1865: Settler superstitions about “Indian Superstitions” about earthquakes

This “our Indians” thing sounds real, real patronizing…

great qu

“Thunderbird and Whale had a terrible fight.” Illustration by Jeffrey Veregge
(image credit: “The Great Quake and the Great Drowning“, Hakai Magazine)

…And I’m dubious whether these White folks “convinced” the Native people of the error of their ways.

But there’s no doubt this would’ve been a fascinating conversation to have heard in Chinuk Wawa!

indian superstitions

During the earthquake which occurred on the night of the 25th of August our Indians set up a fearful, unearthly yell, which they continued until we all had turned out. They then entreated us to “mamook pooh konaway” — in other words, to blaze away right and left to frighten away the “Kilcooly Tyhee,” or “Spirit of Evil,” who, according to their tradition, comes upon earth (at this particular time) with all the Indians who have ever died to slay the living for the evil they have committed. The rumbling and vibration caused by expansion of the earth’s crust they attribute to the tramp of this imaginary host. We laughed at their superstition, and explained to them as best we could how earthquakes really occur, and they seemed to be convinced. One tradition, however, we could not talk them out of…

— from the Victoria (BC) Daily Chronicle of September 25, 1865, page 2, column 3

(Two more Native beliefs are reported in the following paragraphs.)

It’s of some interest that neither of the Jargon phrases quoted above really gets a literal translation within the article. At the time, almost everyone in Victoria, British Columbia understood the language, so the writer and/or editor contented himself with paraphrases. Here’s a little more info:

  • “Mamook pooh konaway” = mamuk-p’ú kʰánawi = literally ‘make-shot all’ = ‘shoot all’, perhaps intended or understood as ‘shoot all over the place’, but I’d expect mamuk-p’ú kʰánawi-qʰá ‘shoot everywhere’ for that sense. Never forget that the Settler hearers might have made mistakes…
  • “Kilcooly Tyhee” = kíkwəli-táyí = literally ‘below-chief’ = ‘the Devil’ in standard Chinuk Wawa Christian terminology. It possibly reflects the “pre-contact” Indigenous idea that the world of the dead is under our feet (and upside-down, as some have told me).


qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?