About 1900: BC Chinuk Wawa shaman’s song

Here’s a rare type of song in Chinuk Wawa…


“Potato Gardens Band” is an artwork by descendant Krista Belle Stewart, incorporating some of those wax cylinder recordings
(image credit: Krista Belle Stewart)

So much of what’s been written down about Pacific Northwest Indigenous cultures is due to the care and effort of James A. Teit, Orkney Scots immigrant to British Columbia.

Among his many other research activities, Teit documented a good number of songs sung by Native people. In a handwritten document, he pulled together several of these, likely sung at his home office in Spences Bridge, BC around 1900.

There may exist a wax cylinder audio recording of the following song, as it’s tagged with the same style of “call number” (here “VII.F.85”) as the many known recordings by Teit.

If so, that’s good news — today’s song would be quite possibly the earliest known Chinuk Wawa audio. Until now I’ve known of a few recordings from 1907, also from BC, but in my understanding today’s tune could’ve been recorded as early as 1897.

Today’s song would also be the earliest recording of CW spoken or sung by an Indigenous person.

I’m talking about the first entry in Teit’s undated manuscript of “Songs of Okanagon and Other Tribes”. It’s very good BC Chinook Jargon from a Nɬeʔképmx Salish (“Thompson”) man. I’ll quote Teit’s notes in their entirety:

Shaman’s song by Nê´luk [side note says “name of a bird viz. Clarks Nut Cracker] of the Potatoe Garden’s [sic] band, Nicola. 

This is a song used in doctoring sick people by Doctor Tom, an old Indian from the Coast (think S.W. coast of Van. Is. par) [DDR: that last word is unclear to me] who traveled in the Interior about 15 years ago and doctored the sick. He had formerly traveled with a White man’s circus (for two or three years) and knew a lot of the sleight of hand tricks used by the White performers as well as other tricks known to the Coast Indians. These tricks he used to good effect in conjunction with his doctoring. He was driven out of the Interior by the missionaries and the police for obtaining money under false pretences and was in jail for a while. A favorite trick of his was to show things he claimed he had taken out of the bodies of the sick. He always spoke in Chinook to the Interior Indians. Words used by singer are in imitation of those used by Dr. Tom. 

Naíka komtóks máika. Naíka nēm Tom. Naíka 
I know thee. My name (is) Tom. I 

tíki tláp maíka sik. Naíka komtóks maíka sik.
want (to) find thy sickness. I know thy sickness. 

Naika ískim maíka sik. Naíka skúkum dókta.
I (will) take (or get or bring) thy sickness. I (am a) strong doctor or shaman. 

Spos [1] naíka ískim maíka sik maíka nánits [2] maíka sik. 
If I take thy sickness thou (wilt) see thy sickness.

Naíka hélo tlimínahwit; naíka hélo káltas wā́wa.
I no (don’t) lie I no (or not or don’t) nothing
[3] talk viz. pretend. 

Naíka delḗt dókta. Haíyu son [4] naíka hélo mókamok. 
I (am a) real shaman. Many days I no (not or never) eat. 

Naíka hélo mókamok kopa tā́tlem son. Naíka hélo
I (have not) no eat (eaten) for ten days. I (have) no 

íktas stop [5] pi naíka hélo sek [6] stop. Álta naíka 
things (or tools &c.) with me and I (have) no sack with me. Now I 

ískim maíka sik pi maíka nánets.
(will) take thy sickness and thou (wilt) see (it). [7]

A few notes on the Chinook Jargon used here:

Spos [1] is a pronunciation that I’ve only rarely found in interior BC, so it may be an accurate recollection of Dr. Tom’s Vancouver Island-dialect Jargon.

nánits [2] for nanich ‘see’ is probably showing Interior Salish influence; those languages don’t distinguish “TS” from “CH” sounds, and we see the effects often in the local people’s Jargon speech.

káltas being translated as nothing [3] is unusual, but it makes sense in light of common Jargon phrases like kaltash patlach ‘a free gift’. Most of the time I think of kaltas as ‘no-good’ or ‘for no particular purpose’. Anyways, Teit agrees with the rest of us in taking kaltas wawa as ‘BS-ing’.

Haíyu son [4] naíka hélo mókamok. There’s that proper Jargon style that I like to teach you about, with expressions of quantities going right up front, first in the sentence. 

stop [5] is one of the most BC Jargon of BC Jargon words. Possibly taken from South Seas-influenced pidgin English, it’s a synonym for mitlait ‘have’. I’ve found it both on the coast and in the interior of the province. 

sek [6] is a typical BC Jargon-ism, a recent loan from spoken English, replacing earlier Métis French-sourced lisak

maíka nánets ‘thou (wilt) see (it)’ [7] Teit’s parenthetical ‘it’ here is the earliest hint I know of that anybody overtly recognized the “silent IT” (Ø to a linguist) that characterizes all dialects of Chinuk Wawa. It wasn’t until a 2007 published paper of mine that this “null” was mentioned, however.

Bonus fact:

There exist, according to Teit’s marginal note in the same manuscript, some photos he took of today’s singer ´luk. They’re listed in the reference book “The Interior Salish Tribes of British Columbia: A Photographic Collection“.

Kata maika tomtom?
What do you think?