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

Episode 4


John was enjoying sharing this meal with his new friends. The house was warm. The food was excellent, and the general mood of all who were dining seemed very relaxed, in contrast to their earlier apprehension. The meal was unhurried, with little conversation. Most of what was said was in low tones among the S'Klallams, in their own language. It was not understood by John. Sealth and his wife passed a few words, but it was not Chinook or English. For the moment it was enough for John to allow his senses to take in everything around him.

It took some discipline not to stare at the man across from him. Sealth was physically a huge man by any standard. His height exceeded the average for his people. He was big-boned with large hands. When Sealth turned to his left to speak to his wife, John studied his right profile, which might be described as classic Roman, but the details were craggy and clearly etched. His head had been flattened as a child. (Head flattening was common practice among native people in western Washington and southwestern British Columbia; those with unflattened heads were considered low-classed or slaves. But by the time of the treaties, in 1855, the practice was beginning to disappear.) His hair was long and white.

The Chief turned and a smile broke on his face as his eyes met John's.

Sealth: "John, maika yakwatin pahtl?" "John, you stomach full?"
John: "Aha, delate pahtl!" "Yes, very full!"
Sealth: "Maika tikegh siwash mukamuk?" "You like Indian food?"
John: "Delate tikegh, mahsie." "Very like, thanks."
Sealth: "Maika halo kahkwa konaway Boston man. Maika halo kwanesum wawa." "You not same like all America people. You not always talk."
This brought out a good laugh from everyone, and the ice was broken, so to speak.
John: "Naika tikegh kumtux hiyu iktas, keschi naika halo tikegh kwanesum wawa 'kahta, ka, iktah, klaska, kunsih.'" "Me want know many thing, but me not want always talk 'why, where, what, who, when.'"
Sealth: "Kloshe, John. Ikta maika tikegh kumtux?" "Good, John. What you want know?
John: "Tyee, naika delate tikegh okoke house. Yaka delate hyas. Naika halo kumtux siwash tillikum mamook hyas house kahkwa okoke!" "Chief, me very like this house. Him very big. Me not know Indian people make big house like this!"
Sealth: "John, naika papa hyas tyee. Yaka mamook okoke house. Mokst yeah kimtah naika chope chako memaloose, naika papa mamook hyas . . . Jim, iktah maika wawa 'sg w ig w ih' kopa Boston la lang?" "John, me father big chief. Him make this house. Two year after me grandfather become dead, me father make big . . . Jim, what you talk 'sg w ig w ih' in American language?"
("Sg w ig w ih" is a Suquamish word for a potlatch.)
Jim: "Oh, Boston tillikum wawa 'feast,' yaka. Alta konaway tillikum wawa siwash feast 'potlatch,' John, kehwa spose tyee mamook okoke, yaka potlatch hiyu iktas kopa konaway tillikum kunsih klaska chako pe mukamuk pe mamook kwolan tyee wawa." "Oh, America people talk 'feast,' that. Now all people talk Indian feast 'potlatch,' John, because if chief do this, him give many thing to all people when them come and eat and listen chief talk."
Sealth: "Delate. Naika papa mamook okoke house. House nem 'Tsu-suc-cub' kopa naika la lang. Yaka kahkwa 'skookum man' kopa Chinook wawa. Mokst yeah kimtah naika chope chako memaloose, naika papa mamook hyas 'potlatch.' Hiyu tillikum, chako. Naika papa potlatch hiyu paseesie pe huloima iktas. Naika papa potlatch yaka papa nem kopa naika. Elip naika chope nem Sealth. Alta naika nem Sealth." "True. Me father make this house. House name 'Tsu-suc-cub' in me language. Him name like 'strong man' in Chinook talk. Two year after me grandfather become dead, me father make big potlatch. Many people come. Me father give many blanket and other thing. Me father give him father name to me. Before, me grandfather name Sealth. Now me name Sealth."
John: "Aha! Alta okoke town enatai chuck, yaka nem Seattle. Yaka kahkwa Sealth." "Oh! Now that town across water, him name Seattle. Him name like Sealth."
Sealth: "John, kunsih Boston tillikum elip chako yahwa, naika youtl." "John, when America people first come here, me happy."
John: "Henry Yesler kopa moola yahwa, yaka wawa maika pe yaka kloshe sihks." "Henry Yesler at mill there, him talk you and him good friend."
Sealth: "Delate. Yesler, Terry pe Maynard. Naika wawa Maynard kloshe spose yaka chako yahwa pe mamook makook house. Yaka chako pe mamook makook house pe kimta yaka potlatch town naika nem. Naika chako solleks." "True, Yesler, Terry and Maynard. Me talk Maynard good if him come there and make store. Him come and make store and after, him give town me name. Me become angry."
John: "Kahta?" "Why?"
Sealth was quiet. Jim explained as well as he could in the limited Jargon the philosophy the natives had regarding death, the afterlife and reincarnation.
Jim: "John, spose siwash man, klonas klootzman chako memaloose, yaka tamanous klatawa saghalie. Klaska mitlite yahwa ikt, klonas mokst yeah. Kimtah, yaka kilapai kopa illahee pe chako chee tenas man, klonas chee tenas klootzman. Kunsih man chako memaloose pe tillikum wawa yaka nem, klaska tamanous kowkwutl klatawa saghalie pe kowkwutl kilapai kopa illahee pe chako chee tenas man pe tenas klootzman." "John, if Indian man, maybe woman, become dead, his spirit go Heaven. Them be there one, maybe two year. After, him return to land and become new baby boy, maybe baby girl. When man become dead and people talk him name, spirit unable go Heaven and unable return to land and become new baby boy or girl."
Sealth: "Delate! Konaway tillikum kwanesum wawa town nem Seattle. Hiyu tillikum chako kopa okoke town, alta. Winnapie delate hiyu chako. Alki, delate hiyu chako. Konaway tillikum, klaska wawa naika nem. Naika kwass. Klonas naika tamanous halo kumtux ka klatawa! Kloshe spose klaska chako, keschi peshak spose klaska wawa naika nem." "True! All people always talk town name Seattle. Many people come to that town now. Soon, very many come. Future, very many come. All people, them talk me name. Me afraid. Maybe me spirit not know where go! Good if them come, but bad if them talk me name."
John: "Naika tum-tum Boston tillikum kowkwutl kumtux siwash tillikum. Klaska kwanesum wawa memaloose tillikum nem." "Me believe America people unable know Indian people. Them always talk dead people name."
Sealth's expression lightened a little. Then his brow furrowed, as he asked:
Sealth: "Klonas nesaika halo kumtux klaska weght. Kahta klaska chako siah klak klaska illahee?" "Maybe us not know them also. Why them come far from them country?"
John: "Klonas klaska chako pe nanitch klaska memaloose tillikum tamanous!" "Maybe them come and look them dead people spirit!"
There was a burst of laughter. John was relieved that the somberness had been lifted. He was eager to learn more about this new world that fate had cast him into.

To be continued...


(Copyright © 1993 by Duane Pasco)

Previous Contents Duane Pasco Home Next