Chinuk Wawa as a Lingua Franca

 

“The babel of local languages also impeded the Indians’ reformation. If his words ‘penetrated into the understanding of the natives,’ Blanchet noted, it was often through three or four interpreters in sequence. Sometimes the only verbal tool for penetrating natives’ understanding was the lamentably deficient Chinook Jargon.” (Harmon, 1998, p. 47)

 

Proselytizing

As the quote above illustrates, the use of Chinuk Wawa was sometimes seen as making the process of proselytizing all the more difficult. Beginning in the early 1830s, Protestant missionaries set up operations in the Oregon Territory, and Catholics followed in 1838, and also in 1840 at Fort Vancouver. People such as Myron Eells, whose family left the Spokane area after the Marcus Whitman massacre, learned Chinook Jargon and in 1879 he published hymns in the language. Others like Father F.N. Blanchet worked on dictionaries. But as Alexandra Harmon wrote in her book, Indians in the Making, “It was possible to say, ‘When you come here to trade, do not steal or kill. You want to know about our spirit powers; we will tell you.’ It was harder if not impossible to impart non-Native concepts of sin and barbarism.” (Harmon, p. 32–3). Instead of converting the Native population to Christianity, the King George Men (British), the Bostons (Americans), and the Pasiooks (French) had to remain satisfied instead with getting them to observe the Sabbath with “dancing and chanting in a manner unknown to English churchgoers.” (Harmon, p. 34)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note from an unidentified source: Father De Smet and the chiefs who went with him to [Fort] Vancouver in 1859. Left to right, front: Victor, Kalispel; Alexander, Pend Oreille; Adolphe, Flathead; Andrew Seppline, Coeur d’Alene. Rear: Dennis, Colville; Bonaventure, Coeur d’Alene; De Smet; Francis Xavier, Flathead. University of Washington, Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture. Negative No. L87-410.4.

 

Language and Social Relations

Siwash is the Chinook Jargon term for Indian (from the French sauvage), and while it has been used by Native people to refer to themselves (as in Tony Johnson’s reference to Sawash Wawa), it is considered a pejorative label in Pacific Northwest English. In Seattle, for instance, canoes were sometimes referred to as “siwash buggies” by whites (Thrush, 2007, p.49). Indeed, the very notion of there being two kinds of people raises the question of superiority of one group over the other, a notion that Alexandra Harmon addresses at some length.

 

“Certainly the King George men [non-Natives] were regarded as different by Native people. But use of the word siwash made them consider the idea that there are two kinds of people. Life at the trading posts, however, helped develop ties between groups of Natives. There is some debate about whether or not the Native people’s eagerness to please represents an acknowledgement of European superiority and a lack of confidence in their own ways. One [Native] man in South Puget Sound, born in the 1940s, said that his people’s term for the white people derived from the word for ‘left off’ and connoted ‘something lacking.’” (Harmon, p.40)

 

It is easy to see why some might have found shortcomings in the King George Men.

  • The men were without wives and families.

  • They had poor fishing techniques and a lack of respect for the first salmon to return each year.

  • They did not employ proper self-deprecating gestures toward eminent outsiders.

Jumping ahead a couple decades to the gold rushes in British Columbia, one encounters the same stereotypes, but now associated with the term siwash. This bawdy song, collected in Campbell River, BC by Phil Thomas, suggests Chinuk Wawa could be used in a licentious manner by miners and other desperate single males in the region (Thrush, p. 40):

 

Seattle Illahee

There'll be mowitch [venison]

And klootchman [Indian women] by the way

When we ’rive at Seattle Illahee [Seattle Country]

There’ll be hiyu [many] clams

And klootchman by the way

Hiyu tenas moosum [Many “little sleeps” (sex)]

Till daylight fades away.

Kwonesum kwonesum cooley [Always always run]

Kopa nika illahee [To my place]

Kunamokst kapswalla moosum [To steal sleep together]

As the daylight fades away.

Row, boys, row, let’s travel!

To the place they call Seattle,

That’s the place to have a spree!

Seattle Illahee!

 

Finally, in one case Chinook Jargon was used as a test of one’s Americanness. Coll Thrush, in his book, Native Seattle, relates this story (Thrush, p. 64–5).

 

“Sometime in the 1870s, a Chinese man named Ling Fu was brought before Judge Cornelius Hanford in Seattle’s courthouse, accused of not having the proper citizenship papers. Facing deportation, Ling Fu argued that he did not need to carry papers; he had been born on Puget Sound. To test him, Judge Hanford quickly shifted his inquiry into Chinook Jargon, which had become nearly as common as Whulshootseed or English in Puget Sound country.[2] ‘Ikta mika nem? Consee cole mika?’ (What is your name? How old are you?), he demanded of Ling, who in turn replied, ‘Nika nem Ling Fu, pe nika mox tahtlum pee quinum cole’ (My name is Ling Fu, and I am twenty-five years old). Clearly surprised, the judge responded, ‘You are an American, sure, and you can stay here.’ He then turned to the bailiff and decreed, ‘Ling Fu is dismissed.’”

 

 

Around Kamloops, British Columbia, Roman Catholic missionaries used a writing system based on a form of French shorthand called Duployan, which had been identified as a good system for use with Chinook Jargon and Salish languages of Southern BC.  Known as Chinuk pipa (Chinook writing), this became the widely used first literacy in Native communities of that region (Robertson 2011).

 

Around Kamloops, British Columbia, Roman Catholic missionaries used a writing system based on a form of French shorthand called Duployan, which had been identified as a good system for use with Chinook Jargon and Salish languages of Southern BC.  Known as Chinuk pipa (Chinook writing), this became the widely used first literacy in Native communities of that region (Robertson 2011).