drew and daughter Marge Sivery/Severy, 1946 (image credit: The Siuslaw Pioneer, July 1961)

At my post “Crowdsourcing Challenge: More Chinook Jargon Archival Audio?”, Joe commented that a Lower Umpqua and Coquille [actually Hanis Coos, see Comment from Patricia Whereat Phillips below] tribal member, Frank Drew (1866-1951), had sung a CJ tune for the tape recorder.

This was in 1941, when ethnologist John Peabody Harrington sent his very young assistant John Paul Marr to the Oregon Coast.

Quoting biographical info from Patricia Whereat Phillips’s superb, authoritative Native southwest Oregon site, Shichils’ Blog:

Frank Drew was born to a Hanis Coos woman at the Yachats reservation but had spent most of his life living on the Siuslaw River. He was fluent in English and Hanis, and knew quite a bit of the Siuslaw-Umpqua language as well. Frank Drew was quite willing to work with Leo Frachtenberg, but he was very poor at providing texts, which Jim Buchanan could do. So Frachtenberg worked obtaining stories from Buchanan, with the help of Frank Drew as translator.

Part 2 of the Smithsonian’s online audio file of that recording contains the Chinuk Wawa song, from about 1:17 to 2:20. Frank Drew answers JP Marr’s question whether “you know any songs” by saying, “I know Jargon song”. 

The melody seems utterly Aboriginal to me. It’s in a key and time signature(s) very different from European-originated music. It’s sort of…pentatonic? Any musicologists able to comment?

But the lyrics sound more or less Christian. The catch is that they don’t use any of the standard Christian Chinuk Wawa phrases, like sáx̣ali-táyí ‘God’ or sáx̣ali-íliʔi ‘heaven’!

The lyric ‘All of our people who’ve gone go to a good place’ sounds straight out of one of the post-contact Native ‘Warm House/ghost dance’ cults that swept southwest Oregon. That would be a remarkable find for us; I’m not aware of anybody having documented such songs in any great detail. Alternatively this may be an Indian Shaker Church song. Us scholars don’t know tons about those either, other than that they’re said to have often been in Jargon, as were Oregon ‘Warm House’ ceremonies. 

Here are the lyrics as I’m hearing them. I’ve divided them into 4 verses, which have a pause between them.

As we’ll see, some of the words are unclear, and some don’t make perfect sense, so I suspect this song — and perhaps Chinuk Wawa itself — was a rather old memory for Mr. Drew in 1941. Stuff *asterisked*, I haven’t fully figured out yet. I’ll throw in a few comments afterward.

Ah, before I go on, a great big huge acknowledgment has to go to our “Snass Sessions” crew this Saturday morning on Zoom, who made phenomenal progress on deciphering this song in less than an hour! They figured out parts of it that were stumping me. Special thanks to stəbs for the hard work of scribing. (Join our sessions, folks, just ask me for the contact info.)

OK, now — standardized into Grand Ronde spellings, we’re pretty sure we hear this (again, here’s the link to hear the song) — 

  1. wik-lili nsayka ɬatwa, saya sax̣ali kʰapa ɬush iliʔi.
    ‘Soon we’ll go there, way up to a good place.’ 
  2. wik-lili nsayka miməlust, wik(-lili)* nsayka miməlust, saya sax̣ali kʰapa ɬush iliʔi.
    ‘Soon we’ll be dead, soon* we’ll be dead, way up in a good place.’ 
  3. qʰa nəsayka papa yaka miɬayt, wik-lili nsayka ɬatwa, wik-lili nsayka ɬatwa saya sax̣ali.
    ‘Where our father is, soon we’ll go there, soon we’ll go there way up.’ 
  4. nawitka (papa,)* ɬush alta nsayka ɬatwa qʰa nsayka nanich kʰanawi nsayka tilixam yaka ɬatwa kʰapa ɬush iliʔi.
    ‘Yes father*, let’s go now where we’ll see all our relatives who’ve gone to that* good place.’ 

I’m very happy to note the last line’s use of yaka, literally ‘(s)he’, for plural ‘they’ (people), as I’ve often pointed out many really fluent Indigenous speakers say. For them, łaska ‘they’ is fairly rare.

It sounds to me like, as soon as he’s done singing, Frank Drew says “Might be!” 😉

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?