Flight of the Condor

Condors are highly endangered today, rescued by captive breeding some 30 years ago and living in the wild in the southwest. Not so long ago they lived in the Pacific northwest. Now all that is left in Oregon is their smaller cousin, the turkey vulture aka buzzard. There are two words for ‘buzzard/vulture’ in all 3 languages, but the English words given with the Indian words weren’t always clear which bird was being referred to, until I think I found a good description in Harrington’s notes.

The first mention actually comes from George Bissell in 1881. Bissell worked with a Lower Umpqua woman (whom, alas, he did not name) to get a 500 word list in the language that he sent back east. Bissell wasn’t a trained linguist, so the pronunciations are only approximate. He noted the “California Vulture” – meaning the condor – was mai ´ e kwa, and the common vulure is Tzai´ äl lī. Alas, to date, I haven’t found these words recorded again. So if we had to guess, Siuslaw-Umpqua for condor is something like mái-eh-kwa and vulture tsái-əl-lii [tsái-ol-lii]. The word for condor appears similar to that given for the related language Alsea – miiq’u. But their word for turkey vulture is different, ya̹ts’is (where the is a nasalized vowel).

Hanis and Milluk have the words chkushle or chkwishle’ and liixuum (or liixwum and lexwum or common variations of the word too). Liixuum/liixwum is the widely used word and refers to the turkey vulture. Chushle/chkwishle is almost certainly the condor. Of this bird, Frank Drew and Spencer Scott said it was rarely seen, unlike the common turkey vulture. Lottie Evanoff recalled that her father Doloos Jackson told her that chkushle – condors – showed up as soon as an elk was killed. To train elk hunting dogs, a condor was killed and its wing feathers were rubbed on the dog’s nose to hopefully improve its abilities in finding and helping to capture elk. Condors died out in Oregon a century or more ago.  The Portland Zoo hopes to reintroduce them, as does the Yurok tribe.  I suspect the odds of a successful reintroduction are slim, but I hope for the best.  Condors, with wingspans of more than 9 feet, are the largest bird in North America.  Imagine seeing such a majestic and amazing bird soaring overhead.  If we are fortunate, perhaps one day we will,


About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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