Native weather forecast/prophecy

What’s up with that? Settlers just loved to ask Native elders for a longterm weather forecast…


Image credit: Wapato Point

Their prognostications were often published in the media. In the Pacific Northwest, naturally, this involved Chinuk Wawa.

It also quite frequently veered into prophecy.

Here’s an illustration of the genre I’m describing. Do you think, as I do, that the following is a rough English version of one man’s Chinook Jargon? This may be worth “back-translating”…

hard w1

hard w2


Old Su-wap-a-to Gives His Reasons for a Long and Cold Winter.

Su-wap-a-to, an aged Indian from Okanogan country, says that winter will set in earlier this year than for a long time past. He has discoursed with old men from great distances in all directions, and such was the unanimous opinion. Su-wap-a-to is not an astronomer, in the sense that white people understand that term, yet long experience and little else to do but make observations and store up results in his memory, he is equipped with a fund of knowledge as to weather signs, which in his judgment are infallible.

“The Great Spirit,” he said, “gave men plenty of horses, but they stole his lightning and killed the cuitan [horse] for food. Then the wheel came. Even with these old eyes of mine, and with sick tum tum [hurting heart; sadness], I saw Indian boys from the school, side by side with whitefaced kloochmen [women], dressed in breechlouts, riding man style, before the wind. I saw Indian kloochmen turn away in shame, for when they ride straddle they have the modesty to cover up their legs with blankets. I know all this would offend the sun, and was not surprised when he turned his face away from the world one day. I thought it would never be seen again, and was glad when he turned and looked back, seeming to say he pitied the poor old Indians who had watered the desert with blood to prevent the sickness called civilization from poisoning the pure air of the west. He pitied the Indians, but his face was red with rage. That night the storm king flashed his axes and knives in the north sky. Next morning when the sun arose from a troubled sleep two sundogs sat on his right and left hand. He turned them loose to roam over all the sky and warned the good spirits to go back to their wigwams. The sun pulled a black blanket over its face and its folds spread across the sky. Behind it the dogs growled all day, and the little lightning there was left was poured out on the world. Two nights later the frost king floated over the world. He camped last night with a great army this side of the north end of the world and blew his breath to the south. He is marching swift and fierce. He will be here earlier than ever before, and the oldest man will say this is the coldest  and longest winter ever known.”

— from the Athena (OR) Press of October 11, 1895, page 1, column 6

Also, is “Su-wap-a-to” a borrowing of Chinuk Wawa wapato (wáptʰu) ‘(Indian) potatoes’ into Nsilxcn a.k.a. Okanagan Salish? Connected with Wapato John?


qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?