What language did American Indians speak before English?
This is believed to be what the American Indians were speaking when settles, conquistadors, conquerors, and spies alike arrived on these shores.
Although there are now a plethora of resources to draw from that lend credence to this, I would merely like to dwell on the Los Lunas Decalogue Stone.
Found in New Mexico, inscribed upon it are the Ten Commandments. Yes, those commandments given to the Hebrews by The Most High himself.
Although the customs of the American Indians closely still resembled their Hebrew ancestors, their speech slightly differed. After the scattering of the tribes across the land, the language was broken up into different dialects. Sources I’ve come across claim Algonquin and Chippewa remain closely intact with their original spoken vibrations.
Some words, however, have stood the test of time. “Hallelujah” is one of these.
According to Etymologyonline.com, “halleluiah, 1530s” from the “Late Latin hallelujah, alleluia” from a Greek “allelouia” has the ultimate Hebrew root of “hallalu-yah” in deference for a one ‘Jehovah’. It goes on to state that from “hallalu, plural imperative of hallel ‘to praise’ also ‘song of praise’ from hillel ‘he praised’”. The second element is claimed to be for ‘yah’, short for a ‘yahweh’ – although judging by my demeanor of written word you may be able to tell I cast doubt upon these names.
In James Adair’s 1775 The History of the American Indians…he makes the argument that the American Indians are in fact The Lost 10 Tribes of Israel. I’ve been studying this topic for maybe three years now and would agree with Mr. Adair along with countless other scholars and authors of earlier centuries, but as we are not yet there in our research on this site – I will refrain from adding my personal feelings or anecdotals too heavily in this article.
On page 214, “on the descent of the American Indians from the Jews”, Adair tells an account witnessed of the South American Indian culture.
“…Late in his description of America, and Escarbotus, assure us, they often heard the South American Indians to repeat the sacred word Halleluiah, which made them admire how they first attained it. And Malvenda says, that the natives of St. Michael had tomb-stones, which the Spainards digged up, with several ancient Hebrew characters upon them, as, ‘Why is God gone away?’ And, ‘He is dead, God knows.’
Had his curiosity induced him to transcribe the epitaph, it would have given more satisfaction; for, as they yet repeat the divine essential name, To He (ta) Wah, so as not to prophane it, when they mourn for their dead, it is probable, they could write or engrave it, after the like manner, when they first arrived on this main continent.”
To He (ta) Wah (pronunciation differences of the author, speaker, listener and interpreters aside) sounds similar to “Wakan Tanka” to me – it being “The Great Spirit” in Lakota. Or, the “Wakonda” of the “Omaha, Osage, and Ponca” tribes. And yes, Wakonda does sound similar to Marvel’s Wakanda.
So, if you’re ever wondering where the word Wakanda comes from…there is a very informative video on this subject by Kurimeo Ahau on YouTube.
But, as for that topics further discussion, that is a whole ‘nother can of worms that we will not get into today.
Another word I would like to focus on is in relation to this ‘Yahweh’. The “hypothetical reconstruction of the tetragrammaton” YHWH as “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” aside, let’s look at the “Hawah”. Hawah, an “earlier form of hayah ‘was,’ in the sense of ‘the one who is, the existing.’”
Or in laymen’s terms, “he exists”.
In this case, let us presume that the “he” exists is in reference to the creator.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever listened to American Indian music extensively, but I happen to have a penchant for Lakota Sioux music. Many tribes, as mentioned above, have differing dialects – but in most Lakota prayer chorus the refrain “haya haya”, or “hey hey yo” can be found. There are observed gender differences of course, but as I listen to primary male singers due to their abundance, this is the version I always hear.
A great example of this is the Sioux Sacred Ceremony Chant on YouTube.
Around 3:15 in the video, the singer begins to say “Ya Heya Heya, Ya Heya Heya ya ya…” which in context, is praise to the creator that “he exists”. Earlier in the song the singer asks The Great Spirit (Wakan Tanka) and Tunkasila (The Grandfather) to take pity on (us), because the “relatives are pitiful”.
It is a petition. That requests mercy from the creator, and praises its divine existence – hayah hayah!
Let’s move on to Disney’s Pocahontas.
Which might I add, really surprised me how much of this story wasn’t based on fiction. I’ve come across The Powhatan, ‘Pocahontas’ and John Smith numerous times in my research of 1607 Jamestown and Virginia in general. My matrilineal side descends from Virginia, and we are Virginia Indians – my ancestors not too far from the Powhattan Confederacy boarders. On some old maps, those territories are even within the boundaries.
Anywho, I should set this up a bit. So, The Powhatan Confederacy was a group of about “30 different bands and 200 villages in the part of North America that now is Virginia.”* And in case you were wondering, Chief Powhatan, or King Powhatan’s real name was Chief Wahunsonakok.
John Smith and the rest of the ‘settlers’ found this too difficult to pronounce, and chose instead to call him by his tribal name. The word Powhatan means “at the falls”. * This possibly being reference to their region of Tidewater in Virginia, and their preference for villages along the river or near a spring of water.
*Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes (Revised Edition) by Carl Waldman
The Powhatan confederacy chiefly spoke Algonkin, although others in the area spoke Siouan and Iroquoian dialects. Before I get into the clip, I would just like to mention that I have yet to read John Smith’s 1627 The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England and the Summer Isles… but once I do will do a follow-up article solely about him. The captain is a very…controversial figure in Virginian history.
He is often painted as a braggart and liar. In one instance, I read that he was so disliked by his fellow comrades that there was an attempt on his life. After this attempt, he left for England, never to return.
(Quoted from *Virginia The New Dominion: “…But at this critical juncture, Smith sustained a painful and almost fatal injury. He was asleep in his boat, returning from the falls of the James, when someone ‘accidentally’ fired his powder.
It ‘tore the flesh from his bodie and thighs 9 to 10 inches square…To quench the tormenting fire, frying him in his clothes, he leaped over board in the deepe river, where ere they could recover him, he was neere drownd.”)
There is also the issue of his relationship with Chief Wahunsonakok’s favored daughter Matoaka, or ‘Pocahontas’. Despite Smith’s alleged claims that the 12-13-year-old girl was irrevocably smitten and in love with the 27-year-old Yeoman, maybe that wasn’t so. Yes, Matoaka did save Smith’s life on two different occasions – even spiriting through the forest one late night to warn him of an impending attack from her father. *
“During that winter, Pocahontas saved Captain Smith for the second time. Her father, Powhatan, determined to capture Smith again by pretending friendship. Powhatan’s warriors were to pounce on him while he was dining as Powhatan’s guest, on venison, turkey, and bread. Pocahontas learned of the plot and stole through the woods at night to Smith’s camp and gave the warning, risking death at the hands of her father, as Smith said, in doing so, Smith escaped.”
But upon meeting Smith again during her tour of England as a married woman years later, Matoaka expressed that she has loved Smith “as a father”.*
“Smith had renewed his acquaintance with her, after a lapse of seven years. He greeted her ‘with a modest salutation,’ but she said nothing and ‘turned about, obscured her face as not seeming well contented.’ Smith came back two or three hours later, and her attitude was more cordial. She revealed that she had long understood that Smith was dead. They chatted of old times, and she said she would call him ‘father,’ since Smith, she asserted, had called Powhatan ‘father’.”
*Virginia: The New Dominion, A History from 1607 to the Present by Virginius Dabney.
So clearly, there was some sort of misunderstanding resulting in a disconnect of perceived intimacy between the two (in my humble opinion).
Regardless, let’s look at the opening Attanoughkomouck song in the movie, “Steady as the Beating Drum”.
A beating drum is heard over the title screen as the first words spoken are “Hega hega Ya-hi-ye hega, Ya-hi-ye-ne-he Hega”. Note: I am using the sing-a-long version.
Although written as “Hega” it is pronounced like “Haya”. It also has the same sort of chorus refrain as the Lakota song, “heya heya ya”.
As mentioned earlier, The Powhatan Confederacy was made up of Algonkin speakers, so the song is in Powhatan/Algonkin. John Smith was said to have learned a Powhatan pidgin that is now extinct, and I have to wonder if these are the referenced words sprinkled about in the Disney film.
The last video I’d like to leave off with is a live performance of “Hey Ya!” by Outkast. In the live performance during an award show, a voice says “the natives are definitely restless” while low “hey ya” are repeated in a chant. The stage is dark, but women adorned in green fringe with feathers in their hair dance in front of a teepee with a yellow Thunderbird on it.
To some, these videos may just seem like a random array of media thrown together to prove a point. To others, they will understand where I am getting at (provided I explained this adequately enough). We still have about 500 years of history to get through concerning the America’s, but as etymology interests me…I thought I would write an article on this topic today.
So, what does Hayah really mean?
Are the American Indians the biblical 10 lost tribes of Israel?
Where is the true Israel?
Is it in Peru? Is it, perhaps, Perusalem? Cusco, Peru being the Navel of the World.
These are things I need to continue to dig on, and work through in research. But, tell me your thoughts.
Have you found American Indian languages to be related in some way? What do you know about the real-life ‘Pocahontas’ story? What is your favorite Virginia history book?
Leave your answers in the comment section below, and be sure to come back for more information on early America and its aboriginal inhabitants!
Stories From the New World
⊙ Remember, this world is a shadow of the real one.