Blue Clay blues

There were ‘clays’ used as paint.  Red ochre was the most widely used.  Usually it was found as a yellow clay deposit, then heated in fire to turn red.  Then it was mixed with marrow to use as a face or body paint, as well as to paint arrows, canoes or other tools.  Black paint was made from crushed charcoal.

But there was the prized and rare blue paint, known as tqe’en in Hanis Coos, that was found in a deposit on the south side of Cook’s Chasm.  The tqe’en appears in the creation story as told by Jim Buchanan.  It is the first story in Frachtenberg’s Coos Texts (which you can find online with Google books – just google ‘Frachtenberg Coos Texts’ and it should be the very first link) Buchanan said two men from the sky world dropped 5 discs of tqe’en into the ocean (which covered the whole world then) and that is what made the foundation of land.  For some reason, though, Frachtenberg translates this word as ‘soot’ rather than ‘blue clay’.  Decades later, in Melville Jacobs work in 1932 with Frank Drew & Jim Buchanan, and in 1942 with JP Harrington’s work with Drew and Lottie Evanoff, we find that tqe’en is actually blue clay.  Soot is bisdagii in Coos (qannax in Siuslaw/Umpqua).

The only place mentioned to find the blue clay was that deposit on the south side of Cook’s chasm (a feature colorfully named chils haladiich in Coos, which literally means penis going-in-place).  Frank Drew said he had a sample of the blue clay assayed in Corvallis in 1941, and was told the blue clay is a ‘potassium of cyanide’.  After googling some chemistry, I think specifically the blue clay was potassium ferrocyanide.  Potassium cyanide is orange or reddish, but add in iron (the ferro-) and it makes it blue or purple.  Potassium ferrocyanide is what makes Prussian Blue blue.

Back in 1942, Drew said the old blue clay deposit was nearly gone and ‘dirty’.  Nearly 70 years later, there may not be any left.  It may have eroded away. Or perhaps, buried in the cliff, there may yet be some of that tqe’en from the world’s beginning, there by chils haladiich, just south of heleqaich (Cape Perpetua).


About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
This entry was posted in toponyms, Vocabulary comparisons and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Blue Clay blues

  1. Pingback: Cook’s Chasm | Shichils's Blog

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