Written by: Diego Rodriquez and Sophie Bégin
Spose maika tumtum chako hahakl maika iskum chee kumtux.
These are words which were once used over 200 years ago and by Vancouver residents. The origin of the language is to me, one of two interesting parts of Henry Tsang’s piece ‘Welcome to the land of light’.
Used to facilitate communication between multiple indigenous cultures, the Chinook Jargon was used in the 19th century in Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska. It was made up of various spoken languages used by inhabitants of the region (today’s False Creek) and eventually evolved to incorporating French, English and Asian words. Putting the history into perspective, I’m forced to imagine Vancouver as it once was. No buildings, no roads, no electricity, no written municipality. I imagine co-existence, which incorporates the exchange of traditions and values. It’s a narrative that is scarcely known, but I can’t help but look to it for comfort. It’s a pleasant history.
Tsang re-introduces us to this history by juxtaposing text from the Chinook Jargon and placing it along its English translation. The words read like a poem: Greetings good you arrive here where the light be under land future it be now here you begin live like new come to time where people talk different but good together if you heart mind open you receive new knowledge you have same electric eye and heart mind and talk sound you live fast like light see talk be here there and everywhere one time us make this community good indeed you not afraid here here you begin live like chief world same like in you hand.
The juxtaposing and choice of words become a second element to appreciate. Using a language of the past, the text draws us in to the future and sets our mind on community. One where many people will inhabit over the years. Politically, the piece reminds us of a functional co-existence which we can go to for guidance. A mastery of bridging the past, present and future.
A link to the this piece on the registry as well as Henry Tsang’s website: