Found: An 1898 Chinuk Pipa grave marker

Curator T.P.O. Menzies of the Vancouver City Museum made a stunning “Chinuk Pipa” acquisition in 1938 that we need to follow up on…

It may or may not be the object pictured here (Toma Dik iaka mimlus kopa Oktobir 5 1898), which is the best-preserved example I’ve ever seen of its kind, and one of the earliest:


” “Wooden Indian Grave Board with Wa wah inscription” noted in accession record. Source was a resident of Blue Pool Camp, Lillooet. PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION Carved fir slab with projecting tab at bottom, curved arch at top with cross on top, pyramid-shaped ends; carved on front of slab, two flowers in a pot a circle; three eight-pointed stars outside the circle; Chinook inscription which translated is “Thomas Nick, died Oct 5″ 1898. MATERIAL fir wood DIMENSION REMARKS 35.25″x11.25″ TECHNIQUE carved, incised SUBJECT Mortuary object SOURCE MacRae, W.A.” (image credit: Museum of Vancouver)

Which might mean there are two (or more) of these in the museum’s collection.

Perhaps the T’it’q’et First Nation will be interested in seeing this relic repatriated from what’s now the Museum of Vancouver.

north country yields. . .

Screenshot 2022-04-23 072650


A wooden tombstone which was thrown out of the old Lillooet cemetery and which carries an inscription in Father Le Jeune’s “wa-wa” language has also been brought down by the curator.

“It’s the first time I have seen Wa-Wa used,” Mr. Menzies said. “It’s a written language that Father Le Jeune created for the Indians. It looks like shorthand.”

— from the Vancouver (BC) Sun, Sept 9, 1938, page 7, courtesy of reader Alex Code

The above is an accurate description of these Chinook Jargon grave markers from British Columbia’s southern interior.

(Plus a really distorted idea of Chinook Jargon and Chinuk Pipa writing.)

Such grave markers have indeed sometimes been tossed to the side of the local graveyards when they begin to deteriorate, although many were left in place and are now weathered to unreadability.

In 25 years of research, I’ve managed to put together a database of perhaps 50 of these Chinuk Pipa-written “wooden tombstones”, as the article calls them.

So finding another one, preserved and legible, is a significant contribution to knowledge of BC Chinook Jargon’s history.

Bonus fact:

There are various people surnamed Dick from the St’át’imc (“Lillooet” Salish) country who were mentioned in the Kamloops Wawa newspaper of the 1890s to 1910s. Many were literate in Chinuk Pipa. One of these folks was Paul, by first name; another was Ignace, who was a rock star, able to read many languages in this “Chinook alphabet”.

Father Le Jeune of Kamloops told about this remarkable young man in a wonderful Jargon anecdote:

Iht tanas man, iaka nim Inas Dik, kopa Lilwat
‘A certain young man, named Ignace Dick, from Lillooet’ 

Midos, iaka mitlait kopa Hai Bar pus liplit iaka k’o
‘Meadows [Pemberton?], was at High Bar when the priest arrived’ 

kopa Hai Bar. Iaka nanich Chinuk pipa, pi aiak iaka
‘at High Bar. He saw the Chinook writing, and right away he’ 

kuli ikta iaka siisim ukuk pipa. Wiht kimta
‘could run through what that writing told. Also later’ 

iaka nanich Pasayuks wawa kopa Chinuk pipa, pi iaka
‘he saw the French language in Chinook writing, and he’ 

mamuk kuli ukuk pi kimta iaka kuli Inglish wawa. Kimta
‘did a run through that and later he recited the English language [aloud]. Later’ 

Stalo wawa, kimta hloima lalan.g wawa.
‘the Stó:lō language, afterwards other languages’ speech.’ 

Pus iaka kilapai kopa kah iaka mamuk, iaka mash
‘When he went back to where he works, he sent’ 

iht pipa kopa Hai Bar, iaka mamuk cim kopa ukuk pipa,
‘a single letter to High Bar, he wrote in this letter,’ 

Yu want tu bit mi, pi yu kant bit mi. Ai no
‘ ‘Yu want tu bit mi, pi yu kant bit mi. Ai no” ‘ 

ol Chinuk pipa. Kakwa pus wawa “Maika
‘ “ol Chinuk pipa.” Meaning “You” ‘ 

tiki tolo naika, pi wik kata maika tolo naika. Naika
‘ “want to beat me, but you can’t beat me. I” ‘ 

komtaks kanawi Chinuk pipa.” Hai Bar tilikom ayu
‘ “know all Chinook writing.” The High Bar people’ 

ihi pus klaska nanich ukuk pipa. Skukum wawa
‘laughed heartily when they saw this letter. Great words’ 

Inas Dik, skukum wawa mai boi.
‘Ignace Dick, great words my boy!’

— Kamloops Wawa #130 (July 1895), page 100

kata maika tomtom?
What do you think?