Spider Old Woman’s “Club”

When Leo Frachtenberg was working with Hanis speaker James Buchanan just over a century ago, he recorded a text about Spider Old Woman and her Grandson, which he printed in his book “Coos Texts” (pages 59-70) (see blog sidebar for link).  Deep into the story, Spider Old Woman begins to teach her grandson some Power, to avoid being hurt by weapons.  She trains him with a weapon called a wî´Īek (wilek), which Frachtenberg translated as a club.  As I was staring at this word, I was thinking there were other words for ‘club’, and on top of that this word looked vaguely familiar.  But from where?  So off to the Hanis wordlist I went.

Turns out the “wilek” is a little more than a ‘club’.  It turned up in Frachtenberg’s ethnography as wî´llek and in Jacobs’ notes in 1932 as wǝ´lǝk (wolok) – which is where I vague recalled seeing the word.  Buchanan gave an interesting description of it.  This type of ‘club’ was specifically a weapon rather than a tool for killing fish and game.  To Jacobs he described it as a type of ‘sword’: “…a very large arm-length knife made from a certain part of the whale’s ribs, it is used for a sword, it’s used only for fighting. It’s smoothed with stones; dried with house heat or with sun heat. The bent rib is slowly straightened on a rock so that it makes a perfectly straight knife. Jim never saw one, but heard about it.” (Jacobs 1932-34[92]:154).  His description of the weapon to Frachtenberg was similar: “made of whale bone. About 3 feet long, and the end that was to hit the enemy was thicker than the holding end. The holding end was usually round and a knot was made of strings. At the very end so as not to let the weapon slip.” (Frachtenberg 1909)

In searching for images, I think the weapon James Buchanan was describing was similar to a whale bone weapon from the Nuu-chah-nulth.

So discovering what a wilek/wolok is makes for a much more evocative image of the weapon Spider Old Woman was using to train with her grandson.

The word wilek or wolok may be derived from the verb wul-, to fight.  It also appears to be the source for the usual word for knife, wal’wal.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Frachtenberg, Leo J. 1909. Coos Fieldnotes. Office of Anthropology Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Jacobs, Melville. 1932-34. Coos Ethnologic Notes, Notebooks 91-99, 101, Jacobs Collection, University of Washington Archives, Seattle.

 

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About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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