Translations and meanings aren’t always settled: Rethinking the definition of kahlalis

First, I want to thank Troy Anderson for pointing me out to Milluk examples of a word I was looking for, kahlalis/qahlalis.

While going through Jim Buchanan’s story of “Night Rainbow” I noticed a Hanis word, kahlalis, that Frachtenberg (who worked with Buchanan in 1913) glossed as ‘subjects, relatives’. That seemed like an odd juxtaposition right there – subjects and relatives? Subjects or relatives? “Subjects” sounds a bit odd as we didn’t have kings – chiefs had a lot of authority and influence in their village, but their power was not absolute. Chiefs sometimes resigned, and if one transgressed enough social boundares they were even killed on occasion.

So I set about trying to untangle Frachtenberg’s definition. It wasn’t easy, because the word doesn’t appear to many times – in just a handful of stories, and in Hanis only came from Buchanan. (I also wondered if there was a Milluk equivalent recorded by Melville Jacobs in his work with Annie Peterson, and there is, but I’ll get to that in a bit). Twice Frachtenberg translated kahlalis as ‘subjects’, and the rest of the time as ‘relatives’, as in family. Many of the instances of ‘family’ appear in stories Frachtenberg obtained from Henry Hull St Clair’s work with Buchanan in 1903. My question was could this word really mean both, or did Frachtenberg and St Clair not get the definition of the word quite right? And are there enough surviving examples of it to even figure this out? All good questions, and I can’t say with 100% surety that my conclusions I came to are right, but I think I can make an argument that kahlalis does not mean ‘subjects’ but means relatives, extended family.

So let’s take a look at what contexts the word appears in. In the Night Rainbow story, it comes near the end where Night Rainbow Old Woman’s grandson is learning spirit-power from an uncle. They each have magical fisher-skin quivers that can attach and chew on people. The two men have travelled downriver and have come to a new village and they are attacked. The magical quivers kill many villagers. But not all are killed. The Uncle asks, shall we kill them all? The young man says, no, “They will be our kahlalis” – our subjects. From the context – conquering a village – that definition might make sense. However, let’s look at the other examples.

There is a story Buchanan told that parallels and episode Annie Peterson told in her epic Five Trickster Cycle. This is where a trickster ends up out in the ocean. He encounters a whale (bintluuwai in Hanis, for baleen type whales) and this whale has tseyene keniiyese lau kahlalis, small hunchbacks for ‘subjects’, per Frachtenberg’s translation. Keniiyese, hunchbacks, is actually a nickname for Orcas and refers to their large dorsal fin. So this baleen whale had small orcas as his subjects, or relatives, depending on how kahlalis is translated.

Then in St Clair’s stories, the word clearly seems to mean ‘relatives’, not ‘subjects’ at all. In “The Country of Souls” a man dies and returns to the land of the living (sort of an Orpheus story, only no one comes to get him, he brings himself back). As the man returns to life, slowly, a boy calls out to his family to alert them to what is happening. Buchanan said tsuu toma k’a’alt le kahlalis=now then [the boy] shouted to his relatives’.  Clearly his kin are not the boy’s subjects, he was calling to his family.

The other example is in “The Woman Who Married Dog”. The woman’s dog husband was killed, when she was pregnant, and she had gone away to live away from other people with her children. Eventually she returns to her natal village with her children, bringing gifts. As she returns, Buchanan said Kihluuwit kwe le kahlalis, She saw [it seems] her relatives. From context, it would seem to mean relatives, not subjects. Or, as St Clair wrote it in his notes, ‘folks’.

I asked Troy Anderson if there were any Milluk equivalents he was aware of, and indeed the word does appear 3 times in Jacobs’ texts from his work with Mrs. Peterson. In Milluk it is Gahlálos -the G- is the voiced equivalent of q-, which is interesting as St Clair always wrote the word in Hanis in his notes as qahlalis. So Frachtenberg’s transcription of kahlalis might not be quite correct, and qahlalis more correct. The Milluk term Gahlálos is always translated as ‘relatives’ or ‘folks’, in the context of one’s people.

Which then made me wonder how the term kahlalis/qahlalis is different from ma’anyas (Hanis)/máni’yas (Milluk) that I thought meant family. I tried to chase down every reference I could to that word, and turns out it usually is glossed to mean ‘parents’. Harrington even asked Lottie Evanoff specifically about this word, and she thought it meant parents but wasn’t sure if it also included grandparents. So, apprently ma’anyas/máni’yas means ‘parents’ and kahlalis/qahlalis means ‘family’ probably in the context of extended family. ‘Subjects’ is a misunderstanding, since in two of the stories (Night Rainbow and the trickster tale) from the context, it looks like it could have meant subjects. But it gives a different interpretation to the story to realize that Night Rainbow’s grandson meant the villagers were to become kinfolk to him, not subjects, and that the baleen whale in the trickster story didn’t regard the small orcas as subjects, but as kin.

As I go through more and more stories line by line, I will probably run into other words that need a deeper analysis. I just hope there are enough examples of those words that makes that kind of analysis possible! Alas we are not always to fortunate – some words were only recorded one time.


About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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3 Responses to Translations and meanings aren’t always settled: Rethinking the definition of kahlalis

  1. DH says:

    Members of an extended kin based social network? Maybe even including the Northwest’s own indigenous variety of slavery?

    • shichils says:

      So far as I can tell, in Coos Bay villages the slaves were people who were bought from other tribes or were captured in battles. The word for slave, puukwis, is based on the verb puukw- to steal, so slaves are basically ‘stolen people’. (Mice or puukwidletl, apparently ‘thieves, stealers’) I don’t know much about slaves tho’ – such as, did they eventually, after a generation or two, just become part of the tribe and lose their slave status? I honestly don’t know & will have to look into that

  2. H says:

    the context of the examples kinda give off an estranged vibe

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