Howay [Haswell, Boit, Hoskins] “Voyages of the Columbia” (Part 2C of 5)

Still asking for you, my reader, to tell me if you believe there are any clear signs of stabilized pidgin / trade languages on the northern PNW Coast in the following reports…

This is all taken from F.W. Howay [editor], “Voyages of the “Columbia” to the Northwest coast, 1787-1790 and 1790-1793” (republished 1990).

Part 2C: The journal of John Box Hoskins

Columbia’s winter quarters at Adventure Cove (image credit: Wikimedia)

Pages 253-254 have Hoskins reporting an apparently detailed description from Nuuchahnulth people of the location of one of their distant village sites: 

Having frequently expressed to the Chiefs my wish to visit their village of Okerminna which they as frequently told me was not navigable for such boats as ours it being situated at the head of a long narrow river which was obstructed by several bad falls at some they were obliged to land walk over and take canoes on the opposite side at others they must watch the tides and go over with the greatest care notwithstanding which their canoes often got upset and the people were drownded but that they would bring a canoe on purpose for me     finding this was only done to amuse [humor] me and that they did not intend I should visit their village I became the more curious and desirous of going     Tootoocheetticus being abord to day I insisted on going with him in his canoe     he made a variety of objections such as the distance dangers and the like     he finding I determined to surmount every difficulty he should throw in the way finally told me he was not a going home but going to some other village     from these circumstances and being advised to no longer persist in what might prove fatal to me I now gave up all hopes of ever seeing this village but from the best information I could collect from the natives must be at least forty or fifty miles distance from the ship for they tell me they leave the village in the afternoon and arrive at the ship in the forenoon of the following day     they also tell me they paddle all night and as they generally appear to be much fatigued I am induced to believe it now admitting this as their canoes seldom paddle less than three and often six miles an hour that I think after making every allowance for stopping etca. etca. it is a pretty moderate calculation     this they tell me is a fresh water river and that they move there for the benefit of catching salmon with which it abounds. 

Pages 254-255, on December 22, 1791, visiting a sick man who is being treated by the traditional Pacific Northwest curing method whereby a medicine man sucks at the afflicted area of one’s body (thus my etymology of Chinuk Wawa’s t’əmánəwas ‘spirit power’ as coming from Coast Salish t’əm ‘sucking’ -á  ‘at’ -nəwas ‘the body’)

At the earnest solicitation of a number of the Chiefs I on the 22d (of the month) accompanied Captain Gray to the village of Opitsitah to see Yeklan the youngest brother of Wickananish     we were received at the beach by a Chief with about forty young men who conducted us to the house of the sickman chanting an agreeable though solemn air as we went and making our arrival known to every one in the avenue to the house we were greeted by a number of the populace who had assembled on the occasion     on entering the house we were received by Wickananish who presented us to his father and mother     they received us with the most cordial affection and said or seemed to say save the life of my son and restore him to health who until now we had not seen having been obscur’d by six stout men who are a set of priests and doctors that do every thing by m[a]gic     some of these were pressing on his belly and breast others sucking his throat making at times a most hideous noise which is answered by the voices of a great multitude that had thronged the house now and then those men would pretend to scoop something up (as though it was water) with their two hands and then blow it way     thus those men would continue to press and feel about the young man’s body till they pretendedly would get hold of the evil spirit that was the cause of all his malady then seize on him as before mentioned and blow him away.

we then left him though not until both he and his father made us promise a daily visit     we were frequently asked both by him his father and several of the other chiefs if we thought he would die     they were answered in the negative provided those men were not allowed to press him any more which was promised should be the case.

The cause of this young man’s illness is an excess of grief at the loss of his only child which died a few months since     this he took so much to heart as scarce to be persuaded by his friends to receive sustenance sufficient to keep him alive     add to this about three weeks since he visited us at the ship     on his return he caught a bad cold and he will ere long in all human probability fall a sacrifice to his immoderate grief     such is the affection of people whom we deem savages to their children.

A return visit to “the sickman”, page 257 (December 31, 1791), during which a large number of village residents assemble to sing, drum, and dance, which are considered medicinal in the traditional culture — this Native man is portrayed as having expressed a counterfactual in the verbal medium shared between him and the Euro-Americans:

I asked the sickman if this singing was not disagreeable to him     he told me no but on the contrary was very pleasing for he said a few night since the moon when he was asleep told him that if he had have had a great deal of singing his child would not have died and unless he himself had he would also die therefore he every day should have a concert     superstitious wretch but thou art only a child of nature.

Page 258, a third visit to “the sick chief” immediately after an accidental firearms discharge wounds a local Native man (January 10, 1792) — the two sides somehow manage to convey hypothetical and even counterfactual situations despite the lack of a word for “if” in any early Nuuchahnulth wordists (an achievement replicated numerous times as we will see at various points in Hoskins’ narrative):

we then proceeded to the sickman’s house where we as in general found Wickananish to whom I told what had just happened     he heard it without the least [negative] emotion and laughed when I asked him what he would have done with us if the man had have been killed and said those who come to his village peaceably shall never meet with uncivil treatment.

Page 259, same visit, the sick man’s wife communicates well with the mariners about some Hesquiat visitors; notable too is the use of Euro-American trade goods as gifts from one tribe to another, and the presence of a rare quotation of a full “Nootka” utterance:

We had not been setting in the house long when about a dozen stout fellows came in some with paddles others with peices of iron etca.     I can’t say but that on the sight of these people I felt myself in a most disagreeable situation     Yeklan’s wife no doubt observing the emotions of my mind which I willingly would have concealed very kindly said to me don’t be afraid of those people they won’t hurt you they belong to Esquoot and have come to see my husband     I felt myself ashamed at my emotions having been observed and at the same time all the tenderness of her language — there was a place cleared for these people and they all came and set down     after having being seated a short time they each held two chizzels in their hands when one got up and made considerable of a harangue in an audible voice     then one of Yeklan’s people got up and answered him     after a few responses those chizzels were received and laid at Yeklan’s feet when the whole household three times sung out clacko clacko clacko thank ye thank ye thank ye.

On the 16th of January, 1792, “the old Chief brought his youngest son Yeklan aboard who is very sick and requests Captain Gray’s permission to let him stay on board and be doctored which is granted.” (page 259) This need not have involved much beyond the making of gestures.

Pages 260-261, approximately the same point in time — a visit ashore, a stay with a chief overnight, another quotation of Native speech, and a good deal of communication that probably involved lots of gesturing without needing many words: 

all the Chiefs came to welcome us and requested our company at their houses on the morrow particularly Wickananish who requested we would honor him with our company at a a ball he should order at his son’s house on the morrow — the chief now very politely asked me what I would eat     I pointed to some herrins I saw hanging up     he ordered them to be brought and had them roasted which was done by thrusting a stick through them standing them up before the fire and now and then turning them until they were done when they were brought and laid before me on a clean mat     these with some bread and salt that I brought down with me I made a very good supper in which Wickananish and Tootiscoosettle both joined me    there was water brought me in a clean tinpot to drink but the chief expressed much regret at the same time that he had no kind of liquor to offer me and said if he had have had one days warning every thing should have been more to my mind     supper being finished and every thing cleared away he now asked me to choose what part of the house I would sleep in     this as I was under his roof I left for his determination     

a sea otter skin cootsack hung on a pole for a curtain which served to screen me from the sight of the populace     this he said was for me and asked if it was agreeable to my wishes     on my answering in the affirmative he said I was at liberty to retire whenever I pleased     thus did this good man endeavour to accomodate me in as much stile as his situation was capable of.

About ten o’clock the people began to disperse when they cooked a quantity of fibrous roots which they eat with oil     these appear to be the roots of clover and other grass and are by no means unpalatable     after this the chief ordered all their fires out and we retired to bed     he lay on some mats alongside of me and a row of his people lay to guard us so that it was impossible to get up without awaking some of them     the Chief told us if we attempted to walk without one of his people attending with a torch we should certainly be killed and if we wished to walk at any time two of those people should attend us.

I found these people kept a diligent watch six or eight men running about the beach all night with lighted torches every now and then calling to each other some small canoes also rowing guard and the door way of every house guarded by one or two men     for what reason they kept this watch I could not rightly learn whether it be for fear of other tribes attacking them (which is always done in the night) or of the wild beasts     they pretend the latter but I have good reason to conclude the former is principally the cause.

At daylight in the morning Wickananish sent for Tootiscoosettle to come to his son’s house     I being awake he requested me to accompany him     we found but few at the house when we first entered but it soon began to fill when Wickananish harangued them the[n] Tootiscoosettle and afterwards another chief named Hannappee who is high priest and Wickananish’s uncle’s eldest son after several discourses by these three different Chiefs which at the conclusion of each was answered with loud shouts the people were ordered to depart.

The purport of these harangues were to the following effect that whereas the eldest son of Wickananish to whom he had given his name and taken upon himself that of Hyyoua had become old enough to head his whaling canoe (a lad about twelve years old) he had given it up to him that it was expected in future they would look up to him as their Chief and in case his boat got upset or destroyed by the whales all who paddled in her must expect instant death but should they prove successfull they would meet with every mark of Wickananish or Hiyoua’s pleasure and according to ancient custom he had already been giving them and had had some singing and dancing that in four days he should give them a great deal more     the meantime they must dedicate to mirth and festivity.

After the greater part of the people had dispersed leaving only a few of the principal men Wickananish (the name I shall continue to call the chief) told them he had determined to have an extraordinary dancing and singing to honor his visitors or as he calls us “Tiyee awinna” or travelling chiefs to which they agreed when it was notified throughout the village by a man who was sent round for that purpose     he entered all the houses and with a loud and audible voice ordered the men to appear at a certain time at the further end of the beach dressed in their best array.

I now left the Chiefs and went to Wickananish’s house where I was introduced to several Nootka chiefs     from this I went to several others houses being importuned by the Chief of every house to visit him for scarce would they let me pass their house without entering     every where I found them dressing     

About ten o’clock they began their dancing and musick when Tootiscoosettle came and desired me to stay with him     he being lame did not join them telling me if I mixt in with the mob very probably I might be insulted which he should be the more sorry for as the persons would not be known     therefore it would not be in his power to punish them. 

There is a good deal more material in the narrative showing the Nuuchahnulth and the newcomers achieving a fairly decent degree of communication in a wide array of settings, from friendly to hostile. I would transcribe all of it if I were hellbent on some quantitative proof of the nature of early “Nootka” fur-trade era language contact. I’ve shown you the great majority of the relevant passages in Hoskins’ journal, and I think this suffices. 

In all of this material, there’s scant indication of a stable linguistic means of getting complex ideas across to each other at this early stage in the contact between these cultures; gestures and contextual information seem to have been crucial.

I dare say virtually any two previously unconnected human cultures would achieve a similar level of understanding in a few months of intense contact, without necessarily learning each other’s actual languages or constructing a stable pidgin. 

 Pages 208-209 report Hoskins witnessing preparations by Wickananish’s tribe for war against the “Hichahats” for not paying enough “homage which they thought due to so great a nation”. This to my mind meshes well with our frequent observation of coastal tribes (and chiefs), particularly those whose territory included the major useful harbors, dominating trade with Euro-Americans, and preventing outlying tribes from profiting thereby in any comparable way. 

No formal presentation is made of Nuuchahnulth vocabulary, but quite a few isolated words (although exceedingly few complete utterances) of that language are mentioned throughout by Hoskins. Any serious scholar of “Nootka Jargon” or of the tribal language will have to reckon with collecting all of these into a lexicon. 

Hoskins’ journal is also online at the Oregon Historical Society.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?