TENAS WAWA--The Chinook Jargon Voice Chinook Jargon Notes

"Canoe and Saddle"

I recently picked up from Jim Hayden, "book-peddler," in Springfield, Oregon, a copy of Theodore Winthrop's "Canoe and Saddle," a somewhat famous (or infamous, depending on one's point of view) account of the author's trip by canoe from Port Townsend, Washington to Fort Nisqually (near Tacoma), and thence across the Cascade Mountains on horseback in the summer of 1853. The author's literary style is very flowery, although probably vogue for its day. His love of the Northwest wilderness is clear as he paints fantastic verbal landscapes with his pen. Unfortunately, his negative opinion of native people is also very obvious by his scathing and sarcastic descriptions of them. All that aside, however, there is much to be gained by seeing Puget Sound and the Cascade Mountains through a traveler's eyes in those early days.

Mr. Winthrop seems to have been a speaker of Chinook Jargon, for he uses it a lot in recounting (one might assume) real conversation with natives. His use of the Jargon is good, though later editing by others has led to a few errors. For instance, a consistent use of the word "hin." The typesetter apparently set the letter 'u' upside down. The author's intention, I'm sure, was the word "hiu" (hiyu in "Tenas Wawa"), meaning "many." First published in 1862 under the title "Klallam and Klickitat," it has been edited considerably and has been re-issued at least forty times under the present title. In 1913 it was printed in Tacoma with new plates with the many typesetting errors possibly occurring at this time. The latest printing of "Canoe and Saddle," called the "Nisqually Edition," has "a partial vocabulary of the Chinook Jargon as it appeared in the first edition."

The author apparently picked up his knowledge of Jargon first-hand, and therefore spelled Jargon words the way they came to his ear, without a dictionary. Some of the spelling is strange but acceptable. In many cases the spelling must be attributed either to unknowledgeable editors or typesetters   inverting the letter "u," as in "hin" ("hiu"), mentioned before, and "knitan," which should be "kuitan" (kiutan in "Tenas Wawa"), meaning "horse." "Oelhin" should probably be "oelhiu" (olehiyu in "Tenas Wawa"), meaning "seal." "Mit mit stick" is more than likely meant to be "mit wit stick" (mit whit stick in "Tenas Wawa"), meaning "a mast." The word "hui" in the vocabulary list should likely read "hiu" (hiyu in "Tenas Wawa"), meaning "many."

Some of the other spelling in this list is very strange, indeed, and not only doesn't equate with the Jargon in the text. but doesn't seem to be the work of a speaker of Chinook Jargon. Many of the words given do not appear in any other Chinook Jargon dictionary.

Native people of the Northwest, not unlike others around the globe, especially in days past, enjoyed putting to melody words relating to whatever work or other activity in which they might be engaged. Work, having a cadence, such as paddling a canoe, was a natural for incorporating a well-established paddling song, or taking a known melody and adding words to fit the occasion. The verses might describe the weather, sights along the way, or the destination.

In the continuing story of "Moola John," for instance, reference is often made to Chikamin Charlie breaking into song as the canoe party travels along. It was interesting to find, while reading "Canoe and Saddle," the following entry. The canoe in which Theodore Winthrop was riding was soon to reach its objective, Steilacoom, a small settlement near the present city of Tacoma. "But first obey the injunction of an Indian ditty, oddly sung to the air of 'Malbrook': 'Klatawa ocook polikely, klatawa Steilacoom,'" which, of course, translates as "Go tonight, go to Steilacoom."


(Text and drawing Copyright © 1993 by Duane Pasco)

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