1920: A hymn “In a Cannery”

The popular BC writer Pollough Pogue, always reliant on Chinuk Wawa for local colour, writes about an unspecified cannery with a multiethnic crew of Native people, Punjabis, Chinese, and so on.


(Image credit: LabourHeritageCentre.ca)

Pogue doesn’t pretend to factual, unbiased reporting, and his pieces usually appear with other entertainment items, but his ear for the CW-speaking environment is quite something.

In today’s piece, he includes a hymn being sung by the Native women working in the cannery:


“Ka-ah nika iskum klattawa nanich,
“Ka-ah ni-ka iskum klattawa nan-ich, 

“Ka-ah ni-i-i-ka is-kum klattawa na-a-anich, 
“Ka-ah si-i-i-i-ah klosh ill-l-l-ahee.”

This was as near as the women could get, in the fragmentary Chinook lingo, to the opening lines of the Christian hymn holding out an inviting promise of a better land.

— from “In a Cannery”, in the Vancouver (BC) Province of March 23, 1920, page 6, column 4

This song seems like Settler CW; it misuses the verb ískam ‘pick up, accept, choose’, as White folks often did, especially after frontier time, when the Jargon was in disuse and English exerted an ever-stronger influence. I’m not even sure how to translate the repeated phrase; it’s approximately ‘Where will I pick out to visit’, except that that makes sense in English & it doesn’t in the Jargon!

This could be a misremembered fragment from the famous and widely known Chinook Jargon hymn “Kah, O Kah Mitlite Noah Alta?” / “Hebrew Children“.

It’s also remarkably similar in subject to an antique audio recording from the Oregon coast. (See 1941: FRANK DREW’S CHINUK WAWA SONG…A WÁM-HÁWS-TÁNIS-SHÁTI?)

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?