1920: Yakka cultus man, a myth, and another Jargon song

This somewhat fanciful, sometimes nonsensical, piece comes to us from more than a generation after the frontier era…

In accordance with that setting, the author doesn’t know Jargon very well. Pollough Pogue’s plentiful productions were short on provable facts, although full of artistic uses of this language to make you proud of being a British Columbian. What you don’t get in his articles are dates, exact locations, people’s names, or connections with recognizable historical events.

So I don’t recommend taking the Chinook in today’s article as a useful example to follow.

Despite all this, this article raises a worthy question related to Chinook Jargon in BC. I’m not going to transcribe the entire text, but a reference is made to “one of ‘Hobo’ Kelly’s coast ballads”:

Sweet klootchman, fly with nika 
And leave your light canim
We’ll take a hyas klaltawa 
Into the forest dim

This sets off various alarms:

  • It’s insulting and absurd of anyone to have broken into such lighthearted Chinook song while being guided by a panicked Native woman to where her child lies gravely ill.
  • It’s even worse that this song is racist, using the borrowed Chinuk Wawa word klootchman (‘woman’) in English, synonymously with the awful ‘squaw’.
  • Not to mention that the quoted lyric is recognizable as a newly discovered folk version of the “Be Not Quass of Nika” love song. (Here’s a link to another BC version.) Was the doctor hitting on this poor lady?
  • And the doctor character goes out of his way to racially insult the woman’s non-Native male partner as a “Siwash“, a typically BC English use of the otherwise harmless Jargon word for ‘Native’. This meaning is emphasized when Pogue paraphrases it as “squawman”.
  • Ah, also, Pogue vaguely claims the doctor “used a Chinook word which is more forcible, but can not be printed here”. I find this suspiciously mysterious, and I’m not acquainted with any CJ terms that equate to such explosive cusses — unless the author is thinking in terms of Englishand implying that the guy got called a páliks (‘penis’) or some such. You’ll often hear that the worst curse in Chinuk Wawa is kʰámuksh ‘dog’, which is totally printable by Settler standards, and often was used in published writings.

The intersection of numerous such facts makes me deeply skeptical of the reality of the scenes painted in today’s “colour piece”, which goes by the title ‘Yakka Cultus Man’ (‘he’s a no-good guy’).

Curiously enough, that’s why I’m grateful to Pollough Pogue!

Here’s the deal.

This article attributes the Chinooklish doggerel verse to a Hobo Kelly, who I think I’ve seen referred to someplace else in a collection of Pacific Northwest folk songs.

Well, merely appearing in a Pollough Pogue article casts doubt on your existence — and sure enough, on doing some fairly extensive checking around, I find no evidence of any real BC coast troubadour called Hobo Kelly.

The name was common enough, all around North America, but the only famous carrier of it was a Los Angeles TV clown, obviously of later vintage.

So I suppose we’ve managed to bust a minor Chinook Jargon myth today.

And, being sure to give credit where it’s due, we have found a perfectly plausible new variant of a BC folk song that relies on Chinuk Wawa words for its effect. Earlier this year, we discovered another such piece from the same newspaper writer.

Now: if you’re curious, read the article I’m talking about:

yakka c 1

yakka c 2

yakka c 3

yakka c 4

yakka c 5

yakka c 6

— from the Vancouver (BC) Province of August 16, 1920, page 6, column 6

Learn more about Pollough Pogue ….

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?