Suquamish traditions

From a tribe quite close to modern Seattle, WA, come today’s picturesque bits of Chinuk Wawa.

salish grave 1864

A Salish Grave, 1864 (image credit: Northwest Coast Archaeology)

I found these in the fine article “Suquamish Traditions” by Jay Miller, which was published in 1999 in Northwest Anthropological Research Notes, Spring, 33(1):105-175.

On the value of being a good speaker, and knowing several languages (p. 126):


After [Chief] Kitsap died walak took over for a short time. He was a good speaker. That was why the people chose him to be headman. He led until treaty times. At the treaty, he was an interpreter. He could talk Chinook Jargon and [Chief] Seattle [siʔaɬ] couldn’t. Wilson didn’t know how walak was related to Kitsap or to Seattle, Kitsap did not cho[o]se anyone when he died to succeed him. 

Tribal people in the Pacific Northwest have often mentioned that those who were slaves in traditional culture had no acknowledged name among their owners’ tribe, but were called by the name of the place or tribe they came from; p. 130 is evidently an example of this occurring by the use of Chinuk Wawa during post-contact era:


Wilson never heard of burying a slave in a post hole when building a house or or killing slaves at a potlatch. They might give them away, but more often they sold them at such large gatherings. When a boy got married, his father might give him a slave. His own grandfather bought a young slave about 14 or 16 to care for Wilson while he was young. His name was saya and he was supposed to help Wilson’s mother take care of the boy. He used to carry wood, get water, and perform other duties around the house. He was from Alaska. His own uncle, his father’s brother, sold him. He was from high blood, but still his uncle sold him. He died while Wilson was yet a baby.

I strongly suspect this enslaved man’s name was from the Jargon, sáyá ‘far away’.

snohomish grave house

Snohomish (Lushootseed) grave house circa 1912 (image credit: Northwest Coast Archaeology)

Here’s another neat instance of Chinook Jargon becoming part of tribal cultural practices (page 134):


When a person died, they would get a good canoe and split it on the bottom. Then they put the body in it. They took all of this back into the thick brush and trees, where they hung up the canoe. The body was inside covered with blankets. They put favorite belongings, tools and utensils, in with the body. Sometimes, they laid it on the ground and put boards over it like an A-frame tent. When this got old and worn, they made another one for the body. They called this tent səlawtxʷ [silaltxʷ = cloth house]. There was a burial ground with these at the place where Suquamish is now. Another one was at the end of Bainbridge Island.

Lushootseed Salish sil-altxʷ (literally ‘cloth-house’) is in fact a part-borrowing, part-translation of Chinuk Wawa síl-hàws ‘tent’ (literally ‘cloth-house’). I don’t know what these structures must have been called before Lushootseed speakers began to be exposed to CW around 1840. We’ve also seen such things being commonly referred to by a CW term, míməlus(t)-hàws (‘dead.person-house’). It seems highly probable to me that these tents (also seen at Skokomish) were therefore also known as míməlus(t)-sìl-hàws.

qʰata mayka təmtəm??
What do you think?