As everyone knows by now, Monday is the day there will be a solar eclipse in North America. At any one place on earth, solar eclipses are much more uncommon than lunar eclipses. Throughout human history, many cultures have thought to some degree that events in the sky had an effect on life on earth, so when something unusual and perhaps not predicted happened – such as seeing a comet, or an eclipse, people often thought something terrible could befall their community.

So far about the CLUS tribes I have found very little about solar eclipses. Annie Peterson recounted a story about lunar eclipses but said she could recall nothing about solar ones. In Bissell’s Lower Umpqua/Siuslaw wordlist from 1881, he noted that the word for sun and moon was the same (tsé-te-ha, in his notation). He recorded a phrase for a solar eclipse, ‘the sun dies’, kaú o tsí te ha. Searching later records of the language, it’s probably xau tsiitiixa – xau for ‘to die’, tsiitiixa* for ‘sun’ (or moon).

Annie Peterson told Jacobs what she remembered about lunar eclipses.** She said that the moon worked for ‘the big chief of the food (of the fish), the food’s parent’. This is a reference to Thunderbird, who was supposed to be the head man of the ocean and the fish of the sea. Lunar eclipses were caused when fish eating birds like crows, ‘cranes’ (egrets), hawks, and so forth grouped together and made war on the moon, to try to get more food. The moon would go to Thunder to get more food for the birds. During the eclipse, people sent children to lay down inside the houses while they stayed outside and made noise, jingling and rattling things -to frighten the birds away from the moon.

Alsea beliefs seemed to be similar. Leona Ludson told an ethnographer in 1934 “Big birds (ravens, buzzard, etc) flew up into sky, making everything quiet – they knew going to be eclipse of moon – the birds were going to fight the moon – turned vessels upside down so blood from moon wouldn’t fall in – People watched it.”

Coquelle Thompson told interviewer Elizabeth Jacobs that the he could not recall any Upper Coquille stories about eclipses. “Never talk about eclipse of moon or sun. One time I was up at in Dalles. White people come to see Indian dance. That day about 12 o’clock, all at once, getting dark. Oh, world getting changed. Dance, dance they say. We don’t know. Indian don’t know. No story about that, they don’t know.”

Franz Boas interviewed a Tillamook man in 1894. He said that any eclipse of the sun or moon meant that the world transformer was angry. Shamans gathered and danced for five days. During an eclipse, all vessels in a house were turned upside down (in the belief a powerful person had been killed and they did not want any of that blood to drip into any container). During an eclipse people avoided eating and refused to look up at an eclipse. When Elizabeth Jacobs interviewed Nehalem woman Clara Pearson, she said she had never heard of all that. She said “Eclipses…just happened. This is the time when the spirit doctor sees the face of one about to die, in the moon. People didn’t turn dishes upside down here, not this people.”

Perhaps solar eclipses were also viewed as a moment when birds were trying to work their power over the sun, as they sometimes did over the moon. Unfortunately, some of our stories have become lost.

Nevertheless, it is good to recall one of those old warnings – never look directly at a solar eclipse. It can damage one’s eyes.

*I searched for what notes I have so far on Siuslawan words for sun and moon. In Bissell, as noted, its tsé-te-ha, or tsí-te-ha. In Harrington’s interview with Frank Drew and Spencer Scott, it is tsiitiixa. They also noted that day was tsxayuuwii.

In the Morris Swadesh recordings from 1953, May Barrett Elliott and her brother Clay both give sun as tsiitiix, while Billy Dick (Lower Umpqua) gave it as tsiitiixa.

**Here is a quick translation of Annie Peterson’s words in Hanis about lunar eclipses, along with some of Jacobs’ extra notations in interviewing her about this story in parenthesis. My additions are in square brackets.

He-hemis hethede lo k’wonyau, he k’wonyau ma’anyas

The big chief of the food, the fish-food’s parent, [this is a reference to Thunder, chief of the sea and the fishes]

lau xdluuwhwa’is leu-sh’alshit.

The moon worked for (him).

Leu-lau guus dijenen ntlbinediihl chii-ihl-hla, lau ihl-máháiwat, lau-ihl-hljet

All kinds of winged ones [birds] went there, they made war, they fought

(not merely crows, but crows, cranes [egrets and probably herons] hawks, all the birds that eat fish)

Lau-a’yuu, i-ihl-tgats.

That’s how they do, when they defeat him [the moon. Curious in this story the moon is translated as ‘he’ when in other stories by Annie and Jim Buchanan the moon is portrayed as the sun’s younger sister]

Lau-a’yuu nant-k’wonyau.

Then indeed there was much food. (when there’s an eclipse from the onrush of these birds coming to fight the moon for more food. Then the moon goes to the food’s father to get the food).

Lau i-ihl-kwonaiwat le-leu hljit, lex ntlbinediihl.

They would see the birds fighting,

lau ihl-sa’tl lex me, ihl k’woni’wat, ihl k’elit, ilau ihl-kwonaiwat lex-me, le-leu hljit lex-ntlbinediihl.

The people make noise, they shoot (arrows upward), they shouted, when the people saw that, the birds fighting (the moon).

(The people fear lest the birds injure the moon. Tneh make a racket to scare the birds back. The children are made to lie down inside-why Mrs. P. doesn’t know).

X-wench laqáwididi’ya le-dluuhwa’is.

That’s what history they tell about the moon.


Bisell, George. 1881. 873, Umkwa Vocabulary. Southwest Oregon Research Project (SWORP) Collection, Coll 268, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon.

Drucker, Phillip. 1933. Ethnographic Field Notes. Office of Anthropology Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Harrington, John P. 1942. Alsea, Siuslaw, Coos, Southwest Oregon Athapaskan: Vocabularies, Linguistic Notes, Ethnographic and Historical Notes. John Peabody Harrington Papers, Alaska/Northwest Coast, in National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.

Jacobs, Elizabeth. 1935. Upper Coquille notes, Notebook 119, Jacobs Collection, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle.

Jacobs, Elizabeth. 2003. The Nehalem Tillamook: An Ethnography, edited by William Seaburg. OSU Press, Corvallis, OR.

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

Milhau, John J. undated. 958, Mouth of Umpqua River Tribal Groups: Umpqua, Siuslaw, Southwest Oregon Research Project (SWORP) Collection, Coll 268, Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, Oregon.

Swadesh, Morris and Robert Melton. 1953. 85-555-F (CD). United States, Oregon, Penutian Vocabulary Survey, Hanis Coos, Milluk Coos, Siuslaw. Archives of Traditional Music, Indiana University, Bloomington IN.

Posted in History, Myths, Traditional customs | Tagged | 1 Comment




Sorry I have been so busy this summer I haven’t had time or energy to research posts here. Hopefully I can start writing at least semi-regularly again soon. In the meantime, here is a slightly-modified reprint of an article I wrote for the newsletter about a decade ago, about stars.

Since the total solar eclipse is coming soon to North America I will try to write about that soon. In a nutshell tho’, I haven’t found much on solar eclipses, although there is a little information about lunar ones.

Word Hanis Milluk Siuslaw/Lower Umpqua
star yuumii (YOO-mee) yuumii ts’uum
evening star qaɫama’was qaɫama’was paqauwx (pah-COW-ookh),


morning star qaumicha, q’awa’mis q’a’wamis solá-lich-pa-kó*
Pleiades miɫiiq’w (mih-hleekw), maɫiigwa (mah-hlee-gwah)  miɫiiq’w tsnih-hwi*
Milky Way aiwa me hewilts (i-wa meh heh-wilts) uwatsyamɫ txaini (oo-wats-yamhl tkhai-nih)
Constellation ‘hunter’ (Orion) ɫnda, ɫnada (hln-da, hln-uh-dah) ɫimdawa (hlim-dah-wah)
Constellation ‘dipnet’ (dipper?) guuhanyat’as (GOO-hun-YAHT-uss)

*These Siuslaw/Lower Umpqua words were written down by George Bissell in 1881, & I have not yet found them attested in any other source. He was not a trained linguist so it is not always clear what sounds he was writing down. So, I have included them on this list as he wrote them.

I was fortunate enough to grow up outside of town, away from street lights. On clear nights I was awed by the beauty of the night sky. Many people now live in cities and suburbs and have a dulled view of the night sky – the Milky Way and numerous stars are washed out by the bright urban lights. But for many thousands of years, human beings the world over watched and studied the night sky to create calendars and navigate journeys across and land and sea – and as an inspiration for storytelling. The human mind by its nature looks for patterns. Throughout the world, people have looked up at the stars, seen patterns, gave them names and told stories of their origins. Although the details vary from culture to culture, many stories tell of human or animals who were turned into stars. The stories our ancestors told of the stars were no exception. The constellations we are familiar with today mostly come from classical Greek mythology.

Unfortunately, few of the names for constellations and stars our tribes used have been remembered and passed on. There were stories of human beings who became stars, or constellations. The Pleiades (a star cluster that is part of the constellation Taurus) were called in the Coos languages maɫiigwa (mah-hlee-gwah). Long ago, they were hunters, searching and searching for their quarry but never finding it. They became the star cluster Pleiades.i

Another group of hunters in the sky was a constellation known in the Coos Bay languages as the “hunter stars”. From the description, “stars lined up with a bow”, it is probably the same constellation we know today as Orion.ii Another constellation was guuhanyátas, referring to a type of dipnet in Hanis Coos. This is probably what we call the Big Dipper today. There was also a constellation called sadlik, flounder.iii Unfortunately there was no description along with the name to help identify what group of stars this is.

There were also stories of girls who wished to marry stars, and their wishes came true. One of the most interesting aspects of these stories is that it is one of the most widespread story motifs in North America, told in variations as far away as the Great Lakes, and perhaps beyond.iv So to be known to so many disparate peoples, the roots of this story are probably quite ancient. In the version Jim Buchanan told, two girls are sleeping outside. They joke with one another about the stars and each picked one out they’d like to marry. The girl who chose a small bright star awoke next to an elderly grey haired man in the morning. The other girl chose a larger, dimmer star and she awoke next to a young man. The men told the girls “we are the men you wished for last night”.v vi

In Annie Miner Peterson’s version, there are four girls sleeping outside. This is the story as recorded in Melville Jacobs’ notebook:

The girls were always doing something, some mischief. They were going to sleep outside. They looked up above. They said “Let’s have stars for men!” [Then they’d laugh] There were 4 of those girls (chums).

I’ll have the evening star for my husband.”

I’ll have what people call that star, the hunters, the hunter star. That one will be my husband.”

And I, the one that is so bright [lit. strong shines], that one will be my husband.”

I will take the tiny one, it barely shines at all. It ought to be a small fellow I guess. That’s why it’s a small star.”

Oh let’s go to sleep!”

Then the girls laughed and laughed. [Then they fell asleep]. Then they awakened. Sure enough they each had a man. The one who had a little husband, an old man, his head and his hair, just like foam was his grey hair. The one who wanted the brightly shining one, he was a nice looking young man. The one who wanted the ‘evening star’, she had a fine big man. The other one who had a gun [bow]with him (Hunters) for her man, he was nice looking too. “We are the ones who are lined up when we go hunting.” [He is the Hunters constellation, this man]. That’s what he said to the girl. That’s why the people name them that way, those lined up stars. [Now after the girls have them for husbands, they inform the girls that their names are thus and so, and then they are named thus thereafter.] vii

Both stories end here, so we don’t know what happened to the girls after they awaken and meet their ‘star husbands’. Frank Drew, commenting on these stories said “…the stars (yu•mi) are people. They never said what kind.”viii

The Milky Way – a fuzzy band of light that is actually our galaxy obscured by interstellar dust – was known as the ‘road of the dead’. Jim Buchanan said that “When anybody died, people could see him traveling in the sky. Theou could always tell who it was. The dead they call hə aiwa me hewilts (dead men road). One can see the road river on the sky. On bright nights you can see this road, when you see a white strip on the sky.”ix A lot of tribes in North America called the Milky Way by this name, and indeed it does not take much imagination to see the band of light as a road across the night sky.x Shooting stars (meteors burning up in Earth’s atmosphere) were said to be the souls of the dead traveling up in the sky world.xi If it looked as though a falling star hit the ground, it was said a headman would soon die.xii

I hope this summer you will all have some time to stargaze, There are many good field guides out there to identify constellations. For an overview of North American Indian culture and beliefs on the stars, I recommend Stars of the First People by Dorcas S. Miller.

iJacobs, Melville. 1932-1934. Coos Ethnological Notes and Texts. University of Washington Archives. Notebook 91, pp. 127-128.

iiJacobs, Melville. 100:3

iiiJacobs, Melville. 91:127-128

ivMiller, Dorcas. 1997. Stars of the First People: Native American Star Myths and Constellations. Pruett Publishing, Boulder, CO.

vJacobs, Melville. 91:115-116

viFrachtenberg, Leo J. 1913. Coos Texts. Columbia University Press. New York, NY.

viiJacobs, Melville. 100: 2-6

viiiJacobs, Melville. 91:116

ixFrachtenberg, Leo. 1909. Hanis Coosan Ethnographic Notes. Maniscript No, 330, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Archives, Washington DC.

xMiller, Dorcas.

xiJacobs, Melville. 92:3

xiiJacobs, Melville. 1939. Coos Narrative and Ethnologic Texts. University of Washington Publications in Anthropology 8(1):1-125.

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Hero Grandmothers

I have been working on collecting examples of the Coos (Hanis and Milluk both) suffix -sha. This suffix is unusual in that it is the only one I know of that attaches to one and ONLY one word – huumik’, old woman.

In the course of chasing down examples of the suffix, I noticed an interesting character type that appeared in some Coos and Siuslaw stories – we could call the character ‘hero grandmother’. In one way or another, these older women characters face down danger, pass down power and knowledge to their grandchildren, although often they also survive devastating losses.

I’ll give a quick synopsis of four of the stories I am thinking of that have ‘hero grandmother’ type characters. They all come from Frachtenberg’s “Coos Texts” as told by Jim Buchanan (see blog sidebar for the book).

“Night Rainbow” follows the adventures of the Night Rainbow family. One of Night Rainbow Old Woman’s sons and his wife travel through a camas prairie. They see camas bulbs in piles, but see no one around. They pick up some camas. A grizzly comes running, saying it is his camas. He kills them both, takes the bodies home and props them up in his house. Grizzly goes on to attack their village and kills many people. Night Rainbow Old Woman lives alone, but soon Grizzly comes around to attack. She fights him, and kills him with a digging stick made of ice. She raises her surviving grandson, and when he is older he asks her to make a bow and arrows, which she does. He goes on to kill the last two Grizzlies, a male and a female, while his grandmother dances for him. He has come into his own power now. He and his grandmother work together to bring their murdered kin, long stores at Grizzly’s house, back to life. Those people return home. The story ends with more teaching from a paternal uncle, they go on to fight a downriver village but when the fighting is over declare that these people will be their kin.

“Spider Old Woman” is named in such a way – Winqas (‘weaver’ or ‘woven thing’) rather than the usual word for spider, wawa’atl – implying that she is wise. Once when she is away from home, people from downriver attack her family’s home and kill almost everyone and set the house afire. One pregnant woman hides under a fallen house board. When Spider Old Woman returns home, she finds the woman, who suffocated under the board but the baby is still alive. She is able to remove the baby, a boy, and raises him. When he is old enough, and he has learned to hunt, she tells him what happened to their kin and she trains him with Power so he can not be hit with weapons. She gives him his father’s weapons. He uses the weapons and the power his grandmother taught him to attack the people who killed his family. Then, just as in the Night Rainbow story (and indeed it is a trope that appears in numerous stories) they use power to bring their dead relatives back to life. The grandson marries, and that is the end of the story.

The next story is a Siuslaw story, as told by Jim Buchanan – the Five Grizzly Bears. It is about a family of five dangerous grizzlies who kill and attack travelers. The people around them plot to get rid of them, and eventually trick four of them to their deaths at Heceta Head. The fifth and youngest brother escapes – he falls down the cliff and swims away to the north, crawling ashore on the south side of the Alsea River where he meets and old woman, Wren. Now unlike the previous two stories, it isn’t mentioned if Wren has children or grandchildren (although it is likely she did). In this story she is living alone in a house by the beach, where Waldport is today. She recognizes the young grizzly for who and what he is. She pretends to be nice to him, then kills him. Since it is a myth age story of the animal people, she makes a formal closing to the story – that when human beings come into the world, grizzly will be an animal that runs from people.

The last story I have found with a hero grandmother is a bit different. It is not set, so far as I can tell, in the myth age of the Animal People. She is a human, who has an unfortunate encounter with Nuuskili, which are tall ogre women with pitchy dresses. In “Coos Texts” it is the “Third Giantess” story. This grandmother is babysitting two of her grandsons, and she teaches them dances. One night, two Nuuskili begin to creep into the house. Grandmother recognizes the danger immediately, and hides her 2 grandchildren. She tricks the Nuusgili to dance too close to the fire, so their dresses alight. The burning pitch-women flee. Grandmother checks the boys, and finds to her sorrow that they must have seen the Nuuskili, as both are dead. When the boys’ parents and aunts and uncles return, she tells them what happened. They track the Nuuskili and find them dead on the doorstep of their house. So, grandmother killed them, but at the loss of her two grandsons.

Perhaps I will find some more ‘hero grandmother’ characters. It’s interesting, as how often in stories do older women get to be a hero? Not often, it seems. But I am glad there are heroic Coos and Siuslaw hero grandmothers. That goes especially for Night Rainbow and her ice digging stick of doom – absolutely do not mess with her!

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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.


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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More puzzling meanings of words from context

I’ve written before about how tricky it can be to figure out some of the specific definitions of words when they only appear once or twice.  Sometimes I have to go back and take a careful look at a word in its context to see if there are enough clues to puzzle out the meanings of a word that makes it distinct from words with perhaps similar meanings – such as, in that example from 6 years ago, what the different words for feather mean.

In the course of building a Hanis wordlist, I found two words that have (at least in part) the meaning ‘to hide’. The usual word for ‘to hide’ is stln– or stlon-. This word is used in ways similar to the English word ‘hide’ – it can refer to hiding objects, or hiding people (such as hiding from an enemy or hide-and-seek). There is a second word that has a sense of the meaning to hide, hemes– that appears only twice in the same short paragraph. It’s rare use makes it difficult to be sure of its meanings as distinct from stln-, but in this case Annie did seem to give a fair bit of background to the meaning. I first put demes in the word list as ‘to hide’ but going back and looking at it in context it seems to have a very different meaning than ‘to hide’ in the sense of hiding objects or a person hiding from others.

The context the word came up during a comment from Annie Miner Peterson talking about people who are always looking down, never look others in the eye, and are always of a ‘dark humor’. She said those kind of people are assumed to be thinking dark, mean thoughts, with a mind of hidden thoughts like a river channel. They have dark and unpleasant things hidden in their mind – a condition she called demes. She began the conversation (at least based on Jacobs’ notes) in English then switched into Hanis, which I am including below (note on orthography; first line is as Jacobs wrote it down, 2nd in our current tribal orthography, 3rd is a linguistic breakdown, 4th is a free translation into English):

í•kⱭx* ínta hú•’mis í•gú•s milɛtc kmɛnɛ´’ɛt

iikax inta huumis i-guus milech kmene’et

? mean/bad woman as/if-all time to.have.head.down=CAUSPASS

A bad woman all the time has her head down


hén•ík’is q’aimis ná•ntƏnɛ’ɛdjƏs di•łǝ´d•ɛmɛs,

henik’is q’aimis nant-u-ne’echos diihl-u-demes, like channel/mouth many=POSS=tricks.meannesses

it is just like a (river) mouth many tricky things hidden in her mind,


tsí•di•ł dǝ´misi•wat

tsii-diihl demisiiwat


She just keeps hiding things in her mind.

Note that the word demes has the common Hanis nominal suffix -s (this is just a fancy way of saying because of the –s on the end it looks like a noun, which if people recall from grammar school or Madlibs games is ‘person, place or thing’). The second time it is used it has a verbal suffix on it, –iiwat, which is described in Frachtenberg’s grammar as a frequentative (often called today iterative). Basically this just means “Kept on doing something”. It’s not unusual for words in Hanis to be used freely as a noun or a verb – it just depends on what affixes are on it and context (English also often does this, but some languages really don’t like to let words switch easily between noun and verb).

I also just find it interesting that demes has such a specific meaning of ‘hide’ – it is hiding (presumably dark or secretive) thoughts in the mind. So, I am definitely going to need to update the wordlist with this interesting and specific word, as it is definitely not interchangeable with stln-.

*iikax was not translated at all by Jacobs, and I can’t find other examples of it in Hanis. Since Hanis and Milluk often overlap with identical or very similar words, I asked Troy Anderson if he was familiar with it. He wasn’t, but breaking it down into Milluk particles it may mean something like “whereas”.

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What is that mystery phrase anyway?

So I have been working on translating a Siuslaw story that Jim Buchanan told to Harry Hull St Clair in 1903, and was published years later by Leo Frachtenberg in Coos Texts. It is the last story in the book and you can find “Coos Texts” on the blog sidebar and look up “The Man Who Married the Bird”.

In the story there is a poor man who goes far up Qa’aich (North Fork Siuslaw) to some rapids and finds a bufflehead duck. The duck becomes a woman, and by the end of the story he returns home, wealthy, as the duck-woman becomes his wife and wealth power.

Here is the line with the mystery word or words in St Clair and Frachtenberg, with St Clair’s own translation written underneath his and mine under Frachtenberg’s:

From St Clair, page 67 lines 15 through 16:

Tsógwê yî´xân tsxátskwe lâ tsm̥´ma taqa´aitc tcîmītckwêɫa

so his fish.spear + North.Fork.up he went.

Frachtenberg page 186:

Tsō kwe yîxen tsxats kwe lä tsm̥´ma ta qayáatc tcî´mītc kwe ɫa.

So (perhaps) once got (perhaps) his fish.spear and North.Fork ? (perhaps) go

tcî´mītc is the mystery word or words. St Clair wrote it all together with kwe (perhaps) and ɫa (go). tcî´mītc does not appear in the Hanis wordlist I have compiled (neither to variations like ch’im- or tsim or ts’im). I have a guess at the moment that this may in to one of three possibilities.

One is that it was a word or phrase not recorded elsewhere, so we can no longer be sure of the meaning.

Second is that it is based off of the word chii, there. -im/-om and -iich or both locative suffixes; the former meaning ‘the part of, the side of’ and the latter meaning in, at or on. So if that were the case, the phrase would mean something like ‘at that place there’ (on North Fork). However, there are not many examples of -om/im but of the ones that are, Frachtenberg noted it always affixed to adverbs – never nouns like “North Fork”. It’s possible that it could and did affix to nouns, and Frachtenberg just didn’t happen to elicit such an example. Also, per his grammar, -om/-im never appears before -iich, it is the other way around. So it should have been chiichom, rather than chimiich. However, again Frachtenberg didn’t elicit many examples so it is possible that the order of these two locative suffixes has more flexibility than Frachtenberg realized.

The third possibility is that both St Clair and Frachtenberg erred in separating tcî´mitc from the word for North Fork, Qa’aich. These might be the locative affixes -om (part of, side of) and -iich (in, at, on) affixing directly to Qa’aich, and St Clair mistakenly wrote the suffixes along with the final consonant of Qa’aich (a geminant, meaning doubled, consonantal sound) at the start of a ‘word’. So it should have looked like this: Qa’aich:imiich, meaning something like North Fork-part/side of-at, because the youth walked a long way up North Fork before reaching the head of a certain rapid. All in all, at the moment I am leaning towards this explanation.

Let me know what you think, or if you have an alternate explanation, in the comments!

Also, as a quick note, I thought I had written of this one aspect before of the texts collected by St Clair versus those written down by Frachtenberg, but for reasons I have never figured out, all of the St Clair texts have copious use of the particles kwa and kwe, which mean ‘as if, kind of, like’ and ‘perhaps’. These particles are in numerous lines in St Clair’s stories, but he never translates these particles. They don’t appear nearly as often in the texts Frachtenberg collected, though he does preserve them without comment in his reprints of St Clair’s materials. I don’t know why this is – was Buchanan unsure of his memory of the tales when he spoke to St Clair, but a decade later when he worked with Frachtenberg he wasn’t unsure? It is true that with the exception of one story, all the stories he told to the two men are different stories. But I have puzzled over why this is, and still have no idea.

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Two Nuuskilii women

If you look at the previous post about spooky stories, one of the links goes to a post about the scary Nuuskilii women, which are translated into English as ‘giant women’ or ‘pitch dress ogresses’.  In Frachtenberg’s work with Jim Buchanan, he translated nuuskilii as ‘giantesses’ or ‘the big women’, and he included 3 stories of them in his book “Coos Texts” (see sidebar).

Frachtenberg got alternate versions in English only that he jotted down in his notebooks.  The story below is a story of the “giant women” that comes from Frachtenberg’s notebook:


There live two Nouskilli women. But people think there is only one, because they see only one. The people live in a little village. Every evening the people’s children go playing on the beach. One time the children see a big woman coming. They get scared. The big woman changed herself into a young girl. She says, “I will play with you, children.” She does so and then picks out a girl children of the richest people. She caught a girl, just in a basket and said, “I will take you home.” She ran with her to her home. The other children get scared, but see how they women took the boy. They do not know, however, which way she went.

In the same way she stole the boy, every boy of a certain rich family. Only the youngest boy remains and in the house of his father. The youngest boy is sorry about his sister. He begins to dream about her. He dreams that his brother told him where to find the door to the house of the Big Woman. The door is amongst arrowsticks [ocean spray] and [sword ferns]. He told him in dreams: If you come here, pull the top of arrowsticks hard, and the door will open. The boy believed in his dreams and he went there. His folks do not know it. He gets there, looks around, sees the brush of arrow limb and bricks, he pulls hard; finally he raises the door and look down. He sees his brother there and asks for his sister. He is told that she is living yet, but in bad health. He cannot go down and his brother [said], “What is the big woman doing?” Answer: “There are two of two of them, both are sleeping at present. I always make lots of noise, but they keep on sleeping together alongside the fire. When they sleep their heads are joined together. They sleep all day, never wake up in daytime. Only at night they travel and father quohogs (clams). Sometimes they bring home lots of them. They cook them. The fat, good, clams they eat themselves, those that have no meat, and are filled with sand, they give to us saying, ‘that they are good to eat.’”

He also told them that women had taken out the girl’s heart and hung it on her ear. Then the youngest brother went home to tell his father about it. He went. His father says: “Let’s pick up some pitchwood. They gathered pitchwood. The boy said: “The house is very deep, I couldn’t go down there.” They took a ladder along, in order to go down on it. They got there. The boy again pulls at the door, opens it. The whole crowd goes down and they see the two Big Women sleeping alongside the fire, their heads almost joined together sound asleep. They have long hair. They first took out the boy and girl, and all the money and property belonging to the two women, arrowstick, arrowbow. They then fill the house with pitch. The women are still sleeping soundly. They used to rob graveyards and this way get lots of money. The crowd ties the hair of the Two Women together. They set fire to the house and to the dresses of the Women,and leave the house and shut the door. They put heavy logs on the door, so that the Women shouldn’t be able to open it. Then they listen from above. They hear the women wake up. One says, :”What’s the matter with you, why do you frighten me, let my hair go.”

They finally get their hair loose and jump at the door. They scream. They almost lift the door. They jump five times at the door – in vain. One says: “What’s the matter with our door? I can’t lift the door when I jump.”

They finally give it up. Fire singes them and they burn. The first Woman burns and her heart comes out and gets through the door. But the people on the outside club the heart with a piece of board and kill it. Same way with the other Woman’s heart. Then people say, “After this you will be nobody. Last people will see you. You will be harmless.”

The little girl whose heart hung in her ear died (?). Her people cut off the string that hung down and as soon as this is done-the girl dropped dead.

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