1913, Haida Gwaii: Indian Fooled Chinese Party

The intersection of West Coast CPE (Chinese Pidgin English) and CJ (Chinook Jargon)…


Naden Harbour Cannery, Wallace Fisheries, 1911-1919 (image credit: TidesToTins.ca)

Here we find some typical outrageously racist coverage of a local-interest story from Haida Gwaii in the post-frontier era.

Apparently the mentions of Howkan, Alaska mean that there were Northern Haidas coming across the border to work at this cannery.

Stay with this article to the end, and you’ll find quite the language treat.

sowashee 1

sowashee 2

sowashee 3



For Ways That Are Dark the Heathen Chinee Has Been Beaten.
(Special Correspondence.)

Masset, July 17. — It is a very true saying that “wherever two extremes meet there is sure to be something doing,” and this was realized most forcibly a few days ago at Naden Harbor. Howkan, Alaska, is as far removed from the confines of Hong Kong as the North Pole is from the southern end of this mundane globe, but the races of the sufferers from overcrowding and a temperature ranging above fever point, and the fast disappearing red men of the snow-capped Alaska mountains find a common outlet for their native means of obtaining a livelihood in searching for and preparing food required by the human race in the vast waters of the equable climate surrounding the Queen Charlotte Islands [Haida Gwaii]. Daring the dangers of the deep, the native garners the harvest of salmon, while beneath the roof of the large cannery building hundreds of Chinese attend to the making of cans and other means necessary to preserve and place before the consumers the delicacies found on the tables of rich and poor of all countries.

In the case of the Indian, his home is along the rocky shores, wherever nightfall may find him; the Chinamen huddle together in some large building, wifeless, and finding solace during their short hours of respite from labor in the juice of the poppy and the enchanting game of “fantan.” The fishing “junks” of the Chinese are a prohibited means of locomotion on our waters, and a mutual feeling of respect is felt between the two races — provided the natives of the Flowery Kingdom confine their attentions to occupations in a restricted area, ashore.

There are times when a spirit of rivalry will assert itself in all that is human, and the Chinese have a few attributes that tend to show prowess and daring. Some days ago a challenge went forth from the “tin-making” brigade of Chew Fat, of Naden Harbor, to the “soldering crew” of Hot Wing for a four-oared boat race in the large seine boats of the cannery company. These craft much resemble the “junks” used by the pirates of the China Sea, and are numbered, otherwise the spectators would have been unable to distinguish the victors from the vanquished, the “can whollopers” and “soldering” competitors bearing a marked resemblance to each other.

Out on the waters of Naden Harbor assembled the crews, and the wharf was lined with spectators. Away they went, ninety-and-nine strokes to the minute, the bow man acting as stroke oar, and each individual Chinaman reaching for earth on the down stroke and for the Celestial heaven when the oar returned from the bottom of the Sound. The excitement was intense, but was not to be compared with what followed. The Chew Fats won by half a mile, the oars of the Hot Wings having become entangled in the queues of the Chinese rowers.

Back to the large domicile of the Chinese went the crews and their friends to open the case of Chinese gin, won by the successful crew. It had disappeared, and so also had a young Alaska Indian who owned another boat and was a better rower than the Chinese. He had entered the back door of the Chinese lodging house and carried off the prize. Somewhere along the shores of Hecate Straits there is a “cache” which will be opened when the “big feast” [potlatch] is held. At Naden Harbor there is a bunch of Chinamen using Chinese vocabulary which sounds like: “I’ll-ask-her, how can, sowashee stealum whisakey; me no sel’ um, sabbee; findum Howkan sowashee; he no likee Chinamanlacee; he too much likee whisakey. Him too smart.”

— from the Prince Rupert (BC) Journal of July 19, 1913, pages 2 (column 2) & 4 (column 2)

(Courtesy of Alex Code.)

The writer and/or the editor had some fun with the bolded quotation here, but it’s pretty accurate West Coast CPE:

“I’ll-ask-her, how can, sowashee stealum whisakey;
‘An Alaskan Howkan Siwash [Native] stole the whiskey;’  

me no sel’ um, sabbee;
‘I didn’t sell it (to him), (you) understand;’ 

findum Howkan sowashee;
‘(we’re going to) find the Howkan Siwash;

he no likee Chinamanlacee;
‘he doesn’t like the Chinese race;’

he too much likee whisakey.
‘he’s awfully fond of whiskey.’

Him too smart.”
‘He’s very clever.’

I’m delighted to see that we have classic Pacific pidgin English-style transitive verbs here, ending in -um. One of them, sel’ um, is common on BC Chinook Jargon. The quoted speaker, although perhaps fictionalized, displays other identifiable CPE traits, such as the loan sowashee from Chinuk Wawa, in a pronunciation that’s been reported to me from living BC Chinese descendants.

The one feature here that I might question a bit is the variation between he and him (him is more common, I think, in West Coast CPE).

But this entire quotation seems to show that the writer had a good ear for CPE, as did many Settler English speakers.

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