By Henry Tsang
A permanent public art installation with aluminum letters and fibre optic lighting installed December 1997 on Drake Street Plaza, Vancouver
WELCOME TO THE LAND OF LIGHT is positioned along 100 metres of the seawall handrail along False Creek North in downtown Vancouver. This public artwork speaks about how technology promises to bring cultures together in the new global village currently being built on the site of the former Expo ’86 fairgrounds. The languages employed are Chinook Jargon, an intercultural pidgin used extensively along the West Coast during the 19th Century; and English, which replaced the Jargon as the dominant spoken language of the west coast in the 20th Century. Underscoring the text is a fibre optic cable which is activated at night to cast a line of colourful light, a reference to the state-of-the-art telecommunications infrastructure that makes this area one of the world’s first fibre optic communities.
The juxtaposition of English and Chinook Jargon in WELCOME TO THE LAND OF LIGHT operates as a metaphor for the ongoing development of intercultural communications in this region. It is a monument to those who have lived here and those who will arrive in the future to call this place their home.
Chinook Jargon is a 19th Century lingua franca that developed out of the need for cross-cultural and especially commercial exchange. Most of the words in this trade language can be traced to the dialect of the Chinook nation in Oregon, whose reputation as consummate traders was acknowledged by American merchants who set up one of the first trading posts on the west coast, Fort Astoria, near the mouth of the Columbia River. Other key elements of Chinook Jargon were English, French and Nuu-chah-nulth. It has been estimated that up to one million speakers used the Jargon over an area that stretched from the Pacific coast to the Rocky Mountains, from the Alaskan panhandle to northern California.
Like any pidgin, Chinook Jargon was dynamic and flexible, absorbing different cultural systems of naming as more and more peoples from around the world came to settle on the west coast. The Jargon allowed for relationships – economic, spiritual, and personal – to develop between people from different backgrounds. For children in households where the Jargon was the common language, it was the mother tongue, and given a few more generations, perhaps creolization may have developed. However, this was not to be, due to events ranging from the discovery of gold deposits that shifted the emphasis on the fur trade to that of mineral speculation, the smallpox and influenza epidemics that decimated the First Peoples, and the construction of transcontinental railways from which poured ever-larger numbers of immigrants and that allowed the west coast to be linked directly to eastern North American interests. In the first half of the 20th Century, the Jargon fell out of common use, replaced by the currently dominant English language. Perhaps later in the 21st Century we will experience another shift in social and cultural relations that will bring forth yet another dominant language.
Commissioned by Concord Pacific Developments Corporation for the City of Vancouver (Public Art Program). Special thanks to Duane Pasco and Jay Powell for their translation and expertise in Chinook Jargon.
Examples of Chinook Jargon with English translations:
- Klahowya- Hello
- Wawa- Talk
- Tillikum- People, friends
- Skookum- Strong
- Huy Huy- Trade, barter
- Kloshe- Good, etc.
- Muckamuck- Eat, Drink
- Siwash- Indian/First Nations
- Sahali- Above, heavens, sky
- Cultus- Good for nothing
- Tum Tum- Heart, Mind, Emotions
- Saltchuck- Salt water
- Tamahnous- Supernatural
- Hee Hee- Laugh
Texts used in WELCOME TO THE LAND OF LIGHT
Klahowya! Kloshe maika ko yukwa, ka towagh mitlite keekwullie illahee.
Greetings! Good you arrive here, where light be under land.
Alki yaka alta yukwa. Yukwa, maika elip mitlite kahkwa chee.
Future it be now. Here, you begin live like new.
Chako kopa laly ka tillikums wawa huloima, keschi kloshe kunamokst.
Come to time where people talk different but good together.
Spose maika tumtum chako hahlakl, maika iskum chee kumtux.
If you heart mind open, you receive new knowledge.
Maika mitlite kahkwa elektlik eye pe elektlik tumtum pe elektlik wawa latlah.
You have same like electric eye and heart mind and talk sound.
Maika mitlite hyak kahkwa towagh.
You live fast like light.
Nanitch wawa mitlite yukwa, yahwa pe konaway ka kopa ikt laly.
See talk be here there and everywhere at one time.
Nesaika mamook okoke town kloshe, nawitka. Maika halo kwass yukwa.
Us make this community good indeed. You not afraid here.
Yukwa maika elip mitlite kahkwa tyee. Konaway illahee kahkwa kopa maika lamah. Here, you begin live like chief. World same like in you hand.
The text is originally from an article that appeared in Front Magazine (1988). Reprinted with permission of the author.
The City of Vancouver’s Public Art Program celebrates 25 years of creating extraordinary artworks for public spaces. Every two weeks during 2016 we’ll share the story of a unique artwork created through the program. Over 260 pieces have been commissioned since 1991 through civic initiatives, community grants or private sector rezoning requirements. These are only a few of the key pieces that have helped to define Vancouver as a unique place and a world-class city for public art!