TENAS WAWA--The Chinook Jargon Voice "Sawmill John"

Episode 3

John had been so awed by the spectacle of the great house that he had overlooked the details of his surroundings. All along the beach people were involved in various activities. Other canoes were arriving, their crews scurrying to unload cargoes of fish, clams, firewood or trade-goods.

A husky middle-aged woman trudged past panting under her gigantic bundle of driftwood, the tump-line straining against her forehead. Nearby, a wiry old man with lengths of spruce root was lacing thwarts into a small duck-hunting canoe. A shorn dog with something in its mouth was being chased by several giggling children; their mother, yelling admonishments, hopelessly tried to overtake them.

Farther up the beach, to the north, in the Duwamish encampment, angry shouts could be heard and a small crowd had gathered. John could just barely discern the far-off rhythm of a drum in the opposite direction and some voices singing.

This had been a typical October day in Puget Sound, pleasant but overcast. John had given little thought to the time. With evening approaching, the sky had been gradually darkening. All of a sudden it became quite dark. There was a low roll of thunder followed by a downpouring of rain.

Chief Sealth laughed and yelled to everyone in a language John couldn't understand.

Jim: "Hyak, iskum mesaika peseesie pe la peshimo! Klatawa kopa house!" "Hurry, get you blanket and mat! Go to house!"
Everyone grabbed their bedrolls. John hoisted his pack containing his blanket over his left shoulder and, like the other men, carried his rifle as well.

The interior of the immense structure would have been black, had it not been for the fires which cast dancing shadows but illuminated everything. Along the front of the building, massive fifteen-foot tall posts eight inches thick and two to three feet wide were set into the sand approximately fourteen feet apart and ran parallel to the beach. The posts on the back wall were of the same dimension, but shorter   maybe ten or twelve feet. All the posts were neatly surfaced with the rippled texture of the adze. Many had carvings of humans that were about half normal size. Others were painted with abstract symbols.

Surmounting the posts and sloping from front to back were round beams one to two feet in diameter and approximately sixty feet long. These were textured like the posts, but with a bolder, fluted pattern and extended past their supports three to four feet. Smaller-dimension perlins lay across these.

The roof boards were made from planks of varying width, split to four inches thick, cut like a channel on one side and laid like interlocking roof tiles. The walls were of split cedar planks one to three inches thick and two to four feet wide in random lengths, laid horizontally on edge with a lap of an inch or two. They were fastened to vertical peeled saplings with spruce root or cedar withes.

Raised platforms along the walls functioned as bunks for sleeping and storage. Some of these areas were given some privacy when enclosed with plaited cedar bark or rush mats. These also served as insulation when hung against the walls.

Hanging from the rafters were canoe masts, harpoons, dip nets, and lines from which hung drying clothing. Other lines were strung with drying fish. Native-style storage boxes were stacked in any convenient place, as well as Chinese chests, European trunks and barrels.

For John, the smell of smoke and fish was almost overpowering, but not unpleasant. He and the others had entered the house near the center of its length. From where John stood, he could see to either end. An illusion of even greater length was created by the furnishings and the people, which he estimated to number around three or four hundred.

A set of four house posts seemed to indicate the corners of an apartment which housed a ranking person and his family. Sealth, being the highest ranking person in Suquamish, occupied the center and most important section of the house.

The whole panorama had so totally absorbed John that he was unaware of being addressed.

Jim: "John, John . . . !" "John, John . . . !"
Finally he looked at Jim.
Jim: "John, okoke man nem Sealth. Yaka tyee yukwa kopa Suquamish. Konaway tillikum kopa Puget Sound kumtux yaka skookum tyee!" "John, this man name Sealth. Him chief here at Suquamish. All people on Puget Sound know him strong chief!"
Sealth extended his arm, European-style, and the two men shook hands.
John: "Naika delate youtl kumtux maika, Tyee. Konaway tillikum kopa Seattle town wawa maika delate kloshe man." "Me very happy know you, Chief. All people at Seattle town talk you very good man."
Sealth: "Mashie, John. Naika youtl maika chako naika house. Naika kumtux maika nem youtlkut laly alta. Naika sihks Yesler kopa moola, yaka wawa 'Moola John' delate kumtux moola. Yaka wawa 'Moola John' mitlite skookum moola tamahnous." "Thanks, John. Me happy you come me house. Me know you name long time now. Me friend Yesler at sawmill, him talk 'Moola John' true know sawmill. Him talk 'Moola John' have strong sawmill medicine power."
Molly had drifted over to where a woman was squatted before a loom, weaving a beautiful robe with wool and feathers. Sealth addressed her politely in his own language. She arose and, with Molly, joined the others. She was introduced as his wife to John and Molly's three brothers.

She smiled and left abruptly but returned with a younger woman. The two of them placed three mats on the floor side-by-side, the ends about four feet from the moderate fire. They lifted a large iron pot filled with a steaming brew of clams, fish and potatoes, and placed it in the middle of the center mat. Alongside it they arranged a tray of dried kelp, a whole filet of dry-smoked salmon, a quart jar of seal oil and several small wooden dishes and spoons.

Sealth motioned for everyone to sit on the mats, in two rows facing one another. He pulled a small box over to the place opposite him, indicating that it would be John's place.

Sealth: "Boston tillikum halo tikegh sit kopa illahee. John, maika tikegh sit kopa okoke la caset?" "America people not like sit on ground. John, you like sit on this box?"
Jim didn't want to be rude, but his bottom was still tender from his first day in the canoe.
John: "Wake, mashie Tyee, naika tikegh iskum kumtux sit kahkwa siwash tillikum!" "No thanks, Chief. Me want learn sit like Indian people!"

To be continued...


(Copyright © 1992 by Duane Pasco)

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