1786: Alexander Walker on the PNW coast (part 2 of 2)

Here’s part 2 of 2 in our examination of a really neat historical document of early contact…

Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu

Brigadier-General Alexander Walker of Bowland painted by Sir Henry Raeburn (image credit: biographi.ca)

Robin Fisher & J.M. Bumsted (eds.), “An Account of a Voyage to the North West Coast of America in 1785 & 1786, by Alexander Walker” (Vancouver, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 1982).

In Part 1, I noted that it looks like a newly pidginized Nuuchahnulth was in heavy use in the situations that this book tells of.

Among other things, this implies that the supposed “Nootka Jargon” that scholars have inferred existed would’ve had very little time to have entered into the language mix that became Chinook Jargon circa 1795!

So I’m again seeing a consistent picture of Pacific Northwest coast where there was no established pidgin or “trade language”, and instead an only partly conventionalized grab-bag of words from various languages was used from Prince William Sound in Alaska to the Columbia River estuary.

This mix varied from place to place, according to what was best understood by the local Indigenous people.

We can’t overlook that factor: Native people had the upper hand over visiting Euro-Americans, so it was Native languages that contributed most of the words to the pan-coastal incipient pidgin language.

Here are the rest of my language-related quotations from Walker’s account:

Pages 89-90 — “It is evident that a comparative view of the languages of all these People, and of their traditions, would afford a subject for much curious speculation. I made such enquiries as our short stay amongst them allowed. I was able to collect but a small vocabulory, and even that is probably not accurate; but as a collection of mere sounds it may be of some value.” [Walker goes on to quote William Anderson, of Captain Cook’s expedition, regarding the perceived lack or scarcity in Nuučaan’uɬ of prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections, and goes on to describe what is definitely a pidginized version of the language (“Nootka Jargon”). If you failed to recognize this, you’d have a racist impression that these folks barely had the human faculty of speech.] “I suspect, it is nearly as deficient in pronouns, and entirely wants the Article. When any Person had occasion to speak of himself, he always used his proper name. For instance, Mokquilla, instead of saying, I own this, would say, Mokquilla seeahy,” it belongs to Mokquilla; and, in place of expressing himself in this way, I killed a Sea Otter, he would say, “Mokquilla kakhsheetl quotluk,” Mokquilla kill Sea Otter. The want of Personal pronouns is sometimes supplied by signs. We often observed these People at a loss for words to explain their sentiments, particularly on subjects, that were not immediately before their senses, or when they talked of past or future events. [Walker goes on into the racist infantilization of “Savages” that I just warned of.] These Americans speak in short sentences, andone word seems frequently to express a compleat proposition. They showed no desire to become acquainted with any more of our language, than the words, Copper and Iron, but they were prevented from acquiring even these, by a total inability of pronouncing the letter R; in place of which they have always substituted L. They were indeed at great pains to learn our proper names, and were able to pronounce many of them readily. I believe that their numeration does not exceed two hundred. Whenever I attempted to make them number more than this, they returned to the Units. In computing, to avoid the use of their Numerals, they expressed all the tens in any number, by a clasping together of their hands, and then add the Units. Thus, if they want to express Sixty five, they clasp their hands six times, and say “Soocha“: or if they want to express One hundred and six, they clasp their hands ten times and add “Noopo.” ” [Mokquilla seeahy,” = ‘Maquinna mine.’ Mokquilla kakhsheetl quotluk = ‘Maquinna kill/strike sea.otter.skin, with the transitive subject first, as Chinook Jargon also came to phrase things. See below for more about Walker’s understanding of a local counting system.]

Pages 91-104 [and, valuably, repeated on pages 277-303 with expert and valuable transcription & commentary by University of Victoria linguist Barry Carlson (who I studied with), linguistically trained speaker John Thomas, and speaker Francis Charlie, incorporating the knowledge of about a dozen native speakers]
“The following is a vocabulary of some words and phrases collected at Nootka [by Walker and compared with those from Anderson/Cook]; but which it is very probable were only imperfectly understood.”
[DDR’s note — first, I’ll only show those entries from this big lexicon that help us understand words used in Walker’s journal entries, those in other early documents of Nuuchahnulth, and those that we recognize as having later become part of Chinuk Wawa.] 

  • Nas or Naas
    • (Walker’s translation) ‘The skye’
    • (modern experts explain it) n’a•s ‘day’ (apparently this ultimately became Chinuk Wawa’s snás ‘rain’)
  • Sickemaillé
    • ‘Iron’
    • cikimin ‘iron’
  • Mowitch
    • ‘A Deer’
    • muwač ‘deer’
  • Quotluk
    • ‘Sea otters skin’
    • k’ʷaƛaq ‘sea otter skin’
  • Tseeapoox (in Cook’s list), Seeapoox (in Walker’s)
    • ‘a conical cap’ / ‘a plain cap’
    • ciyapuxʷs ‘hat’
  • Klumma
    • ‘the posts of a house often in form of an image’
    • ƛama ‘house post’ / ɬuma ‘wide plank’
  • Klooksh / Klookh
    • ‘It is good. excellent’
    • ƛuɬ ‘good’
  • Chooquatlik
    • ‘This is the way’
    • čukʷa•ƛ̓ik ‘come along!’ (compare this and the next entry to Chinuk Wawa, chaku / chakwa)
  • Chookquakutsaponeeak 
    • ‘an invitation to enter a house’
    • čukʷa•k hini•ʔiƛ ‘come on, you folks’
  • As / Asko
    • ‘Large. grand. a great many.’
    • ʔaʔasuk ‘many fish finning here and there’
  • Haweelkh wakass
    • ‘friendship’
    • ḥaw’iɬ ‘chief’wa•ka•s ḥawa•ɬ ‘phrase used to address a chief’
  • Makook
    • ‘trading’
    • ma•kuk ‘to buy’
  • Apts sheetl
    • ‘stealing’
    • ʔaptšiƛ / haptšiƛ ‘to hide’ — compare Chinuk Wawa (later) kapshwala ‘steal’
  • Mamook
    • ‘weaving’
    • mamu•k ‘work’
  • Week
    • ‘not’
    • wik ‘no; not’
  • Haeeeo
    • ’10’
    • ḥayu ’10’

[DDR note — second, I’ll show you a small sampling of the many other items that show glaring mismatches between Walker’s understanding of NCN & their actual meanings. I implore my Southern Wakashanist readers to read the whole vocabulary and give me your detailed comments on how pidginlike it is. I’ll even scan it & email it to you.]

  • Kleewakmees nas
    • ‘Another name of Enekeetseem’ (the wolf ritual mask)
    • ɬiwaḥmis ‘clouds’, n’a•s ‘day’ (as if they don’t see it as a sensible single expression in modern NCN — but this kind of ‘X day’ expression recurs throughout early contact narratives)
  • Noochea
    • ‘the sea’
    • nuči• ‘mountain’
  • Koassama (from Capt. Cook’s vocabulary)
    • ‘The earth or ground’
    • quʔacma / quʔasma ‘shadow’
  • Ooophyae 
    • ‘flame’
    • cf. hup- ’round or chunky thing’
  • Kleeseemilkh
    • ‘A goat’
    • ƛ̓isimɬ ‘white one’
  • Klitheek
    • ‘A bears skin’
    • ƛ̓itḥaq ‘skin’
  • Seeatla
    • ‘a sister’
    • siy’aƛa ‘me too’
      [DDR note — this one was too spectacular to leave out, in 2021; compare Seekya ‘a female’, which might be NCN siy’a ‘I’ (predicative/”emphatic” form)!]
  • Walker presents a Nuuchahnulth numeral system that seems to be decimal (unlike the native base-20 system), where he forms the multiples of 10 by adding an invariable element metlap- (unlike the native -qumɬcpa-) and a final haeeeo ’10’ onto an unpredictable base.

Page 105 — “They also explained to us, how they poisoned their Arrows by rubbing them with a root. They sold some of this to us, and, mentioned the deadly effects it would have on our Enemies, against whom they advised it to be used.”

Pages 106-107 — “One day, a considerable number of Strangers were conducted to Mokquillas House, and we were witnesses of the indifference with which they were received. At the time they entered the House, Mokquilla and his friends were enjoying themselves round a comfortable fire; but only one Person rose up to receive the Strangers, and gave them a slight invitation to sit down on some Planks, which were near the door. In this situation they were allowed to remain for several hours…We were surprised at this behaviour, adn asked if these People were not their Friends. They coldly answered, that they were, but they were Strangers. The woord “Weena” indeed in the language of Nootka signifies Stranger, and is also almost synonymous with enemy.”

Page 111 — “It is remarkable, that whenever we enquired, where the Inhabitants of the Sound procured the Sea Otters Skins, that they pointed to the South.”

Page 112 — “Mokquilla told us, that they navigate a great way both to the North and South, and that on such Voyages they have been often absent several Months.”

Page 113 — “They were much given to boast of the number of Men, and Sea Otters, which they had killed with their Bows and Arrows, and used to compare their effects to those of a Musket. As they were one day bragging in a very ostentatious manner, we loaded a Musket with several Balls, and fired them into a Tree…they…appeared to be greatly abashed and astonished.”

Page 114 — “Their Daggers are also made of bone, and are about a foot long. They asserted that they sometimes made them from human thigh bones; most probably as an object of Triump from those of their Enemies. They were fond of speaking of the Enemies, who, according to their account, were very numerous, and frequently employed in making War.”

Page 115 — “We were told, that they employ all their Instruments of War for this Purpose [i.e. hunting], adn they showed us several Nets and gins for catching both quadruped and Birds.”

Pages 118-119 — “Of the religious opinions of this People we could learn little. It is probable that they have but few conceptions on the subject. We had reason however to believe that they worship some invisible and unknown power…Although we made a good deal of enquiry, concerning their religious notions, yet, owing to their disposition, we could not entirely depend upon the information we received. The large Images called Klumma, which Captain Cook supposed to be objects of their adoration, are held in no veneration. The People never spoke of them to us in a misterious manner, they were always exposed to our view, and to frequent marks of contempt. The Natives would spit on them, observing at the same time, “week, naas,” not heavenly. These Images are used to support the large beams of the Houses, and the word Klumma is applied indifferently to them, and to a common Post.”

Page 120 — “This Mask [a classic Nuuchahnulth animal mask] was called by the Natives, “Enekeetseem,” and was also called “Naas,” or heavenly, and “Klewahmees Naas.” When it was delivered over to us, Mokquilla said with much emphasis, “Enekeetseem, haweelk, haweelk,” which I fancy signifies Enekeetseem takes care of their Friends. He also told us, that Enekeetseem was stronger than all the Men in the Village, and to give us the highest idea of his power, he said, that Enekeetseem was stronger than both our Vessels, which no doubt were the most powerful objects, of which he had any conception…The Natives had numerous images of inferior deities, made in the human form, and always kept carefully wrapt up in Mats. The most common in this number were a married couple, the Male called Kowass, the Female Mahoomass. What particular attributes they ascribed to each of these divinities, we could not learn, but the word, “Klookh,” good, was applied to all….It is quite undertain whether these were really objects of Superstition: of worship they can scarcely be called, if we mean by that, objects of religious veneration.”

Pages 120-121 — A “temple” is found behind the village; “He [Maquinna] told us that it was the House of Enekeetseem, where he practised those ceremonies, which we had seen him perform at his own House. He called it “Mocapammé.” ”

Page 121 — “Some of the Natives were one day observed, scattering in the Air, with great attention, handfuls of small feathers. Being asked their reason for doing so, they answered, if we understood them rightly, that it was an offering to “Enekeetseem,” to induce him to prevent the Snow falling. We always found these People reserved in talking on religious subjects, probably because their ideas were so confused, that they could not express their meaning…They told us however that they interred their dead friends.”

Page 126 — “Captain Cook informs us, that the People here called his Goats “Eineetle,” which he supposed to be their name for a Deer. It is most extraordinary, that they should make no distinction between their Dogs and our Goats, for they called them both “Eineetle.” ”

Page 127 — “The Natives informed us that they had procured some of them [sea otter pelts] by Barter from other Nations.”

August 4 — Having traveled northward to Kwakwaka’wakw country at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, the mariners encounter an ethnic group new to them: “Their language and tone of speaking differs considerably, from those of the People at Nootka, so that we could only comprehend a few words, of what they spoke.” [Kwak’wala is related to Nuučaan’uɬ, but the two languages are indeed very different.] 

Page 148 — The mariners have headed north to another area typically visited by seagoing fur traders, Prince William Sound in Alaska. “The Russians have formed establishments at Oonalashka, and erected their Government over a great extent of the Coast. They navigate as far as Nootka and their trade is extending.” [To the southward, that is, eventually reaching California

Pages 156-160 present the “Language of Prince William Sound. A Vocabulary.” This is clearly the Alutiiq language, a member of the “Eskimo-Aleut” family. Some of this data may turn out to be pidginized; speakers and specialists will take a look at it, I hope. On page 160 we see evidence that “Nootka” words have been brought in and used by the mariners: Makook for ‘barter’ and Meek or Week for ‘no’. I wasn’t entirely sure at first of the latter being a Nuuchahnulth word, but in checking Jeff Leer’s “A Conversational Dictionary of Kodiak Alutiiq“, I find only the native Alutiiq qanq’a ‘no’ and piinani ‘there is none, nothing, no more’.

Chapter 22, pages 177-189, answers a question I asked in a previous post. John “Mackoy”/MacKay, who was left for a year at Nootka to learn the language (see above), may not have kept a journal that we can access. Despite his being instructed to do so, and beginning to keep such a document, pages 181-182 tells us MacKay’s claim that Kurrighum (Callicum) having one day calmly torn it into “small Pieces, scattered the fragments by throwing them about in the Air. This he did with great solemnity; singing and dancing all the time.” (This reminds me of the tradition of scattering eagles’ down feathers to show respect for a chief.)

On pages 183-184, MacKay claims to have witnessed a group of visitors in canoes being called “Enemies”; these people are taken prisoner. “…the Inhabitants of the Village of every Sex and age collected on the Shore, debated vehemently concerning the disposal of their Captives; there were two Opinions. One party was desirous, that they should be put to death immediately, and this appeared to be the most numerous. Another contended that they should defer this Measure…”

MacKay on page 186 confirms that “The Images called Kluth or Klumma, did not appear to form a part of their Worship.”

It’s made clear by Walker that when he interviewed MacKay later in India, this man had had a mental breakdown due to his feeling isolated on Vancouver Island for a year. The quality of his testimony, we’re told, is therefore pretty suspect.

A somewhat confusing statement about early visitor Captain James “Hannah” (Hanna) of Britain having had a conflict with the people of Nootka comes on page 199 — “According to the verbal relation that I obtained of this Affair, many of the Americans [Native people] were killed, but no Person on board the Vessels was hurt. The Account given of this Battle corresponds very well with the character of the Americans; but it does not appear probable that it was so fatal to them.” Details follow; “The Accuracy of this may be doubted.” It’s not quite clear to me whether this account came from Native people, from MacKay, or from other Europeans.

All in all, the consistent picture that we’ve been getting from examining the primary sources on earliest Indigenous contacts with Euro-Americans is supported by Walker’s journal.

There could not possibly have been any already-existing trade language, pidgin, or creole on the PNW coast at the time the White “Drifters” showed up.

Among other entailments of this finding: Chinuk Wawa is not ancient.

What do you think? kata maika tumtum?