1924: A late Victoria-style song is among the oldest Chinuk Wawa audio

“Hello Sweetheart”!

Am I being a dull boy when I fail to find this song in the published book “The Tsimshian: Their Arts and Music“?

Part 3 of that volume is Marius Barbeau’s collection of “Tsimshian Songs” — most of which are remarkably multicultural, borrowing tunes and words from the neighbouring Haida, Tlingit, Tsetsaut, Tahltan, etc., and from Chinook Jargon- and English-speaking culture.

The singers reported that some of these 75 songs were learned from Cariboo goldrush-era packers circa 1860-1870, some being sung to pass the time “while driving their pack horses.”

(In other words, folks were keeping most of their “owned” songs close to their chest, not giving them away to this White researcher.)

I’ve written previously about the “Kanaweesan” song in CJ from this collection. It was mistakenly described by local people as being in the Tlingit language — which goes to reinforce the point that relatively few Tsimshians spoke Chinuk Wawa.

These are songs that Barbeau documented, typically with sound-recording equipment, in the 1920s on BC’s north coast.

I got curious to hear any Chinook songs from this collection whose audio has been made available.

At the Canadian Museum of History, I tracked down an item cataloged thus:

Control No. VII-C-59 (103), date 1924, Scope and Content: Love song (in part Chinook), Hello Sweetheart!. [From Marius Barbeau’s notes = Extrait des notes de Marius Barbeau]

…which doesn’t seem to be included in Barbeau’s publication, I imagine because he and the singer were actually aware that it’s not in the Tsimshian language. Anthropologists of that time routinely tossed away Chinook Jargon material that Native people provided them with, as their goal was to “salvage” the ancient traditional cultures :/

The Museum got back to me with a sound file of the “Hello Sweetheart” song. I’m not completely sure if I can share that here, but I can tell you it’s yet another in the huge genre of “Victoria-style” Chinook songs.

That is, it’s a love song in Chinook Jargon, plus a smattering of English stock phrases, plus Northwest Coast Indigenous melody & vocable syllables. (“Doowop” as Ooshtaqi called it.) It’s sung solo with a single hand drum.

1924 is relatively late for a Victoria song, and it may have actually been learned in Victoria back around the 1880s peak of this style of popular music.

The recording is surprisingly long, over 5 minutes, so it goes through several repetitions, giving the singer a chance to vary things somewhat. So far, I’m hearing the following basic elements through all the surface noise of what I take to be an old wax cylinder:

  • “Hello sweetheart” in English
  • qá mayka tsáko in Tsimshian-accented CW (qʰá mayka cháku, literally ‘where are you coming’, but given what we already know of British Columbia CW I think it’s meant as ‘when will you come here?’)
  • 2 repetitions of  nayka tsáko kópit _ _ (that is, 2 syllables at the end that I’m not catching) — so meaning ‘I’m getting to the end (of)…’ or ‘I’m getting to being finished…’
  • nayka tsáko kitwankúl ‘I came from/to Kitwancool
    nayka tsáko kitwangá
    ‘I came from/to Kitwanga‘, both of these with fluent CW’s lack of preposition for motion verbs

My perception is that the singer is using the English-language pronunciations of those Gitxsan place names, a thing that’s characteristic of Chinuk Wawa. But maybe further listening will show that he’s saying them in Gitxsan.

That’s my description of this more-or-less newly discovered Jargon song for you.

Bonus fact:


(Image credit: Youtube)

Franz Boas’ “Chinook Songs” collection has become an inspiration for a modern piece of classical music by the Houston Chamber Choir.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?