…este nak kērrvlket hvsoss-elecv sehokēpofv tat,
nake kērrulke ensukcv fvcfvkē omet sehok’t omvtēt omēs.
…and when gitlalgi (“knowers”) were in the southeast,
it was as if their pockets were full [of knowledge].
That’s from “Belief about the ihosá” [PDF]. Creek Indians gave the name ihosá to the being that causes people to get confused and lose their way in the woods. But for those who know, the ihosá can also give power.
The “pockets” mentioned in the text would have resembled the beaded pouch shown in the picture. These were usually attached to a broad, decorated shoulder strap. In fact, the colors in this pouch are subdued compared to most I’ve seen. I guess old-time Creek hunters would not have gone for Mossy Oak gear. (This pouch is further described here, although it’s wise to be skeptical about the specific provenance, i.e., “made for Tuskina, Chief of the Creek Indians, by his daughter”.) Continue reading
One of the Indian phrases we white folks like to throw around now and again is the name “Long Man” or “Long Person” for a river. We tend to do this with the idea that Indians had some “primitive” idea of the river as a god of some kind. The fact is, the name and idea of a “Long Man” only occurred in some Indian cultures, in specific contexts.
Cherokee Indians do have a name for the conscious spirit of a river or stream, whose voice is said to speak in the waterfalls and rapids. Such a spirit is called ᏴᏫ ᎬᎾᎯᏔ (yvwi gvnahita), a long man or long person. In a 1900 report, ethnographer James Mooney referred to this being as a “river god,” but that seems to be a lazy and inaccurate comparison. I’ve found no evidence that Cherokees worshipped or sacrificed to these beings. Rather, they believed (and I suppose still believe) that a river has a consciousness, the wisdom of great age, and a capacity to teach lessons to receptive humans. Continue reading
Comrade Kevin mentioned (here) that the name Sylacauga (a city in Alabama) is often translated as “Buzzard Roost.” That reminded me of a historical tradition in Atlanta that the city occupies the site of “Indian towns” called Buzzard Roost and Standing Peachtree.
For now I’ll ignore Standing Peachtree and concentrate on Buzzard Roost.1
A historical marker near Atlanta spells the Muskogee (Creek Indian) name for Buzzard Roost as Sulacauga. That suggests a close tie between Atlanta’s Buzzard Roost and Alabama’s Sylacauga (pronounced “sil-la-caw-ga”).
And sure enough, a Creek-English dictionary derives the place name Sylacauga from the Creek sule-kake (sounds like “so-lée-gáh-kee”), “two buzzards sitting.” Continue reading
As a boy I camped out a time or two at Lake Tobesofkee Recreation Area, a nice spot beside a reservoir near Macon, Georgia. The four-syllable name [to-bə-SAF-ki] is a corrupt form of something in the Muskogee (Creek Indian) language. Recently I’ve done some reading on what the original Muskogee name might have been.
(The Muskogee name applied to a creek, not to the lake. Lake Tobesofkee is one of a series of reservoirs created by damming Tobesofkee Creek in the 1960s.)
First we have variant spellings of the name to deal with. Continue reading
I’ve been thinking lately about the petty crimes we Americans have performed on place names that come from Indian languages. There are a ton of them, from Massachusetts to Seattle, and from Alabama to Wyoming.
Confronted with these mysterious names (which we white folks made even more mysterious by corrupt pronunciation), some historians and other writers have indulged in making up stories about where the names came from. Continue reading
While making my case for a Creek/Muskogee origin of “how,” I also mentioned that an 1872 document uses the stereotypical “ugh” to represent speech at a Creek Indian council. (See here.) But this witness (Michael Johnston Kenan) was describing events that occurred almost half a century before he wrote them down in 1872. So it seems likely that the omnipresent “ugh” had distorted Kenan’s memory of the actual Creek expressions.
Where did this odd little syllable come from? Was it an attempt to represent an actual word from a specific Indian language?
My working hypothesis is that “ugh” sprang from the fertile imagination of James Fenimore Cooper, who used it in his fiction to signal an essential difference between Indians and non-Indians. The popularity of Cooper’s tales helped make “ugh” the most widely recognized (and most demeaning) marker of “Indian” speech. Continue reading
In a previous post about the stereotyped Indian utterances “how” and “ugh,” I noted that “how” appears to be derived from the Muskogee Creek word hvo (pronounced “haw”).
I could be wrong. Back in 1986, Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope argued for another group of American Indian languages. Someone had asked Adams whether Indians ever really used “how” as a greeting. He replied that no, they didn’t, but that in several Siouan languages of the Great Plains (Lakota, Dakota, and Omaha), there is a word that serves as “a sort of all-purpose introductory adverb or interjection.” That word is variously spelled ho, hao, hau, or howo.
The resemblance to Creek hvo, another multi-purpose affirmative interjection, is striking. Even though the Creek language is only distantly related to the Siouan languages, much like English is related to Persian.
But wait a minute, I hear you saying. Cecil Adams is just this guy who churns out snarky columns for “alternative” newspapers. A self-appointed know-it-all. Why are you taking him seriously? Continue reading
To learn a language is to gain another soul. Charlemagne is supposed to have said that, or something like it, probably in Old High German. I’ve always admired the saying, and I believe it.
F’rinstance, when I speak German (the only language besides English that I’m anything like fluent in), I often find myself acting and feeling like a different person. A younger, less knowing person, I think — possibly because my German is far less sophisticated than my English, and I can’t speak the language without thinking in it.
Today I happened on The Language Nest, a blog by Jack Martin of William & Mary College. He’s a linguist who studies “endangered languages, especially those native to the southeastern United States.” I have a copy of the dictionary he co-authored of Creek/Muskogee, the principal language of Alabama until about 1800 (and a language I’m determined to learn).
The most recent posts cover some interesting online tools I didn’t know about, and that don’t apply only to language learning: namely, an online drawing program, image editing program, T-shirt printing service, and comic strip generator for people who can’t draw.
I’m puzzled by the signatures I’m seeing on official documents in Spanish from the early 1800s. They seem to contradict some of what I was taught about how Spanish surnames work.
My understanding is that Spanish speakers don’t use their “last” name by itself. This is because they append their mother’s surname after their father’s, occasionally with a de or y between them. So the author of Don Quixote had a father named Cervantes who married the daughter of a man named Saavedra; his son was Miguel Cervantes y Saavedra. But when referred to by a single surname, he’s Cervantes, not Saavedra.
Here’s why I’m puzzled. In 1813 the captain-general of Cuba was named Juan Ruíz de Apodaca, so his paternal surname was Ruíz. Yet he signs himself “Apodaca” alone. My only guess as to the reason is the de in front of his maternal surname, suggesting that his mother’s family was ennobled, so that was the name he preferred to display. It’s just a guess, and not one I’m confident of.
The captain-general supervised the commandant of Pensacola (hence governor of West Florida), a man named Mateo Gonzales Manrique — so, one would assume, “Gonzales” for short. He doesn’t sign himself “Manrique” alone, but “Manrique” is always present, both in his own signature and in his correspondents’ references to him. His signature normally reads “Mateo Gonzs Manrique.”
The abbreviation could be explained by the fact that “Gonzales” is among the most common Spanish surnames, so it can safely be abbreviated (just as English “William” often became “Wm.”). Still, I’m beginning to doubt that Anglo-American references to this man as “Governor Manrique” were founded on ignorance of Spanish protocol, as I’d assumed. Maybe protocol has changed since the early 1800s.
It’s not a burning issue, so I’m not spending research time on it. But it does nag at me, and I’d love to have someone come along and shed light on the subject.