The Five Shadows

First published 9/27/17

Linguist Leo Frachtenberg came to Oregon just over a century ago, and worked with speakers of Hanis (Jim Buchanan, Frank Drew, Tom Hollis), Lower Umpqua/Siuslaw (Louisa and William Smith) and Alsea (William Smith).

One of the stories he got was one he called “The Five Shadows”. It is a disappointment because Frachtenberg, frankly, ruined the structure of the story by cutting out a portion of it. In Coosan oral tradition, it is common for a story to have five episodes, where the first four set a pattern, the fifth changes it. In the part of the story where the Stone-Hammer-Girl defeats a shadow, she goes on to destroy the next four shadows. Frachtenberg cut this part out, inserting a short parenthetic sentence that “She now kills the remaining four shadows in the manner described in the preceding pages.” I was hoping that the lost lines were in Frachtenberg’s notebooks. Alas they are not. His notebooks appear to be work ups of his field notes. He was writing up the stories and writing translations of the words underneath individual words and phrases, in preparation for eventual publishing. He left the killing of the last four shadows out of his notebooks too.

In spite of the gap (that is driving me nuts), I went ahead and translated the story anyway & broke it up into lines. It turns out this story is much darker than most Coos stories. But before we get into the plot, we’ll explain the background a little – as much as is possible, as unfortunately Frachtenberg didn’t make notes on this story (as he did with some of them).

The first difference is the title he wrote in the notebook versus published version. In the latter, he called it QacqaƔā´yaL (qashqaghayatl). This is the word for ‘shadow’. I wasn’t able to find out much more about the word – there are two references to it in Harrington’s notes. It is indeed a shadow cast by something (and it’s Siuslaw equivalent is huy’i). At one point Frachtenberg notes the shadows are welaq, something that is poorly or dimly seen. In his notebook he gave it two titles. The first is chilch’ ala hechit’, which means Stone-hammer child story – and the story, hechit’, refers specifically to the prehuman myth age. So that places the story as something that happened long ago during the time of the First People. His second title is Qashqaghayatl hechit’, Shadow Story.

Here is the story I’ve typed out: shadow Frach NB 5 verses The left hand column is Hanis as written by Frachtenberg in his notebook (which is slightly different than the published book version), right is English. I had to change the orthography he used slightly, as right now I cannot make the symbol g-with-dot-under-it, so I used the one with the dot above. This symbol stands for the Ɣ, the voiced x type sound, that we have been writing out as gh.

The story begins with five brothers living together, and they go deer hunting a lot. One brother sees a shadow. He isn’t sure what he is looking at. “Is that you cousin?” To be polite, he invites the ‘cousin’ to come in and eat. The Shadow asks the brother to come closer. The Shadow grabs the brother and – here is where things start to get really dark – he throws the brother into the fire, holds him down there, and when he is dead, he eats him! And then, the story says, the shadow goes home. (Where or what this home is, is never really specified). Then, in sequence, three more brothers are killed in the same way. The fifth brother also meets a shadow, but he manages to run away.

This fifth brother is now lonely. He began messing with some objects, in his lonely and bored state. He scatters some little sticks. He picks up a stone hammer, a (chilch’or jilch’) that was used for tasks like working with chisels or pounding weir stakes. To his surprise, the hammer turns into a girl, specifically a wawa, which refers to girls from around age 10 up until they reach menarche. He immediately calls her ‘my child’, and she calls him ‘father’.

This last brother continues to go deer hunting. The Stone Hammer Girl is left alone at home. She wonders why she and her father are alone. Soon a shadow comes, and it calls her ‘grand daughter’. Are you indeed my grandfather? Well, come sit and eat. The shadow tries to grab her. He has her between his fingers, then under his arm. She squeezes out and leaps into the fire. Being a stone being, the fire does not hurt her – it just makes her HOT. She leaps into the shadow’s mouth, gets down to his heart and boils it. (Yes, I was wonder what sort of body this ‘shadow’ has and what kind of heart, but none of this is explained. I guess he has a normal body but is, through power of some sort, difficult to see, shadowy). The Stone Hammer Girl takes the body of the dead shadow and buries it near the house. She does not tell her father what happened.

When her father gets home, he asks her why her clothes got stiff. She got warm, she says, He makes her a new set of clothes.

It is at this point Frachtenberg put in his bit of verbiage of “she kills the next 4 shadows the same way.” Then he picks up the story again. She finally tells her father that she killed all of their enemies, the five shadows. They find the shadow house and take away all the valuables. And there the story ends. Which is a little unusual, because this ending leaves out one of the tropes that appears in numerous other Coosan stories when several people are killed early in a story, the hero or pair of heroes at the end use their power to bring their dead kin back to life. This is the pattern in “Spider Old Woman”, “Night Rainbow” and a few other stories. But no one is brought back to life this time – those four dead brothers had been eaten and that, is that. The eating-of-victims is a little unusual to. An especially macabre touch.

A traditional closing to a story:

Now only there it is ending.

 That way the story was being told.

Happy (er….I guess?) reading!

About shichils

Just sharing some fun on language
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