The Girl Who Became a Black Bear

This is a story Jim Buchanan told to St Clair in 1903, later included by Frachtenberg in “Coos Texts”.  It is a very short story – only 40 lines – telling a story of a girl’s puberty ceremony gone wrong (like Grandmother Rock, who became a rock because of violated puberty ceremony taboos).

The Girl Who Became a Black Bear

Kwaiich kwe lo gweis, ta lau kwe kinwis.

They say there was a girl at Kwaiich, and it seems she was lazy.

In kwe diihl xahlt

She did nothing, they say.

Ta lau kwa tetsewisiiye ta ihl tiik’witsa kwa.

She became tetsewis, and they closed her up.

Katomisen ihl tiik’witsa

Five days they closed her up.

In kwe diihl ihl qaichta tluuwawas tahis xap ta shits.

It seems they didn’t give her any morsels of food nor water to drink.

Xtseehl kw mitlkiiwach.

She had a younger brother.

Xlau kwa xap qaishta siitlnch.

He brought her a little hidden water.

Hen kwajala kwe slna’iiwat lo xap.

He was hiding the water on the nape of his neck.

Ta lau kwe chii textits len henikwnech ta lau kwe atsa lo xap ta shits.

And he’d go inside to give his elder sister water and she drank it.

Ta his kwe xwench qaishta.

And in that way it seems he gave her a little.

I kwe diihl sqats, lau wek atsa.

Whenever he got something, he gave it to her.

Tsuu kwe xwench iilt le mitlkwiiyach.

Now it seems she told her younger brother.

En hantl alqsitais.

You will not fear me.

En han qalautami”

I will not hurt you.”

Yiakw hewii kwa hen tkwetukw ta le moxatlmex ta le siuuwehl tlapit.

Fur grew (it seems) on her shoulders and her arms and on her finger nails.

His kwe lau hewii ta his kwa le qtse qatlimaqtu

And also it seems her teeth began to grow and become long.

Shximhliiye kwa katomis qaisiich.

It seems in five days she became a Black Bear.

Tsuu kwe xwench iilt le mitlkwiiyach

Then it seems she told her younger brother

Tsixtii etluuq

You stay right here.

En hantl qalautami

I will not hurt you.

Kwiles hantl ntsauwat ten estis.

I will kill all my relatives.”

Katomisen qaishiich kwe tl’eich.

On the 5th day she went out.

Iila lau tsxauwat le e’nech.

First she killed her mother.

Tsuu toma kwe le ekwtlech tsxauwat.

Then (it seems) she killed her father.

Ta kwiles kwe lau aiwit lo tl’tayas.

And it seems she killed all in the village.

Kwiles kwe lau hichuuntl ta lau lo tech, hetayims.

She gathered all the clothes, the money.

Kwiles diihl kwe hichuunts ta lau kwe wutxaiyat len tseehl mitlkwiiyach.

She gathered everything and brought it to her younger brother.

Ta xwench kwe iilt.

And so she told him,

“tsix hantl etluuwakats.”
Here you will stay.”

Xwench kwe iilt le mitlkwiiyach.

So she told her little brother.

Hlaniech hantl nhla.

I’ll go to the stream.

Nshii hantl.”
I will drink.”

Hex nkihla stuuwaq ta hex tiiyex.

She stood on her hands and knees.

Ta xapach kwe t’shitsa xwiluw.

And she pushed her head into the water.

Tsuu toma kwe shii lo xap.

Than she drank the water.

Yiqa kwe hinii shiyayam ta hats kwe chii lau kwhliyixiiye.

Nevertheless there she was drinking and then it seems there she turned to stone.

Ta aiwa kwe hinii tiixtse.

And it seems she is still there today.

Hlinek kwa hen xwiluxw, hewii niqaixahl.

It seems leaves are on her head, ocean spray grows.

Le xnek tsiyaxit.

Her hair got that way.

Hetiiye kwe lo diiluutl, ta lau kwe qo’ai tl’tayasech hla ta hinii huumis tluuts.

The young man became rich, and it seems he went to another village, and there bought a wife.


OK, there is something about St Clair’s stories that bug me.  As a mentioned, St Clair worked with Jim Buchanan in 1903.  Frank Drew served as translator.  Frachtenberg worked with the same team a few years later and published the texts he and St Clair got in “Coos Texts” (there is a link to the book on the side bar).  The thing that bugs me is, there is a noticeable difference between the St Clair and Frachtenberg stories – for some reason the St Clair stories are heavy on the use of the particle kwe, kwa, kw.  This means ‘kind of, as if, like, seems’.  This particle is spread liberally in all the St Clair stories – I cheated a bit here because I did not translate every single appearance of it; that would get tiresome to read in English.  But, it hardly appears at all in Frachtenberg’s stories.  Why?  Did Frachtenberg edit it out of his, but if so why not do the same to St Clair’s?  Also St Clair seemed to ignore it – I’ve looked at his notes/translations and he writes nothing below the kwe/kwa/kw particle.  I don’t know what to make of the difference.

It is also a contrast to Annie’s storytelling style – she doesn’t often use it either.  So why is it all over St Clair’s texts?  I’ve no idea.  Buchanan did tell mostly different stories to St Clair than Frachtenberg but if they were ones he wasn’t familiar with, why would he tell them?  Most of the stories he told, based on their geography, seem to be Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw in origin.  The tales he told to Frachtenberg are mostly Coos (based on comparing them to Annie’s cognate stories).  If that has any bearing on the difference, I don’t know.

Speaking of geography, this story opens with stating that the girl lived in Kwa – iich.  Where is that?  Neither Frachtenberg nor St Clair asked, it seems.  The name Qwaiich or Qwayich comes up in Harrington’s notes as a name for the Upper Coquille country.  It is the closest place name I’ve seen to Kwaiich.  Now some Coos Bay people had fishing rights on North Fork Coquille – could it be a reference to this place?  I don’t know, but it is a good of a guess as any.  So, when hanging out around Laverne Park or other interesting areas on the Coquille, look out for rocks by streams that have ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor) growing on them.  Maybe it is that bear girl rock….

About shichils

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s