Saturday, December 29, 2007

"These languages ... were just sleeping"

The following is a condensed version of an article that recently appeared in the San José Mercury News. I was briefly involved with this project for a few months before I left California to pursue my doctorate in Kansas. I transcribed about 50 pages (a mere drop in a very large bucket) worth of Rumsen Ohlone notes that Harrington had gathered back in the 1930s. This is how my interest in the Ohlone languages, native languages of central coastal California, came to be. Thankfully the microfiche version of Harrington's notes are accessible here at KU, and I continue working with the notes when brief bouts of spare time permit. I'm hoping to get three Rumsen stories published in the Journal of Folklore Research in the near future, which, to the best of my knowledge, would be the first time that the actual tales will have been published in the Rumsen language as well as with English translations.

Here is the article:

Bringing voices from the grave, volunteers at the University of California-Davis are working to decipher nearly a million pages of notes from conversations with long-gone Native Californians, reviving more than 100 languages from the distant past. Word by word, they type the scribbled and cryptic notes left by John Peabody Harrington, an eccentric and tireless linguist who in the early 1900s traveled throughout California interviewing the last surviving speakers of many native tongues, including the local Muwekma Ohlone tribe. Their effort to organize a database of Harrington's vast material will build a Rosetta Stone for these languages and their dialects, creating dictionaries of words, phrases and tribal tales and customs that were destined to disappear.

"It is an enormous amount, and it is incredibly difficult to read," said Martha Macri, director of the UC-Davis Native American Language Center and co-director of the effort to computerize Harrington's papers.

"He was totally obsessive. We've become a bit obsessive ourselves."

San Jose native Margaret Cayward is using his notes to study native music as part of her doctoral thesis at UC-Davis. "It's helping us rediscover old knowledge and values in the music," she said. "Music was a major part of life for Californians, with ritual or sacred significance."

In Fremont, descendants of the Muwekma Ohlone tribe used his notes to create Chochenyo flash cards, puzzles and bingo games for their children. In Macri's office, eight large file cabinets are filled with 182 reels of microfilmed images of Harrington's work, copied from his original papers that are stored at the Smithsonian Institution's warehouse in Silver Hill, Md. Each reel, costing $1,000, contains 500 to 2,000 pages of material. Seven years into the Harrington project, funded by the National Science Foundation, it is about two-thirds complete.

"They have changed my life," said Linda Yamane of Seaside, who based her book of Ohlone tales, called "The Snake That Lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains," on his notes. "Along with a lot of hard work and perseverance, they've made it possible to bring back my Rumsien (Monterey area) Ohlone language and other cultural traditions from the brink of extinction."

Hired in 1915 by the Smithsonian Institution, Harrington spent four decades wandering California with unbounded freedom to document languages before they disappeared. It was a time when Native Californians faced fierce discrimination. Few elders spoke the languages to children, so little information was passed on for future generations.

"They trusted him," said Bev Ortiz, an anthropologist at California State University-East Bay. "The tribal elders had the wisdom and courage to see that the time would come when it would not be bad to be an Indian - and the language would be there for their descendants."

Harrington traveled by car and on foot to find surviving speakers, collecting maps, photographs, and plant and animal specimens along the way. One camping trip, on horseback, took him through the rugged Santa Lucia Mountains. Gifted in phonetics and lexicography, "he spent more of his waking hours, week in and week out, transcribing Indian languages than doing any other conscious thing," said Victor Golla of Humboldt State University. "No linguist, before or since, ever spent so much time engaged in the field collection of primary data." Yet Harrington published little of his work. Although he sent back reports to the Smithsonian, many of his notes seem to have been deliberately hidden from colleagues.

After his death in 1961, as Smithsonian curators began cataloging his papers, they discovered stockpiles of boxes stored in warehouses, garages and even chicken coops throughout the West. Six tons of material - among them Indian-made flutes, Kachina dolls, dead birds and tarantulas, baskets, rocks, empty soup cans, half-eaten sandwiches, dirty laundry and two shrunken heads from the Amazon - eventually arrived at the Smithsonian, filling two warehouses. His translations of native words are littered with puzzling abbreviations. And his notations do not represent a standardized phonology, just impressionistic phonetics. Also troubling is his practice of shifting, over the years, the symbols used when transcribing sounds into words. The bilingual Harrington wrote many translations in old California Spanish, with idiosyncratic spelling. And much of his material is disorganized, with notes about one language interspersed with those of another.

"There was a method in his madness. He was trying to get as much down as fast as could," Klar said. "But reading it takes endless patience."

Despite the frustrations, the Harrington project team says its efforts are slowly shedding light on a long-lost way of life - and educating a proud new generation of Native Californians about the ways of their ancestors.

"We're learning not only about the languages, but day-to-day life - the culture and customs, the politics. A language is a universe; it's family, society, religious practices. When you start pulling it out, you start to understand."

"These languages never died," she said. "They were just sleeping."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Culture, anthropology, and what it means to be human

OK, I realize it has been far too long since my last blog entry, but the constant demands of grad school sort of made this, along with many other things, lesser priority. The crazy semester is now over, thank goodness. Now the wait to see how I did on finals and term papers and what my ultimate grades are.

One of my planned winter break activities is to catch up on some non-course-related reading. One of these readings is by a KU professor, Robert Minor, titled, Scared Straight. The subtitle is: "Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People And Why It’s So Hard to Be Human." I’ve only just started it, but I’m already enthralled with his writing and teaching about why LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) people are so feared in our culture that there is an average of one gay man killed every two weeks in America just for being gay. Minor states: "I still see a nation obsessed with maintaining gender roles … I see men’s groups struggling to know why they exist and where to go next. I see therapists who are still trying to help people cope with a system that is profit-oriented and coping-oriented, not human-oriented or healing oriented" (Minor 2001: 4).

In his own words, Minor’s purpose for writing this book is to argue "that none of us, regardless of sexual orientation, will be able to live as human beings until we are able to fully accept transgendered and bisexual people and lesbians and gay men as invaluable gifts of our common humanity. The fact is, getting in touch with our humanity, no matter what our sexual orientation, is tied to doing the fear work we all need to do so that all of us can embrace gay people. And that means that, by doing their own fear work, gay people themselves will find a greater self-acceptance" (ibid.: 1, my italics).

On a personal level, I am working on that last italicized sentence. After doing my own self-exploration in therapy this past long summer, I came to accept what deep down I’m sure I’ve always known: I’m gay or at least somewhere on that end of the continuum between gaydom and bisexuality. And, as I explore (although not physically yet) and learn more about myself and accept who I am, I’m also exploring our predominant cultural views and prejudices against homosexuality and bisexuality. At least Minor’s book is helping to explain why there is so much fear about homosexuality. And, as a Religious Studies professor, Minor also explains that the Bible does not in itself claim homosexuality a sin, but rather that it has been reinterpreted by Christians to match our predominant cultural views of "normal" vs. "aberrant" behaviors just as it was once "reinterpreted" to allow the continuance of slavery and the gross mistreatment of indigenous peoples not only here in the US but worldwide.

Perhaps this is why I’ve become an anthropologist. (As an anthropologist, I’m in good company, by the way, since Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict were both bisexual.) Perhaps this is why I became interested in other cultures and peoples at an early age—not just out of mere interest but because somehow I knew there was something about myself I would eventually have to face and explore from "outside looking in" in order to gain some measure of self-acceptance, to realize that what our culture proclaims is "normal" is by no means universal and unchanging.

As an anthropologist, I see different cultures on their own terms of what is acceptable vs. not acceptable. Minor states that we "live on the basis of the definitions and ideas about reality our culture gives us. And we do so without much reflection about them" (ibid. 27). He uses the apt metaphor that we’re like fish in water: the water surrounds us without calling attention to itself, and most of us never live in an alternative to the "wetness against our scales."

Drawing of heart-taking ritual from Aztec codex, ca. 1500 A.D.

Anthropologists are often asked: How could such amazingly advanced and sophisticated civilizations as those of the Mayas and Aztecs have committed such "atrocious" acts like blood-letting from tongues and genitals, the ripping out of still-beating human hearts, ritual decapitation, and human sacrifice? The answer is easy. They grew up in their own cultures, their own water against their scales, their own beliefs of right vs. wrong, their own need to ritually appease their own gods (1), living with the taboos and fears of their own culture that happened to be different from ours. (By the way, lest one think that 500-1,000 years later we are so much more advanced and less brutal, think about it: we still kill and maim in war [look at Iraq] and in the streets of our cities, and many in our own culture [including sports heroes] take pleasure in organizing and watching boxing, street-fighting, dog-fighting and other such forms of "ritual blood-letting".)

Yet, living in our own prescribed culture of right vs. wrong passed down to us through our families and constantly reinforced through symbolism, the media, and religion among many other things, we resent anything that threatens to shake those foundations of our reality, such as love and marriage being only between man and woman. Hence the fear, the often violent reactions toward those of us who break that mold of reality that provides us with that deep sense of who we think we are—that hodgepodge of beliefs, rituals, morals, and behaviors we call our "culture."

As an anthropologist, I explore not only the contemporary and historic "realities" of other peoples and cultures, but also my own deep-rooted sense of "reality," its origins and foundations. And exploring and breaking through the boundaries of one’s own culture, one’s own deep-seated prescribed sense of reality, is scary. It’s part of that "fear work" Minor discusses that each of us must do if we truly want to be human. Truly living and being human, I’m coming to realize, means separating myself to some degree from what my culture "expects" of me as a man, a human being, and that takes courage and guts.

(1) Olmecs, Mayas, and Aztecs believed human sacrifice was necessary--the shedding and offering of blood in death was believed equated with the shedding of blood in childbirth and was considered a means of rebirth, to continue the life-giving and life-sustaining forces of sun and rain, necessary for agriculture and food production. It is believed many in the Mayan and Aztec civilizations considered giving their lives in this way as a god-given honor.


Minor, Robert. 2001. Scared Straight. St. Louis: HumanityWorks!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

When Religion Is An Addiction

I went to a talk given last night by Dr. Robert Minor of the KU Religious Studies Department. He has just published a new book titled, When Religion Is An Addiction. In 2001, he published another book, Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human.

His talk was quite interesting. Basically, his main arguments are:

  • Religion is an addiction. Many people seek religion (especially Christianity) because they feel so bad about themselves and who they are. His point was, Why else would someone join a religion that promises the punishment of Eternal Child Abuse (Hell) by a supposedly loving Father?

  • Religion gives people an excuse not to confront their own feelings, fears, and prejudices. "It’s not me who hates homosexuals (or Jews or Muslims); God does, so I do." It’s a way to avoid confrontation with our darkest selves, which can make us feel so bad we need to change ourselves. This is something many of us are unwilling to do—change ourselves—so religion gives us the excuse that it’s okay to go on being our wretched selves and not have to change our thinking or our ways and take responsibility for our own beliefs and lives. Christianity tells us that’s just the way we are—we’re born sinners and evil-doers.

  • Minor feels that, when someone tells him that human beings are evil, that’s telling him something about the person saying it (how they feel about themselves). That’s the same as saying, "I think I’m a bad person. I think I’m evil, so I need God or Jesus or Somebody or Something to tell me I was born in sin and evil, but that’s okay because everyone else is too, so that makes me not feel so bad about myself and the disgusting person I really think I am."

  • Many fundamentalist Christians cannot see past their own addiction, as addicts of any type cannot, and it’s unnecessary and useless to try and argue with them; in fact, doing so only encourages their addiction (and makes those who argue with them enablers) since they’re enabling the addictive thought process by validating the addict’s beliefs and behaviors.
Perhaps this may seem a bit extreme, but he makes some very valid points, and it’s all definitely food for thought. Of course with me he’s basically preaching to the choir (no pun intended) since I’m already somewhere on the continuum between agnosticism and atheism anyway.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Learning an almost lost language

The few Mono Indians remaining who speak their tongue are passing it down to children to preserve culture. (A condensed version of an article in the Fresno Bee.)

This piece is particularly poignant:

As late as the 1970s, Native American children in Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools were punished for speaking their native languages.... (And this is in the supposed land of the free?)

By Charles McCarthy / The Fresno Bee 10/14/07
Source: Barbara Burrough

NORTH FORK -- Just uphill from an authentic cedar tepee -- or "nobi" in Mono -- four children sat down for a lesson in a language on the cusp of being lost.Volunteer teacher Barbara Burrough, one of the few people left who still speaks Mono, held up a cue card with the word "kah-why-you.""Horse," the youngsters said.Next was "moo-nah.""Mule," they said.Burrough's mother, 81-year-old Gertrude Davis, smiled as she watched the recent lesson unfold."I speak it, and I have no one to talk to, because no one knows how to speak the language or understand it," she said.In classrooms, Mono cultural sites and private homes in the North Fork area, Burrough and a few others are working hard to change that, one child at a time.Before contact with Spanish and English-speaking cultures in the 1800s, an estimated 5,000 spoke Mono in a territory that stretched from the San Joaquin River south to the Kern River.

Today, Burrough estimates that no more than 17 Mono around North Fork can converse in the native tongue -- and not all of them are fluent.It's unclear how many others outside the North Fork area might still know the language.North Fork Mono Rancheria Tribal Council Treasurer Maryann McGovran's son Cody, 13, has been one of Burrough's pupils for about two years. She said she isn't fluent in Mono, but she knows a few words.

Preserving the language is important, she said at tribal headquarters, because the language reflects the culture."It's the heart of our tribe," she said. "It shows who we are and what our people are about."

Mono is among 50 Native American languages in California that are considered endangered, said Leanne Hinton, professor emeritus in the linguistics department at the University of California at Berkeley. Another 50 already have disappeared since the early 1800s, she said."When you lose a language, it's a symptom of losing a whole culture," said Hinton, who has written three books devoted to endangered languages.But saving a language is no easy task -- especially when so few people still speak it.

Mono tribal officials say the decline of the language -- and traditional culture -- began as early as the 1810s with the arrival of outside cultures and languages.A series of broken treaties, land grabs and the integration of much North Fork Mono tribal land into the Sierra National Forest left the native residents little choice other than to join mining, lumber and agricultural economies.

In school, children were discouraged from speaking Mono. As late as the 1970s, Native American children in Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools were punished for speaking their native languages, said Andre Cramblit, Northern California Indian Development Council operations director and chairman of the Karuk tribal language restoration committee.Burrough said that her family escaped boarding school because her grandmother told her children to hide whenever a car came up their driveway."That's why we were able to hang on to our language," Burrough said.

Cox has invited parents to a series of Mono classes starting in November."It's important to know where you came from ... to have that sense of self," said Cox, 29, who learned Mono language and culture from her grandmother and others in North Fork but said she still is learning. She claims Chukchansi as well as Mono ancestors.For Burrough, the effort is a labor of love."With learning the language, you learn the culture," the 57-year-old Burrough said. "And with the culture, you learn respect. With respect, you learn to love the land and each other."

Burrough often holds outdoor classes on the rural property of Kendrick Sherman, a tribal elder who died in late September. The Sherman family has dedicated the property to the future of the Mono nation, Burrough said.Nine-year-old Antonio Beihn, a North Fork Elementary School student, said he signed up for the off-campus program because he is half-Mono and it's his culture."If it was lost, we wouldn't have what we have right now," he said.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Čaačakiy Maččan 'inn Paysen 'Ačyankw
Coyote and the Pregnant Girl

A Rumsen Fable

Another Rumsen Ohlone Coyote story. I suspect that this is merely a fragment of a larger story due to its rather odd ending and the fact that the text itself seems a little disjointed. But it is nevertheless entertaining.

Neku kayy Čaačakiy Maččan: “MiSix a tsorkost pirre. ‘Ot ‘aiwis watčorta!” “’Inta rottey watčorta?” “Imxala ‘ačyankw misix.” “Me ku xawwan Sa ‘ačyankw.” “’Ann ku rott ka ‘iswin?” “Xuya me tuuls.” Was kayy siirx: “Kuuwe kuuwe miSix. Kulusta.” “Kuuwe miSix.” “Simpurta.” “Kuuwe miSix.” “Ritčiysta.” “Kuuwe miSix.” Neku kayy ‘Ummun: “Kuuwe miSix. Ne miSix pitinta.” Neku kayy Sa ‘ačyankw: “’Ink ku ka ‘anamii? ‘Ink ku ‘anamii ka ‘iswin?” “’Ot me xawwesp! Me ku xawwan Sa ‘ačyankw.” Neku wattin xuya Sa ‘ačyankw. Kayy Čaačakiy Maččan: “Kas kaxiy!” Neku was tonney pakkeliuwx. Neku šoxlon. Neku ‘aččep pakkeliuwx. Neku was ‘urru Caačakiy Maččan. “Nenney! Ooyonk! Katt! ‘Amxay ka kaxx!” Neku was Sa ‘ačyankw. “Xork! Xork!” Neku paysen Sa ‘ačyankw. Neku šoxlon. Neku ‘uuwin Sa ‘ačyankw. Neku xič misix ‘innx. “Kuu ka ‘iwsen Sa ‘innx.”

Then Coyote said: "A dry earth is good. Go see what’s in the river!" "What’s in the river?" "One pretty girl." "That girl will be your wife." "Where will my children be?" "In your knee." The eagle said to him: "No, no good. In your elbow." "No good." "In your eyebrow." "No good." "In your back." "No good." Then Hummingbird declared: "No good. Here is good in your belly." Then the girl said: "How will I do it? How will I make children?" "Go, get married! This girl will be your wife." Then the girl left. Howling Coyote said: "Delouse me!" Then a wood tick was found on him. Then he got scared. Then he threw down the wood tick. Then the Howling Coyote grabbed (the tick) again. "Look! Look! Eat (it)! Eat my louse (tick)." Then the girl (ate) it. "Swallow! Swallow!" Then the girl became pregnant. Then she got scared. The girl ran. Then she made a pretty road. "I don’t like this road."

Neku kayy Čaačakiy Maččan: “MiSix a tsorkost pirre. ‘Ot ‘aiwis watčor-ta!”
then say Wild Dog: good ? dry earth go.look river-LOC
“’Inta rottey watčor-ta?”
what be river-LOC
“Imxala ‘ačyankw misix.”
one girl pretty
“Me ku xawwan Sa ‘ačyankw.”
2S-POSS IRREAL wife DEF girl
"’Ann ku rott ka ‘iswin?"
where IRREAL be 1S-POSS children
"Xuya me tuuls."
in 2S-POSS knee
Was kayy siirx: "Kuuwe kuuwe miSix. Kulus-ta."
3S-ACC say eagle no no good elbow-LOC
"Kuuwe miSix."
no good
"Kuuwe miSix."
no good
"Kuuwe miSix."
no good
Neku kayy ‘Ummun: "Kuuwe miSix. Ne miSix pitin-ta."
then say Hummingbird no good here good belly-LOC
Neku kayy Sa ‘ačyankw: “’Ink ku ka ‘anamii? ‘Ink ku ‘anamii ka ‘iswin?”
then say DEF girl how IRREAL 1S do how IRREAL make 1S-POSS children
“’Ot me xawwesp! Me ku xawwan Sa ‘ačyankw.”
go 2S marry 2S IRREAL wife DEF girl
Neku wattin xuya Sa ‘ačyankw. Kayy Čaačakiy Maččan: “Ka-s kaxiy!”
then go-PAST away DEF girl say Wild Dog 1S-ACC delouse
Neku wa-s tonney pakkeliuwx. Neku šoxlon. Neku ‘aččep pakkeliuwx.
then 3S-ACC find wood tick then fear then throw.down wood.tick
Neku wa-s ‘urru Caačakiy Maččan. “Nenney! Ooyonk! Katt! ‘Amxay ka kaxx!”
then 3S-ACC grab Wild Dog search search eat (it) eat 1S-POSS louse
Neku wa-s Sa ‘ačyankw. “Xork! Xork!” Neku paysen Sa ‘ačyankw.
then 3S-ACC DEF girl swallow swallow then pregnant DEF girl
Neku šoxlon. Neku ‘uuwin Sa ‘ačyankw. Neku xič misix ‘innx. “Kuu ka ‘iwsen Sa ‘innx.”
then fear then run-PAST DEF girl then make pretty road no 1S like DEF road

This story appears in:
Kroeber, A. 1904. The Languages of the coast of California south of San Francisco. Berkeley: The University Press. (page 79)

IRREAL = past or future (i.e., not present). Irrealis particles seem fairly common in Amerindian languages. Irrealis particles also occur in Biloxi and Soke (Zoque).

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Cusco, An Imperial Capital

As part of the course I’m taking on central Andean cultures, we’ve been studying Inkas and their once vast empire that was even greater in size than the Roman. Extending from southern Colombia down the Andes Mountains and along the Pacific coast to what is now Santiago, Chile, the Inka Empire had over 11,000 miles of roads. Inkas had no wheeled vehicles, and horses were unknown until the Spanish conquistadors arrived, but they did have native llamas and alpacas, which were adept at climbing up and down their steep mountain roads laden with up to 50 lbs. each of supplies or trade goods. Since there was a shortage of croplands in the steep mountainous terrain, Inkas became adept at terracing fields up steep hillsides and mountain slopes. Inkas did not use money, and they didn’t even have markets. Instead, men and women were employed on an as-needed basis by Inka overlords for community projects often involving the manufacture of goods or intense manual labor. In this marketless economy, workers were "paid" for their labor by receiving clothing, food, and other necessities and goods. Feasts of copious amounts of food and drink (including chicha, Inka corn beer) were often lavished upon these workers during and after projects. Inka emperors and overlords were very adept at distributing food, clothing, and other items to their populace and nobody wanted for anything.

Cusco, at a literally breathtaking elevation of 11,500 feet, was the capital city of the Inka Empire. It contained monumental edifices and architecture, grand palaces and temples trimmed in gold and silver, making it a fantastic sight to the Spanish invaders (à la Tenochtitlan of the Aztec Empire—how ironic that the Spanish were so impressed with these New World cities, saying there was nothing like them in Europe, before they laid them to waste!). Nobody could visit the city empty-handed, and anyone who visited had better have a sack of goods or materials strapped to their backs. The city was clean and well-kept with large areas of green parkland surrounding its massive imperial architecture.

What’s perhaps most interesting about this Native American capital, however, is that it appears to have been planned and laid out in the shape of a running puma, or cougar, viewed from above. (I can already foresee you UFO and extraterrestrial enthusiasts thinking alien intervention à la Nazca lines!) Look at the city plan above and see if you can spot the animal’s outline in Cusco's overall design.

Okay, if you missed it, take a look at this:

The Sacsayhuaman, or Imperial Palace, is the puma's head while the confluence of the two rivers is its tail. While jaguars roamed the other side of the Andes toward the Amazon, pumas or cougars roamed the Andes themselves.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Biloxi shaman-kings*?

As I’ve been working on my ethnographic sketch of the Biloxi nation to eventually accompany the Biloxi dictionary as my thesis, I’ve been synthesizing the works of various authors over the past century, pulling together some of the bits and pieces that have been written. Also, while in Washington DC to do research at the National Anthropological Archives this past summer, I ordered copies of all of Albert Gatschet’s notes, which finally arrived the other day. Gatschet was the first linguist to do fieldwork on Biloxi in 1886, and he determined that it was indeed a Siouan language, not Muskogean as previously assumed.

During my research, I’m finding mounting, primarily linguistic, clues as to the political make-up of pre-contact Biloxis. The Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (SECC), which incorporates many of the peoples and cultures traditionally associated with Mississippian or "mound-building" cultures, of which Biloxis were apparently a part, was largely agricultural and, as has happened to many agricultural economies through history, became socially non-egalitarian and stratified, including an elite class of ruling nobles. (This was nowhere better represented in the SECC than by Biloxis’ neighbors, Natchez, whose society was divided into an elite ruling nobility carried around on litters who referred to the "common" folks as "Stinkards.") There is mounting evidence that these ruling nobles were also members of an elite priesthood, which makes them quite similar to what we've learned about Mayan societies of ancient Mesoamerica. There is some linguistic evidence that Biloxis may have shared a similar system of nobles vs. commoners.

The evidence? In Gatschet’s materials, there is a term yaaxi (also ąyaaxi), literally 'mysterious' or 'sacred' person, which Gatschet states meant ‘conjurer’ but was also sometimes used for ‘chief.’ Traditional Native American shamans, usually referred to as medicine men or women, could be either beneficent healers of the sick and injured, or they could be malevolent "sorcerers" or "witches" who could cause illness or injury with the help of evil spirits. The term ‘conjurer’ of course is usually associated with the malevolent sorcerer. It thus appears in the data that Biloxi conjurer = chief. In Biloxi oral tradition, there is also reference to their chief being seated in an elevated position, perhaps on a raised chair, platform, or throne. Thus, I think it seems reasonable to hypothesize a Biloxi "shaman-king" who was not only ruler of his people but also the head healer and sorcerer.

As stated before, this would put the Biloxi chief in line with what anthropologists are learning of other SECC societies AND with ancient Mesoamerican societies. Imagine the power wielded by these kings, who could control their citizenry through its manipulation of its citizenry's fear of the unknown spirit world that the chief could control, and who, in line with typical shamanism, could "transform" into powerful animal spirits such as a panther (or jaguar in Mesoamerica) or a raptorial bird such as the eagle. What better way to "earn" the respect, obedience, and worship of your populace!

Anyway, this is what I've come up with through my research so far.
UPDATE: Please be aware that I employ the term "shaman-king" loosely as it is still very much debated as to whether the priests or sorcerers of Native America, or anywhere outside of Siberia where the term shaman originated (a Tungus term), should be called "shamans". They technically do not fit the specifications of the term as applied in Siberia. My colleague and friend, Alice Beck Kehoe, is adamantly opposed to this term being employed by anthropologists outside of the confines of Siberia.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Watson Brake
Oldest pyramidal complex in North America

The dates of Mississippian or "moundbuilding" culture seem to be getting pushed back further in time. While Poverty Point was previously considered the oldest "mound" site in North America, that distinguished honor now apparently belongs to Watson Brake, discovered about 30 years ago, also in Louisiana, near Monroe. While Poverty Point dates back to about 1500 BC, Watson Brake apparently dates back to about 3400 BC. Watson Brake is a collection of 11 pyramidal mounds arranged into a large oval apparently surrounding a large central plaza.

Watson Brake mound site

Unlike Poverty Point, as yet there are no signs of residential sites at Watson Brake. Anthropologists currently speculate that Watson Brake may have been a constructed site for a band or bands of hunter-gatherers to conglomerate, perhaps for ritual or ceremonial purposes.

Interestingly, Watson Brake seems to predate the Olmec civilization by almost 2,000 years. The Olmecs also erected "mounds," or earthen pyramids, thought to be the forerunners of later Mayan and Mexica (Aztec) stone pyramids. (Mounds, or pyramids, were also built in the Andes region of South America.) This leads me to wonder if these Watson Brake "moundbuilders" may have been related to Olmecs, perhaps their forebears who decided to travel farther south into southern Mexico and became the "mother culture" of the later Mayas and Aztecs. Or perhaps much of Native America descends from a common culture that began erecting pyramidal and other monumental structures as terrestrial representations of their view of the cosmos and spiritual beliefs.

More food for thought!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Lady of Cofitachequi

I’ve been doing some research and reading on the pre-Columbian southeast (US), partially in trying to piece together more of possible Biloxi sociopolitical history in an overall geopolitical and geocultural context. I’ve discovered some interesting tidbits brought down to us via the journals of the De Soto expeditions of the sixteenth century.

Among these tidbits is evidence of definite social stratification and class structure, including reverence for high chiefs or kings (and, at least in one case, a queen). One of these “paramount chiefs” who commanded a number of chiefdoms distributed over an area of at least one thousand square kilometers (Smith & Hally 1992) was named by the Spaniards “The Lady of Cofitachequi.” She was carried in a litter on the shoulders of some of her subordinates to meet the De Soto expedition. She was not treated very well by her Spanish visitors, however, and in fact was kidnapped by De Soto’s men after they pillaged her primary village and supplies. They apparently took her captive to use as a guide in locating another chiefdom at Coosa. At one point on the journey, she and one of her female slaves escaped, apparently never to be seen again by De Soto (luckily for her!).

Such encounters with Native American chiefs or kings (or queens) being carried on litters was apparently rather frequent, as the paramount chief at Coosa was also carried on a litter by his subordinates, and Natchez chiefs were also carried about on litters.

Natchez chief carried on litter

I find this particularly interesting in regards to the Native southeastern US, as there seems to be mounting evidence that the pre-Columbian Southeastern Cultural Complex (SECC) may have had more in common sociopolitically with Mesoamerica (Olmec and Maya) than we may have ever thought given the evidence of class distinction, high reverence for the ruling elite, and the layouts and monumental architecture of Mississippian and SECC cities (e.g., Cahokia, Moundville, Poverty Point).


Smith, M. and D. Hally. 1992. Chiefly Behavior: Evidence from Sixteenth Century Spanish Accounts. In Lords of the southeast: social inequality and the native elites of southeastern North America, 1992 Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association, No. 3. Barker, A. and T. Pauketat, eds.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Easter Island: From Paradise to Purgatory

I have been reading parts of Jared Diamond’s latest book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. I was intrigued by one chapter in which he talks about Easter Island (natively called Rapanui, cf. Hawaiian lapa nui, ‘big ridge or slope’). I’d known about EI’s large statues (moai) and its platforms (ahu) supporting the moai. I did not realize, however, until reading Diamond’s chapter, how much of an ecological disaster EI is. As Diamond puts it, "...whole forest gone, and all of its tree species extinct" (2005:107). EI was once a "diverse subtropical forest of tall trees and woody bushes" including among its native species perhaps the largest palm in the world, even larger than the now current largest palm, the Chilean palm. These palms measured about seven feet in circumference. EI was home to at least six native land birds, including heron, two species of parrot, and a barn owl. It was once the richest breeding ground in Polynesia and perhaps all of the Pacific.

Once Polynesians arrived on this remotest of the world’s islands from western Polynesia (most likely from Mangareva), deforestation began, apparently reaching its peak around 1400 AD. This total deforestation was due to various factors, not the least of which was to have wood for heating (EI is subtropical and drops to around 50° F in winter), rope-making (for pulling the huge moai), and canoe-building for transoceanic voyages. EI had had a strong civilization divided into territories ruled by chiefs who erected larger and larger moai, representing high-ranking ancestors, to assert their egoistic sense of power and dominance. There were 887 moai carved, averaging 12 tons each, often pulled for a distance of up to nine miles to be erected on an ahu. The largest moai built was 32 feet tall and weighed a mere 75 tons. (This apparently occurred just before deforestation reached its peak.) EI’s huge statues, by the way, although often touted as mysterious or even the products of "alien contact," had provenance in native Polynesia, as large statues were also found on Mangareva, the supposed origin of Easter Islanders, and large stone monuments were also constructed on Tonga, as Polynesians eventually sailed their way to all corners of the Pacific.

The irony of what EI was and what it soon became is exemplified by this cruel metaphor: after the construction of hundreds of massive multi-ton statues, there was a proliferation of little statues called moai kavakava "depicting starving people with hollow cheeks and protruding ribs. Captain Cook in 1774 described the islanders as ‘small, lean, timid, and miserable’" (Diamond 2005:109). The population declined by about 70% between 1400-1600, partly because the islanders turned to cannibalism for survival. Diamond states, "Oral traditions of the islanders are obsessed with cannibalism; the most inflammatory taunt that could be snarled at an enemy was ‘The flesh of your mother sticks between my teeth’" (2005:109).

I was frankly shocked by the details of Diamond’s investigation into EI’s ecological and sociocultural history. It is rather easy to equate EI’s downfall with what is happening now on a global scale, and Diamond makes this point loud and clear. If you’re curious to learn more, I highly recommend this book.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Maččan, Wa Xawwan, 'inn Makkeweks
Coyote, His Wife, and Makkeweks

A Rumsen Story

The following is another Rumsen Ohlone story. Makkeweks, by the way, is the name of a Rumsen mythological "sea monster." I just completed a draft of a paper with this text and a review of the grammar incorporated in it. I have not included the grammatical notes in this post.

Neeyink ku wattin kaawtak maččan. Neeyink ku was kayy wa xawwan. Kuu ku me koyypon. Neeyinkmur Makkeweks ku was koyypomp. Neeyink ku was maččan koyypomp. Neeyinkmur ku was Makkeweks koyypomp maySantopin. Neeyinkmur ‘innay Sa lačyankw maččan xawwa. Neeyinkmur lakkuy wa koyyponin. Maččan was kayy: tommins me ‘etten, xakkaw, ‘immey me ‘ettenakay 'išku kuu koyypon kuumur was monsemiki Makkeweks wamur ‘etten. Tanmur lakkuy, neey ku was liiw maččan, neey ku was wattis ‘ewwey, xuyyamur kuu tonn was sakkes lattap Makkeweks Sa lačyankw. Neeyink ku ‘ummap maččan, neeyinkmur naterimp xuya sottow, xuya saanay xuya sottow ‘išku muSSen neeyink ku muSSey. Neeyink ku xaal maččan wa ‘oxšenin, neeyink ku čunnuy, neeyink ku čitt. Neeyink ku puSSep(iki) wa xawwan neeyink ku kappes ‘attap xallu rottey mur wa čunn maččan, tanmur čitt.

1. Neey-ink ku watt-in kaaw-tak maččan.
then-? IRREAL come-PAST beach-LOC coyote

2. Neey-ink ku was kayy wa xawwan.
then-? IRREAL 3S-ACC say 3S-POSS wife

3. Kuu ku me koyypon.
NEG IRREAL 2S be.afraid

4. Neey-ink-mur Makkeweks ku was koyypo(n)-mp
then-?-? IRREAL 3S-ACC be.afraid-CAUS

5. Neey-ink ku was maččan koyypo(n)-mp.
then-? IRREAL 3S-ACC coyote be.afraid-CAUS

6. Neey-ink-mur ku was Makkeweks koyypo(n)-mp maySantop-in.
then-?-? IRREAL 3S-ACC be.afraid-CAUS rise.up-PAST

7. Neey-ink-mur ‘innay Sa lačyankw maččan xawwan
then-?-? fall DEF woman coyote wife

8. Neey-ink-mur lakkuy wa koyypon-in.
then-?-? die 3S be.afraid-PAST

9. Maččan was kayy: tommins me ‘etten, xakkaw, ‘immey me ‘etten-akay
coyote 3S-ACC say ? 2S-POSS uncle ? ? 2S-POSS uncle-PL

10. ‘išku kuu koyypon NEG be.afraid

11. kuu-mur was monsem-iki Makkeweks wa-mur ‘etten.
NEG-? 3S-ACC advise-PAST 3S-POSS-? uncle

12. Tan-mur lakkuy, neey ku was liiw maččan, neey ku was watt-is
when-? die then IRREAL 3S-ACC ? coyote then NEG 3S-ACC come-?

13. ‘ewwey, xuyya-mur kuu tonn was sakkes lattap Makkeweks Sa lačyankw.
far down-? NEG ? 3S-ACC ? DEF woman

14. Neey-ink ku ‘ummap maččan, neey-ink-mur nateri-mp
then-? IRREAL ? coyote then-?-? ?-CAUS

15. xuya sottow, xuya saanay xuya sottow ‘išku muSSen neey-ink ku muSSey.
down fire down side down fire get.warm then-? IRREAL warmed

16. Neey-ink ku xaal maččan wa ‘oxšen-in,
then-? IRREAL jump coyote 3S do.magic-PAST

17. neey-ink ku čunnuy, neey-ink ku čitt.
then-? IRREAL sing then-? IRREAL dance

18. Neey-ink ku puSSep-(iki) wa xawwan neey-ink ku kappeS ‘attap xallu
then-? IRREAL revive-(PAST) 3S-POSS wife then-? IRREAL three times jump

19. rottey mur wa čunn maččan, tan-mur čitt.
be ? 3S-POSS song coyote when-? dance

The coyotes went to the beach. Coyote told his wife not be afraid. But then she became afraid when Makkeweks rose up from the water, and she fell dead from fright. Coyote had told her that the sea lion, mussel, and crab were her uncles and not to be afraid, but he did not tell her that Makkeweks was her uncle. When she died, Coyote carried her on his back and laid her down on her side next to the fire so she could get warm. She got warm. Then Coyote jumped while performing a shamanic ritual, sang, and danced. His wife came back to life then Coyote jumped three times and sang and danced.

' = glottal stop (before all words beginning with vowel)
č = English ch
S = retroflex s (with tongue curled back in mouth)
š = English sh
x = no equivalent in English, but like an exaggerated h sound or like ch in German Bach

Monday, June 11, 2007

Biloxis and Aztecs

I recently came across an online version of a paper, apparently part of a book published in 1896 titled, Myths and Legends of Our Own Land by Charles Skinner. Skinner apparently wandered around the southeastern US in the late 1800s visiting various Amerindian tribes and collecting what he could of their stories and mythologies.

He briefly speaks of some Biloxi legends, although as far as I can tell, he doesn’t specify from whom these stories came. But there was an intriguing line in one of these stories:

The southern part of this country was once occupied by a people called the Biloxi, who had kept pace with the Aztecs in civilization.

This is particularly intriguing not only because I work on the Biloxi language and culture, but also because it may have broader implications for the civilizations of the entire native southeast and the Mississippian Culture, or what has often been termed the "Moundbuilder" culture.

Could Biloxis have had a civilization as advanced as that of Aztecs, assumedly including the building of monumental architecture such as pyramids, temples, and ceremonial plazas?

If you’ve looked at my earlier postings, you’ll find that I’ve talked about the Mississippian culture before, including their supposed primary centers, or cities, called Cahokia (in modern Illinois), Aztalan (in modern Wisconsin), and Poverty Point (in modern Louisiana), all more or less located close to the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

While Biloxis are a Siouan tribe who are thought to have migrated south from the Ohio Valley region at some point in ancient history, they did settle in the southeast in what is modern Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. They were close neighbors of Amerindian groups known to have had large settlements, social stratification (i.e., economic disparity), and a high reverence for their chiefs or ruling class, among these the Natchez and Caddo. It is known from post-contact written records that Biloxis had temples in which they placed the preserved skeletons of their chiefs. Interestingly, Biloxis referred to their chiefs and shamans with the same term, ąyaa xi, literally meaning ‘sacred’ or ‘mysterious’ person.

This tempts me to think that Biloxi chiefs may have often been shamans or a priestly class of rulers who could have been on a par with the Olmec and Maya "shaman-kings" of those Mesoamerican civilizations. This would certainly bode well with the idea of the Biloxi civilization having been on a par with the Aztec or even the earlier civilizations of Olmecs and Mayas.

There are theories out there that the Mississippian culture and its cities may have been influenced by those of Mesoamerica, or that there was at least contact between them and dissemination of knowledge. The fact that the cities of Mississippian culture share common traits with those of Mesoamerica, such as the building of pyramids (often referred to as "mounds" in regards to North America*), temples, and monumental plazas certainly makes these theories very plausible and intriguing.

This is all speculative at this point, of course, but it is definitely food for thought in trying to discern what Native America really looked like prior to 1492.

* I was recently reading a paper that discussed Olmec "mounds." It seems the first pyramids in Mesoamerica, in the ancient Mixe-Zoquean or Olmec world of the Isthmus, were also made of earth, just as those in the ancient cities of North America discussed above. It seems that, unless these pyramids are made of stone, they are habitually referred to as "mounds" by many archaeologists. Any archaeologists out there want to chime in on the use of this terminology?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

What does it mean, anyway?

I was looking into the name "Hawai’i" to try and find its meaning, if there was one. I checked the Hawaiian Dictionary by Pukui and Elbert (1986). This is what they say:

Elsewhere in Polynesia, Hawai’i or a cognate is the name of the underworld or of the ancestral home, but in Hawai’i the name has no meaning.

However, in an interesting little book by Leinani Melville titled, Children of the Rainbow, Melville states that he was told by a Hawaiian elder fisherwoman named Ta Ruahine the following (almost oddly scientific) creation story which may give some clue to the name’s actual origin and meaning:

At commencement of the earth’s history this blazing globe, a rumbling, quivering, ball of fire, sprouted from the sun, containing all of its fertilizing elements. The spinning orb, screaming and crackling, raced through space whistling among the spheres, roaring in the wind, radiating light as it flashed through the night of its creation. It was directed to this dark abyss in the vast emptiness of space by the mind, the will, and the energy of [ke Akua] God. The fireball gradually slowed down, found anchorage in this pit of heaven which was destined to become its permanent home, and began revolving slowly in unending circular movements.

When the flaming globe found its orbit, lava, seething within the pumping bowels of its raging surface, attracted from the colder realms of outer space a blanket of clouds laden with moisture. The earth’s electrical magnetism caused a downpour of nectar from the firmament. Thus rain was born. Crystal raindrops cascaded in glistening sheets upon this jagged, treeless crater, drenched its raw plains and quenced its flames. The rains swept tempestuously on to bathe the expansive depths of the earth’s sizzling cradle. Thus the ocean was born from the water that washed clean this crater of heaven. And thus Havai’i received its name from the moisture which mercifully cooled the steaming terrain.

This apparently relates to the word hāwai, which literally means “to generate steam in an earth oven by pouring on water; to purify with water" (Pukui & Elbert 1986:62). The little particle i at the end means, among other things, "by means of." Thus, according to this story, the name Hawai’i apparently originates from hāwai + i = Hawai’i, or "by means of purifying with [rain] water." (With shortening of the long vowel, which can happen with compounds in Hawaiian, e.g., 'ōlelo, speak; mo’olelo, story).

By the way, as it's about time for me to get Kansas registration and license (since my California one expires next month), I'm hoping to get a personalized license plate, which in Kansas has a picture of a bison on it, and I want to put KAOLELO on it. This means "the language" in Hawaiian, ka + 'ōlelo. (Can't do the glottal stop or macron signs, but oh well.) I'm hoping nobody else in Kansas will have Hawaiian words on a bison license plate! (And, since front license plates are not required in Kansas, I'll leave my old California plate on it, lest anyone forget where I'm from!)


Melville, Leinani (1969). Children of the Rainbow: The Religion, Legends, and Gods of Pre-Christian Hawaii. Wheaton: The Theosophical Publishing House.

Pukui, M. and S. Elbert (1986). Hawaiian Dictionary. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Archaeology, terminology, and racism

I’ve been reading another interesting book titled, Ancient Cahokia and the Mississippians by Timothy Pauketat (2004). There is one section that raises some key points regarding the terminology we employ for describing the archaeology of ancient Native North American civilizations, and particularly that of Cahokia.

Following are a few quotes from this book:

… the legacy of this nineteenth-century "Moundbuilder Myth" still lurks in the dark corners of archaeology, shrouded in some of the well-meaning interpretive schemes used by archaeologists and laypersons alike (see Kehoe 1998; Patterson 1995). In plain words, that legacy is racist. But it lives wherever archaeologists [or laypeople] understate the cultural achievements or de-emphasize the historical importance of First Nations peoples. It is hidden in words. For instance, Cahokia has been called a "mound center," a "town and mound" complex, or the "ceremonial center" of a "chiefdom." Few North American archaeologists call it a city. Fewer still would think of it as a kingdom or a state. Even the term "pyramid" is thought too immodest by many eastern North American archaeologists. They prefer to call these four-sided and flat-topped equivalents of stone pyramids in Mexico … mounds.

However, if Cahokia, Cahokians, and Cahokia’s mounds had been in ancient Mesopotamia, China, or Africa, archaeologists might not hesitate to identify
[Cahokian] pyramids in a city at the center of an early state….

…many North American archaeologists are "downsizers"
(Yoffee et al. 1999:267). We have inherited the conservative and subtly racist terminology of the nineteenth century (Kehoe 1998).

…cultural biases have crept into our interpretations of New World people, and the Moundbuilder Myth lives.

May I also proffer that some of this "subtly racist" terminology in regards to the New World, and particularly to the ancient civilizations of North America, arises from our own sense of guilt? I mean, the idea that our government attempted and performed veritable genocide on peoples who may have built Old World-type city-states does not sit well with most Euro-Americans today. Thus, "downsizing" their accomplishments (such as making a "pyramid" into a mere "mound" reminiscent of something a gopher can make) serves to somewhat assuage said guilt. Amazing how a manipulation of terminology can so subtly affect all aspects of society, from government right down to science. Linguistics can indeed turn ugly!

Citation references:

Kehoe, Alice B. 1998 The Land of Prehistory: A Critical History of American Archaeology. Routledge, London.

Patterson, Thomas C. 1995 Toward A Social History of Archaeology in the United States. Harcourt Brace and Company, Orlando, Florida.

Yoffee, Norman, Suzanne K. Fish, and George R. Milner 1999 Communidades, Ritualities, Chiefdoms: Social Evolution in the American Southwest and Southeast. In Great Towns and Regional Polities in the Prehistoric American Southwest and Southeast, edited by J.E. Neitzel, pp. 261-71. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Rumsen wordlist

For the gentleman who commented (and anyone else) who is interested in a Rumsen (Ohlone) wordlist, here it goes. It is far from complete, and I can add more later, but this is at least a start.


1. Doubled vowels are pronounced longer than short (single) ones.
2. Doubled consonants are pronounced longer than short (single) ones.
3. Words almost always stressed on first syllable.
4. ‘ represents a glottal stop, or closure of the vocal cords (always when a word begins with a vowel).
5. č = ch as in church.
6. r seems to represent a trill or tap, as in Spanish.
7. š = sh as in ship.
8. S = retroflex s with the tongue curled back.

9. T = retroflex t with the tongue curled back.
10. x = guttural kh sound as in German Bach.

abalone, ‘awlon
American, Mirkan
ant, ottowx
arm, ‘iS or ‘iss (also hand)
arrow, tepS
arroyo, rumme

bad, yečemest (cf. devil)
basket, čiiwin
beach, kaaw
bead, piSmin
bear, ‘orreS
big, ‘issak

blackberry, ‘ennen
blackbird, kulyan
boat, waarko (<>barco)
bow, lawwan
bread, šetxel
butterfly, siililkw
candy, tommoy
cheese, kiiSo
chicken, puyyito
chief, kayaramk/
cloud, meč
clover, muuren
coyote, (čačakiiy) maččan
crab, ‘ičaw

crazy, ixsist
crow, kakiriwx

dance, čitts
day, Tuuxs
deer, (čačakiiy) tooT
(lit. 'wild meat')

devil, yečem
dog, maččan or šoošo

door, ‘inx (also road)
eagle, siirix
earth, pirre

eel, očrowx
egg, motx

elk, čerič
evening, ‘uuyakaw
father, ‘appa

fire, sottow
fish, kinnir
flea, poor
flower, tiwis
fog, mačar
food, ‘amxayin

foot, korro (also leg)
forehead, ‘urri
friend, ‘ukx

frog, kolyoč or wakatsem
good, miSix

hair (head), ‘utt
hair (body), Taap
hand, ‘iS or ‘iss (also arm)
hawk, siwker

head, ‘utt (also hair on head)
hello! inkaté!
hill, čippil
horse, kawwayo
house, rukk

hummingbird, ‘ummun
husband, ‘uurin

knee, toolS
lake, čaapur
land, pirre (also year)

leg, korro (also foot)
man, mukiamk
medicine man, ‘utten
medicine woman, čaačas
Monterey, ‘Aččis(ta)
moon, ‘ismen*

mosquito, palakans
mother, ‘aan

mountain, huT
mushroom, ‘aasakwa
night, ‘orpetewx or muur
no, kuuwe
otter, šuušč
owl, tukkun
pelican, yeyexem
person, ‘amma or kata
pine, ‘ixx

pipe (smoking), kunuš
pretty, miššix (cf. good)
puma, xoom
raccoon, šašran

rain, ‘innam
rattlesnake, ‘ipx
redwood, xoop

river, waččor
rock, ‘irrek

road, ‘inx
salmon, ‘uurak
seagull, sawran or puuk

skunk, tixsin
sky, tapper or čarax
small, puSSut

smoke, kaar
snake, lisan
Spanish, kaSteyano
splitstick, tarran
squirrel, ‘eex
star, pak(a)rar

sun, 'ismen
thank you, šururu
tree, pookonin or tiš (cf. wood)
water, siiy
wife, xawwan

wild, čačakiiy
wind, teer(x)
wolf, ‘umx or ‘umux

woman, ačyamk
wood, tiš (also tree)
year, pirre
yes, ‘ee

To form plurals, add -kay to a noun ending in a vowel, and -akay to a noun ending in a consonant (e.g., 'appa-kay 'fathers' and tiš-akay 'trees').

Here are the numbers:

1. 'imxala
2. 'uttis
3. kappes
4. 'uutitim
5. xala'iss
6. xali-šakken
7. ('u)čumai-šakken
8. kapxamai-šakken
9. pak
10. tantsarkt

These data come from Harrington's microfiche files containing his notes from his work with the last native speaker of Rumsen, Isabel Meadows, in the 1930s. The modern spelling is derived from not only Harrington but from other academicians (Catherine Callaghan, Marc Okrand)who've worked on the language over the years and have done comparative analysis of the phonetics of other Ohlonean languages.

I will of course try and answer any questions as best I can based on my own research and what I know of the language so far.


* The noun 'ismen is best translated as something like "glowing orb." It doubles for both "sun" and "moon" although one can specify by: tuuxisiy 'ismen 'sun' ("daytime orb") and 'orpetewxiy 'ismen 'moon' ("nighttime orb").

The bear bites the moon

Rumsens referred to a lunar eclipse as "the bear biting the moon," e.g., "Čarwayink ku murrem ‘ismen, was ‘orreS kaas," 'Tomorrow the moon will darken; the bear will bite it."


Monday, February 19, 2007

Ayihįdi Ąyaa Tukpe
The Wolf that Became A Man

A Biloxi story

Ąyaadi wax ni yuke hą uxte yuke hą thao. Eyą kįhį yuke dixyį Ayihįdi tukanitu tukpe eyąhį. Ekeką tukanituyą wo yihi hą “Tukani ko eyą nąx ką nyidohi ąkahi ąkihi na,” hetu ką, “Ąkįksu wadi kawak yo mąki nani ąkihi utohohiye daha ąkux nedi,” edi. Ekehą petuxte wataye wax ade. Tukanituyą yihi hą wax ade o thao kįx ką ahįske wa ande tha duxke ande dehedhą ayukuni ti sahiye ti haitha duti ande ką, “Kô! Tukani kô tha ayukuni ti sahiye duti hande. Tukani ko haitha hande ko kadohoni hano,” kiyetu ką “E’ede cikuyixti,” hedi. Etike handa hi kiye hą kiya waxa ade. Ekehą itha kiyowo o kix ką ahįske wadi, cana duxke nedi. Eke hande ką cipuxi cupą įxkiyaduye ande ką etike tha duxke ne ką sidiyą kihanetu. “Xooxoo, tukani ko sidi oni wo,” kiyetu ką, “Xoxo, xoxo,” ex dedi. Ekehą Ayihį įcyoxti dedi. Ekeonidi ąyaa wax ni yuke oxtetu dixyį acka wohe ande xya, etu xa. Exa.

Some persons who were going hunting, having camped, shot a deer. As they were returning to camp with the game a wolf who had assumed the form of their mother’s brother reached there. They thought that he was indeed their mother’s brother, so they said, "As you, our mother’s brother, live yonder, we thought that we would be coming to see you." The supposed uncle replied, "I have a strong craving for fresh meat, and thinking that perhaps you had shot some animal and that its body was lying here, I have been following your trail until I got here."

Then the men made him watch the camp while they went hunting again. They thought that he was their mother’s brother, and while they were walking along in search of game they shot a deer and returned to camp. The Wolf was very greedy, so after flaying the deer he roasted the meat and was eating some of it while it was raw and bloody all over.

Observing this the men said: "Oh! mother’s brother, oh! he is eating the venison that is still raw, though it has been put on to roast. Perhaps he does not see that it is all bloody." But the wolf-man replied, "This way it is very sweet."

They said to him that he should remain, and they went hunting again. They shot more deer, carried them home on their backs, and found that the wolf-man was very greedy. Again he stood flaying the bodies. While he was doing this he had an old blanket wrapped around himself, and as he stood flaying the men discovered his tail. "Oh! Does mother’s brother have a tail?" said they to him. On hearing this, he said "Oh, oh!" and departed. Behold he departed as a very aged male wolf. Therefore when men go hunting and camp there is usually the barking of wolves nearby they say. That is all.