As time goes by, in our tribe, things change. My Dad was one of the last people to speak our native language. We call our language Wyape Tipi, which literally means "The Language of the humans." There are some people who make sounds and can string words together (like me) but the flowing voices are almost gone.
Not too long ago we were talking about greetings. In our language it is very formal and the greeting depends on whether the person being greeted is sitting, standing or lying down. Then there are the short cut greetings that are less formal but are easier to remember. So we talked about the less formal greetings among friends. My Dad explained to me that the easiest is probably "Howka CheKall." Howka means hello and CheKall means friend.
He told me how, when he was a teenager, he went to Indian radio school in Phoenix. There were many Indians there but none from his tribe. Other tribes had many people there so they would be speaking to each other in their own languages. My Dad was pretty much alone. One day one of the students came to my Dad and said "Are you a mission?" In those days the term Mission Indian meant Southern California Indian. It turns out the fellow was from one of the Reservations in San Diego county, but not one of my Dadís tribe, but it was still the same area and they did know people in common. After a while the guy said "Howka CheKallAs." Being from a different tribe he did not speak my Dadís language and he might have pronounced it wrong but my Dad didnít feel so alone after that.
When the people I know talk to each other they donít stare at each other but just talk as they look over the world. So my Dad and I just stared off and talked. My Dad suddenly stopped talking. I looked over and saw him staring at some fixed point far in the distance. His voice slowed and he said. "When I was young I heard that all the time. People would walk over and smile and say Ďhello friend.í You would hear that over and over throughout the day as people gathered. Just people here and there saying it." His face then cracked a slight smile. Then the smile left and he spoke again with sadness in his voice. "I havenít heard it in years."
So I say to whoever is reading this, so that the language of the humans will not truly be gone.
One day when the family was discussing an issue and my father said, "Somebody said goin; have ham and eggs this morning." He said it with a very strange accent. I didn't understand what he meant. So I asked him about it. He said that one morning at Indian school someone woke him up by using that expression. I still didn't get it so he told the following story.
My Father, somehow, ended up going to a Indian radio school in Phoenix, Arizona. Most people didnít go to this radio school so it was a rare school to go to.
At Indian school there were individuals from many tribes attending. English was the common language but most spoke English in the distinctive accent of whatever tribe they came from. Since my Father was already working Civil Service when he went to the school his pay was suppose to be the same. The only way they could do that was make him a forman. My Father became foreman of the dorm and would awake the others by saying, "Get up! Get up! Somebody said we're going have ham and eggs this morning!"
This was funny because all they had to eat was soup and powdered eggs. They never had ham and real eggs so my Father was teasing the guys. One day he overslept and found one of the guys waking him up with the same joke but he had a heavy accent and it is the accent my Father used when he told ust.
Now when a member of the family wants something that can't be had it is referred to as "ham and eggs."
My Grandmother, and her sisters, spoke a very strange dialect of Spanish. They could talk to Mexicans but the dialect was different. They learned Spanish from their Father who learned it from his adopted Father. They were all native Californians and I think that the language was more Spanish than Mexican.
One word that stuck in my mind was "Pen-Keet." It sounds Spanish but my Grandmother and her sisters would weave English, Indian and Spanish together when they spoke, sometimes in the same sentence. Pen-Keet was used in the following manner.
"I know that the store is closed today but lets go by anyway. Pen-Keet it might be open."
It meant something like "just maybe." If anyone knows if it is Spanish, I would like to find out. The general structure of word does not fit our tribal language but there are exceptions.
***************************** Riddle Solved *****************
A friend of the family just read this story and knew the answer. Her grandmother would use the Spanish term "Quien Quite" in exactly the same manner. It sounds almost the same and I could have heard it wrong since this was 40 years ago. She said that it is slang and she has not heard anyone else use the term in contemporary times.
I know that in San Diego some old time Spanish families have used strange terms. I had a friend who's grandmother also used an expression that no one else used. He eventually journeyed to Spain and asked about the term. They did know the phrase but was in use several hundred years ago.
Now I know that it is a Spanish term but it may be archaic in origin.
Linguists say that 1% of a language will match another just through random chance. The verb "to cut" is the same in my language. "Halasee to cut na." Means "I am going to cut willows."
My Grandmother was born in 1898 and was raised in the Mesa Grande Reservation in the mountains of San Diego County. She later moved to the Captain Grande Reservation and finally settled in the Barona Reservation. She told me many stories and tales from tribal lore.
She would show us how she used to dance. She would hum a tune of music that was contemporary in her time. The words were "Put your little foot, put your little foot, put your little foot right in." She would lift the hem of her long dress and twirl about the room. I know today that the music and dance steps are kept someplace. I'm sure that they could be learned again.
She would also sing a song that the Indians of the San Diego Mission composed. It was in Spanish (Indians were not allowed to sing in their own language). The song was a tragedy of a young girl named Marcalina. She was a very charming girl who always had a smile and people were cheered by her presence. We have probably all met someone like her. When my Grandmother told the story and sang the associated song, in my mind I knew Marcalina.
One day the mission was raided by the wild Indians from Yuma. Marcalina was carried away and was never seen again. The Indians at the mission were totally helpless, they could do nothing to save Marcalina. They made the song so the Indians would always know about the loss of Marcalina.
My Grandmother learned the song as a child. She said her old Uncle would sing the song. She didn't really like the song but her Uncle had no teeth and was short winded. She liked to hear him huff and puff and mumble the words. She remembered that she and her sisters would ask their Uncle to sing the song from time to time. He sang to recall the loss of Marcalina and she later felt bad that she only listened because he was funny.
I don't remember the song and neither does anyone else.
Marcalina is gone. In the song I said Pablocita but it was suppose to be pobrecita.†