Orcas and dolphins

A lot of people are unaware that there are (at least seasonally) populations of orcas and dolphins off the Oregon coast.  Orcas make a few appearances in Tillamook stories (see Nehalem Tillamook Tales), and in Tillamook lore the orcas’ distinctive dorsal fins came about by someone putting a digging stick on someone’s back.

Orcas make some appearances in Coos stories too.  One of their names is knes (singular) or keniiyese (plural).  This word is derived from kneys, meaning humpbacked, and in the case of orcas was used to note their large dorsal fin.

There are other Hanis names for orca.  Lottie Evanoff said they were known as xi’niime’.  She told a story of how a young woman married an orca, with the orca people bringing gifts to her brothers at a small beach at Coos Head (the building of the jetties created the modern Bastendorf beach).

Another word was used, itl’ode, but it was translated variously as meaning orca or porpoise.  Possibly it means both; there is a species known as ‘false killer whale’; unlike orcas they are all black and are smaller than orcas, but have a rather similar body shape.  They too are found of the Oregon coast.

It might be these ‘false killer whales’ that turn up in a story Jim Buchanan told.  In Frachtenberg’s Coos Texts he told a story “The Ascent to Heaven” that parallels episodes of the Trickster Cycle stories Annie Peterson told to Jacobs in Coos Myth Texts.  In Buchanan’s story, at one point the elder (and apparently much like Annie’s 4th trickster) Trickster is at sea, getting a whale to take him to shore (although apparently it is not a normal whale but the stltsawaq, the stinking-whale that turns up in other stories as something turned to stone or stinking whales trapped in the mountains).  This whale has keniiyese as his servants.  Frachtenberg actually uses the phrase tseyene keniiyese several times, and he translated this as ‘small hunchbacks’.  But ‘hunchback’ (or humpbacked) probably refers to orcas.  The addition of tseyene, small, is interesting -does it refer to orcas of small size, or possibly false killer whale dolphins?  Sadly, very little information was ever gotten about traditional knowledge of whales and dolphins, so we shall likely never know.


About shichils

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

One Response to Orcas and dolphins

  1. Pingback: Translations and meanings aren’t always settled: Rethinking the definition of kahlalis | Shichils's Blog

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