Crow and Thunderbird – 2 versions

There are several versions of “Crow & Thunderbird” that got recorded – twice in the Hanis language; once from Jim Buchanan and once from Annie Peterson (Frank Drew once told it just in English to Jacobs). I’ve gone through and retranslated both of them from the Hanis language. Annie’s version is quite concise – only 40 lines! Jim’s version is slightly twice as long at 87 lines.

To understand the 2 versions better, we need a little background. Early in the world, there were no tides. The water was always high. Crows were different then – they spoke a loud language and their eyes twinkled lightning. Thunder (known in the two Coos languages as tsonna, Siuslaw as ‘uumhlii) also nicknamed “Loud Talker” and “Food’s Father” – is the controller of the ocean and all the creatures who live in it. Thunder wanted Crow’s language. So he offered a trade – for creating ‘the dry land’ (low tide) so Crow could reach sea foods they would trade languages. They did so, and Crow was so pleased he gave the evening low tide (Hanis and Milluk tsolets) to Thunder; he gave Thunderbird the lightning for that.

So, here are Annie Peterson’s and Jim Buchan’s versions – English only (mostly) here but after the stories I’ll talk a bit about comparing and contrasting their word choices. Their different word choices and ways of telling the stories are illuminating.

 “Crow & Thunder Trade Languages With One Another” as told by Annie Miner Peterson:

Crow Man all the time he struggled for food.

The world was never dry. [never low tide]

It was just always high-tide.

They got nothing that way.

Now Loud Talk Person,

as the people called him,

the Food’s Parent.

The Crow Chief arrived.

“What do you want for your language, Chief?” [Thunder asked Crow]

“If you want the language, [Crow answers Thunder]

the dryness, [low tide]

you give me that.

Then at the same time we will trade.”

“Good. You will give me your language. [Thunder to Crow]

Then the world will be dry.”

Now surely it was so.

Now they traded languages.

Now indeed Crow spoke with the Food Parent’s language.

Now the Crow spoke with that language.

Just like a roar when the Food’s Parent spoke.

Now indeed the world became dry [low tide]

All kinds of things flopped around when it got dry,

half the ocean got dry.

“Oh! I don’t want it that way! [Crow objects]

They might suffer when it’s very dry.

It will not be so!

Just should we merely make playthings [of the fishes]

Just for nothing if the Food all died?”

Then indeed the Food’s Parent turned back the water.

Now it became incoming tide.

Thus they call it incoming tide [tl’uuni].

Now again they traded.

“Again you’ll give me another tide.”

So Crow said to the Food’s Parent.

“I’ll give you lightning, if you’ll give me another tide.”

“Good” [Thunder answered]

Now they traded with each other.

Now indeed the Food’s Parent flashed lightning.

Now again another dryness [low tide]

Thus they call it tsólets,

the one dryness,

evening dryness

Thus they call it tsólets [evening low tide]

Thus they traded languages with one another.

They two, the Crow and Thunder.

Thus the people’s story of Crow and Thunder.

Now just that.

Jim Buchanan’s version of “Crow and Thunder”

Crow’s language was a loud language.

Always he was talking.

The river was never dry [Never low tide]

He couldn’t kill food in that way.

[One man wanted his language]

Always the Crow is looking at your heart.

Always what you’re thinking, Crow informs you so.

When you are about to die, he informs you so.

When you are about to go some place, he informs you so.

Always he was speaking.

One man came to him.

That way he said to him.

“You are speaking too loudly. [Thunder to Crow]

What if you trade languages with one another.

Now if you give me your language, I’ll give you my language.”

All the time he fills that river with water.

The world wasn’t dry. [no low tide]

Now he was speaking so.

“It surely will be good, should we trade with each other..”

Now indeed they two traded with one another.

Now he had Thunder’s language.

And now he had Crow language.

Now he told him.

“Please speak with it.” [Crow to Thunder]

Surely he spoke with it.

The earth almost shook, when he spoke with it.

Now he spoke thus,

“Now whenever something makes you angry,

now you’ll always speak loudly.”

Now he told him thus.

“Please now you speak with my language.” [Thudner to Crow]

It was surely good when he spoke that language.

Whenever his eyes twinkled always lightning flashed.

“Good friend.

We two shall surely trade with one another.”

Now thus he told him.

“You must shut your eyes. [Thunder to Crow]

The water will run down.

The lower have of the ocean will dry.

All kinds of food will be there at low tide.

Whenever you pick something up you will eat it.

Now when I tell you so, then you will look.”

Now surely his eyes closed. [Crow closes his eyes}

Now the water ran down.

His heart was gone, when the water was running down.

Now the river was dry.

The lower half was dry.

Small food began to flop around.

He was listening.

“Perhaps I should look slowly?”

Thus he was thinking. [Crow thinks]

“Now you looked to soon! [Thunder]

Not at all did I tell you this.

But you can look.

It’ll surely be so.”

Thus he said.

Now he looked at the food,

when they were spreading out there.

He saw them along the shore.

Now it’ll be so.

So they were talking.

“You’ll always have the evening low tide friend. [Thunder]

Now the lightning I will have.”

And indeed he has the evening low tide.

Now he has the prized lightning.

So when evening approaches, the world is dry [low tide].

“Whenever you speak, there will be lightning.” ]Crow to Thunder]

Thus he said.

“Please make lightning.”

Indeed he made lightning.

And also indeed he spoke with it.

He spoke with the thunder (language).

Indeed he spoke with thunder (language).

Thus he said, “Now you are with goodness.”

Please now your speak with this Crow langauge.”

Now suirely he spoke with it.

“Always you’ll be speaking with it.”

Thus he spoke.

“Whenver someone is ready from somewhere, that one will make it known.” [Thunder to Crow]

Thus he said.

“And so it’ll be whenver you’re talking,

Whenever you see a person, you’ll usually tell it.

You’ll watch out yourself, when something bad is ready.”

Thus he was speaking.

Surely always it will be so.

So thus is the custom of the Crow today.

When he sees you, the crow speaks.

Now just right here it’s ending.

Thus only people know them, the Thunder and the Crow.


So, in both versions crow is identified as máqatl’, crow. In Annie’s version, at first she identifies Thunderbird as K’wonyau Ma’anyas, which she translated for Melville Jacobs as the food’s father. However, if we take a closer look at those two words they have a slightly different meaning. Ma’anyas does not mean ‘father’ (that word in Hanis is ektlech) but it means ‘family, relative, parent’ – a little more inclusive meaning than ‘father’. Only at the end of the story – after Thunderbird has acquired the loud thunder language and lightning does she call him ts’onna, thunder.

Also in the first line she described Crow’s search for food as a struggle in the Indian language: wuluuwat. Curiously she translated that back to Jacobs as ‘hunted’, but hunted is a different word (hlndawat). The verb wul- or wel- is translated as ‘to fight’, so here I interpreted it in context as struggling to find food. She sets the scene that the crows were hungry and desperately needed low tides to access food. It gives them a strong motivation to trade both the loud thunder language and lightning to the Thunderbird.

In Jim’s version, he never refers to Thunderbird as “Food’s Father” (or parent). Once he refers to him as ‘loud talker’. Usually he just called him ts’onna, thunder. He also has an aside at the beginning and end of the story describing some of crow’s abilities – crow watches people, knows when things are about to happen and tells people that. Perhaps telling the story to a cultural outsider – in his case, linguist Leo Frachtenberg – prompted him to put in these extra bits of information because of that.

Well, I am working on putting together a longer write up that includes the Hanis language versions of these stories too. You can email me or put a note in the comments if you would like me to email you that when I am done, as it’d be too long to include in a blog post.

About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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