I find myself traveling rather frequently to the new Duwamish Tribal Longhouse down on West Marginal Way in West Seattle. I’m taking their class in the Lushootseed language, the native tongue of the Puget Sound region. It’s a tough language to learn but I’m making a little headway, thanks to the gentle but persistent teachings of my instructor, Didahalqid.
“Wi’aats!” means either “Shout!” or “Hello.” The Duwamish don’t use a formal greeting like English does, so their old way of answering the telephone will have to do. When old-fashioned telephones were being strung around Washington State a hundred and more years ago, the Duwamish who got one did what everyone else did in those days: they shouted to be heard across a wired network that barely sent an audible signal to the other end. Hence, “Wi’aats!” was as much an instruction as a greeting. Before that time, it must have been interesting to live in a culture where you never had to say hello to anyone. People must have lived closely together in tight-knit communities and there was never a need to re-introduce yourself with a “Hello!”
The Duwamish don’t have an exact word for “Goodbye,” either. I like their alternative, “Hoi’,” which translates best as “Next time.”
Follow this link to check out what’s going on at the Longhouse.