BC Chinuk Wawa love song

I’m thankful to my reader Jakob for sending a link to this nice music!

This is a “Chinook love song” from (I’m guessing here) Vancouver Island or adjacent, in British Columbia, Canada. 

Also guessing, the singers may be Kwakwaka’wakws (northern Wakashan-speaking culture), or their neighbours the ɬaʔamιn (etc.; “Sliammon”, Comox, Klahoose Salish).

A couple of features of their pronunciation sound like the song came via those Salish communities:

  • I seem to hear “sh” sounds, which ɬaʔamιn has but Kwak’wala doesn’t.
  • I may be hearing Chinuk Wawa’s word k’wás ‘afraid’ in there, but made into 2 syllables & accented on the first of them, ~ k(‘)áwas. This would perfectly match a prominent trait in ɬaʔamιn pronunciation of foreign consonant clusters at the start of words. An example to compare with is ɬaʔamιn‘s word pálεsθεsəm ‘they will bless you’, based on the BC CW blés/plés ‘to bless’. 

This song starts with what my Makah acquaintance Ooshtaqi called some doo-wop. Non-Native scholars call it vocables.

Then you hear the lyrics 4 times, at 0:55, 1:20, 2:43, and 3:08 in the video. 

Here’s what I’ve transcribed of them so far — crowdsourcing alert — can you contribute to fill in the blanks?

_____ wáwa          [‘_____ say’]

_____ hayas-tɬúsh          [‘_____ very good’]

wík _____ kákwa          [‘don’t _____ so’]


[more doowop]

Another comment on these lyrics. As fragmentary as my grasp of them is so far, I’m already perceiving that they fit the genre of late-frontier era Victoria, BC Chinook Jargon songs composed and preserved by Indigenous people. At this point we have dozens of examples of these [do you know any more?]

  • Like today’s song, the “Biktoli” songs are based on distinctly Aboriginal melodies, time signatures, and keys. 
  • And, like one taught to me by Ooshtaqi, such songs are known to use expressions of the loved one being ‘afraid’ (k’wás) of the loving one.
    This trope was in fact so well-known that Pacific Northwest Settlers worked it into their frontier love poetry: “Oh! Be not quass of nika!

Happy listening!

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?