Gambling for Fire and Water

So, I was perusing Ramsey’s “Coyote Was Going There” (a collection of Oregon Indian traditional stories) and he’d included the Coos story “The Stealing of Fire and Water” in it.  This story was first recorded 100 years ago from Jim Buchanan by Leo Frachtenberg.

In the story, at one time fire and water was kept in one village.  No one else had fire to cook their food, nor water.  So they decided to steal it.  When the chief of hungry villagers arrives at the village where fire and water are, the two chiefs speak.  The visiting chief says “Look, this is your cradle, and this is my cradle.  Your cradle is new, my cradle is old.  And this is your shinny club (nauhin), while this is my shinny club.  And this is your ball (kwesis), while this is my ball.  Your ball is new, mine is old.  Does it not seem to be so?”  Then, Buchanan said ‘ there he placed the things before him’.  Then the two men sit down and play a different game, the ‘guessing game’ played in so many variations around the west and known as sla-hal, bone game, hand game.  For those not familiar, in our version there is one marked and many unmarked sticks a player holds in his hands (the other player has to guess where the marked stick is).  There are tally sticks to keep track of the score.  Frachtenberg noted that he thought Buchanan made a mistake when he talked about shinny clubs and balls since the men sat down to play the hand game.  Ramsey followed suit in his book and ‘corrected’ it to gambling sticks.

However, I am not so sure this was a mistake.  I think it was a deliberate word choice in Buchanan’s part.  He might have figured that his audience would understand that the visiting chief was pointing out that everything he had was old, the chief with fire had new and fine things.  Jim Buchanan probably thought his listeners would understand that the chief went from talking about who had new and old things, and went right into playing the hand game.  Jim says “tsuu ayuu ux haititomeu“=so Indeed they (tw0) gambled/played hand game with one another” Since he does say the shinny things were played ‘there before him’ he might have been implying they used the shinny clubs as part of the guessing game, but there is nothing in the rest of the narrative to say that.

I suppose one of these days soon I will have to retranslated the whole story to be sure.  But even with a casual perusal of the text, I think I am right and Frachtenberg was wrong.


About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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