“sáyá, t’əmánəwas!” song in Renton?

Often, I write about some old Chinuk Wawa find or other, publish it here, and then forget about it for a while.


Coast Salish woven wool bag (image credit: “A Woolly Tale: Salish Weavers Once Raised a Now-Extinct Dog for Its Hair” in American Indian magazine)

Today I’m having a subsequent experience that’s equally common for me. I’ll happen to look later at what I’ve written, and have further thoughts of value.

Which is a fancy way to admit, I missed something the first time around!

I re-encountered what I’d written about a newspaper article from 1894 in the “P-I”, headlined:

Bet All They Have.

Three Indian Tribes Playing “Sing-Gamble.”

Puyallups Stake Their All Against Black and Cedar River Tribes at Benton — A Long Game.

In my previous writing, I’ve pointed out that sing-gamble” was apparently a regionally used term in Chinuk Wawa that we hadn’t known of from dictionaries.

And in originally discussing the article that I’m now revisiting, I observed that “wool” was also a northern-dialect CW word; we’ll see it below. This is a nice find, as I’ve seen a seeming loanword təwúl ‘wool’ in the Salish language of the Fort Vancouver-area Cowlitz people, who heavily used Chinuk Wawa, that I think is built on “wool”.

Here’s the reason I missed part of today’s newspaper article on first exposure to it — I was looking at a partial quotation of it in somebody’s book. The full article shows us additional neat stuff that I think is also Chinuk Wawa.

I’ll quote an excerpt of greater length than I was previously able to, because doing so provides us contextual clues that the writer wasn’t great at Jargon, but was dutifully trying to quote it (and that the typesetter may have had a hard time reading his written draft).

And, we learn a Jargon song that’s new to us, of a type we’ve hardly known before — a curing song.

Warning: There’s some gratuitously racialized wording used here, and the tone is the sort of halfways incurious touristy chirpiness that you still see nowadays in a newspaper color piece on your local Chinatown. I’ll add a comment or two afterwards.








During the progress of the game on Monday the squaw of Jimmy Moses, a ponderous Indian woman, was suddenly taken ill, with symptoms of insanity. The game was not stopped even for a moment, but Dr. [dákta] Bill was summoned and he immediately began preparations to drive away the evil spirit of which the woman was supposed to be possessed. Mrs. Moses was first seated in front of one of the fires near the entrance to the main tepee and Dr. Bill then ran his hands over the squaw’s face and shoulders, manipulating and gestulating [gesticulating] in much the same manner as a magician when he essays to place a subject under a hypnotic spell. In fact, the old doctor, notwithstanding his wise grimaces and solemn blinkings, gave evidence of having at some time witnessed an exhibition of mesmerism. While the doctor was subduing the evil spirit in the woman the wives of old Dr. Jack filled an empty whitelead [ ~ tin] keg full of water and placed it beside the afflicted woman. Then a stone as large as a person’s hand was placed in the fire. Now the fun began in earnest. The woman’s friends joined the doctor in a weird dance around the fire, all singing in a low, weird tone:

“Si-si Tomomalies!     [sáyá, t’əmánəwas! far.away, spirit.power!’]
“Si-si Tomomalies!    [sáyá, t’əmánəwas!
far.away, spirit.power!’]
“Si-si we!”                 [sáyá, *wí*!
‘far.away, *wi*!’]

Tomomalis is supposed to be the imp of sickness who takes possession of good and bad Indians alike, and rends and tears them and causes them pain. By making a hideous noise and calling out “Tomomalies,” the spirit is frightened and seeks to hide itself. Having a fondness for cold water, it will generally leave the person whom it has possessed and go to the water. Thus it was that a keg of water was placed by the side of “Mrs.” Moses. Finally the squaw became quite placed, and then with a war-whoop Dr. Bill rolled the stone, now red hot, from the fire and dumped it into the keg of water. The women danced livelier and yelled louder than ever, while the doctor repeatedly soused his hands and arms in the boiling water up to his elbows. The hot rock was put into the water for the purpose of torturing Tomomalies. The doctor did not hope to kill the spirit, for that is impossible, but he wanted to give it such a warm reception that it will not molest the tribe in the future. There was a time, in the long, long ago, when a doctor, who failed to save a patient, suffered the death penalty. It became the duty of the nearest male relative of the deceased to cut the doctorʹs throat, and if the relative neglected to carry out the custom and commit the bloody deed, he was liable to punishment himself. This custom served to make the profession a dangerous one, and consequently there were few doctors, but now every tribe has several doctors, who practice the art of healing with indifferent success.

A few hours after Tomomalies had been boiled Mrs. Moses was herself again and occupied a back seat, indifferent to the chant of those engaged in the “sing-gamble.” She was busy with an old pair of carders, carding a bunch of yellow wool. An American [i.e. a White person, we presume the reporter], who had a limited knowledge of Chinook and who was curious to know what the old lady was about, asked her:

“Icta mika mamock?”          [íkta mayka mámuk?]

“Nika mamock wool kapo sock,”      [nayka mámuk *wúl* kʰupa *sák*] promptly replied the squaw, signifying that she was carding the wool preparatory to weaving [sic] it into socks.

But the game still went on. The savage song of the siwashes [sáwásh ‘Native people’] and monotonous sound of the tom-tom continued to disturb the repose of the residents of Renton and make the advance of night a thing to be dreaded.


In the quoted song, the spellings used in the reporter’s handwritten original copy seem likely to have been cribbed from George Gibbs’s 1863 dictionary, which has si-ah and ta-mah-no-us. But someone must’ve misread those, in the typesetting process.

I don’t know entirely what to make of the “we” in the quoted song. “We” is not a known Jargon word. It may be a typical interjection or a Native-style “vocable” syllable. Of the potential matches in the 1994 Lushootseed Salish dictionary, the most likely is wə ‘syllable concluding a song; it has no lexical value’. Certainly we expect all of the tribes mentioned in this article to have been Lushootseed-speaking. We have previously found Chinuk Wawa songs of Puget Sound and northward to contain plenty of interjections from the Native tribal languages, such as Haida.

The Chinook Jargon quoted here is grammatical and sensible. But the journalist seems not to have caught the meaning of the curing-song lyrics, and I suspect there’s a misinterpretation also of what Mrs. Moses said to him.

She may have been preparing to knit some socks, I suppose, but “sock” would be a new word of Jargon to us, and according to Google Ngram Viewer “stocking(s)” was still quite a bit more common in English than “sock(s)” in 1894.

Meanwhile, it’s perfectly likely that she was indeed going to “weave” (as we’re told), and that what she was going to weave was a woolen ‘sack’, which could be a variant of the common CJ word lisak ‘sack’.

That’d also be a new word of Jargon for us, but I feel it’s much less of a stretch than the suggested interpretation as ‘sock’. I have indeed found sak (along with wul ‘wool’) in the old Kamloops Wawa newspaper from British Columbia, for example here:

     Tlus nanich wik msaika lolo wul < “wool”>,
     ‘Take care that you folks don’t wear wool,’

lamuto tipso iktas, ItS, kopa msaika
‘sheep-hair clothing, etc., on your’

itluil. Ukuk wul iktas, flanil < “flannel” >
‘bodies. Those wool clothes, flannel’

iktas, iskom kanawi ikta sik, pi (Ø) mamuk mitlait (Ø)
‘clothes, pick up all kinds of diseases, and (they) put them’

kopa msaika.
‘onto you.’

     Iskom drit sil, silooi [SIC], linin < “linen” >
     ‘Choose real fabric, “real cloth”, linen(,)’

pus mamuk msaika shirt, wiht kanvas < “canvas” >
‘to make you folks’s shirts, also canvas(,)’

goni sak < “gunny sac” > [SIC] sil, iaka aias tlus
‘gunnysack cloth, it’s excellent’

pus mamuk shirt pi kikuli panc.
‘for making shirts and underpants.’

— Kamloops Wawa #129 (June 1895), page 88

[I’ll write a separate article explaining that word silooi seen above.]

And in another issue, an even clearer example:

…klaska mamuk kalahan kopa ayu sak rais.
‘…they made a wall of many sacks of rice.’

— Kamloops Wawa #198 (September 1901), page 89

The t’əmánəwas healing ceremony described above matches what we consistently hear about from western Washington. For example, the S’Klallam curing procedure described on page 107 of Edward S. Curtis’s 1913 Salish volume is a good matchup. There, as was frequent, the medicine man was “sucking near the navel”, perfectly reflecting my analysis of the word t’əmánəwas as coming from Salish (presumably Lower Chehalis and/or Cowlitz) for ‘sucking at the belly’.

Bonus fact:

Dr. Bill is known to us from an appearance in another classically Chinook Jargon-speaking environment also in Lushootseed Salish country, at the hops harvest:

dr bill hops

Given the prevalence of disease, the presence of Aboriginal medicine men, healers, and shamans in the hops camps is not surprising. At the hops camps, healers found patients in need without the resources to pay. Andy Wold, who grew up on his father’s hops farm in Issaquah, remembered visiting the cabin of an Aboriginal worker who was reportedly dying. When they entered the room, “Dr. Bill,” a medicine man from Lake Sammamish, was at work. The sick man lay in the middle of the floor surrounded by a group of Indians pounding short pieces of wood together. Dr. Bill knelt at the man’s side, sucked blood from his left breast, and spat it out on the floor. The following week, Andy Wold recalled, “the dying man we saw that night was up and working.”

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?