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"Witchi Tai" by Jim Pepper and the NAC


I was listening to this song "Witchi Tai" (1969), from Jim Pepper (1941-1992), Kaw-Creek jazz musician, this morning. I used to hear it a long time ago. Once in my dad's car. It is a positive, good-feeling song of endurance and celebration. Jim Pepper fused his jazz with the Native American Church song from his Kaw grandfather.



There are many ways to spell the lyrics. Here is one of them:

=

Witchi tai tai
Himora
Horanika Horanika
Hay nay Hay Nay
Nowa(y)

Water Spirit feelin' springin' round my head,
Makes me feel glad that I'm not dead

=

I sing this a lot to myself sometimes.

This song was based on a NAC song passed to Jim from his Kansa/Kanza/Kaw grandfather. Some say the song is Kanza, others say Comanche. There are lots of variants out there on the web.

The English is not a direct translation of the Indian words, but more an expression of the feeling in them. This is a watercolor painting I did in 1985; it is called "A Good Meeting." The Water Spirit is connected to the Peyote. That Water Bird coming out of the tipi is connected to the medicine, and to the water. All night there is no water, it is brought in only in the morning as the ceremony closes. Water is sacred, holy; it is Life.



"A Good Meeting," by Lance Foster, 1985

The Kansa originally lived in Kansas but were moved to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. Their language is of the Siouan family, like my own tribal language Ioway-Otoe. Kansa is more closely related to Omaha and Ponca though, along with Osage and Quapaw. The Kanza we called Kantha, "fast," as they were good runners before the horse came. The Kansa originally lived in the area of Kansas later assigned to the Sac and Fox and Ioway.

I cannot say what the words mean, but I can offer some observations, some thoughts. First I might re-write the spelling perhaps this way, based on listening to the song in various videos and carefully watching Pepper's mouth (for example the himora is heard by some people as gimora, but you can see it is h and not g in the vids):



wichitai ta
himora
ho ra nika (sometimes niko)
ho ra nika
he ne he ne
nowe (and sometimes nowa)

Except for the first line, some of the words could come from Kanza. For example, Nika means "man" or "human being" in Kanza. "Ho ra nika" seems like a greeting to a man, "Greetings to you Man," perhaps Grandfather Peyote talking or being spoken to. The first line might be about the Wichita people, "Wichita there," as the Peyote Road came to the tribes of Oklahoma, through the Wichita and Comanche, originally from Texas and Mexico in the late 1800s. I can't think what himora might mean, though it looks Siouan-Kanza. The last part, hey ney hey ney noway (or nowa), is a conventional last line composed of vocables used in many peyote songs.

But if you want to imagine what Jim Pepper's grandfather's original song might have sounded more like in the tipi during an all night meeting, listen to the very first part of Pepper's album below. It is different than the jazz fusion version. The words too. It is faster, with the rattle and drum, although here it doesn't sound much like a waterdrum, which has more resonance.



The words in this fast version here sound like:

Wichitai to
himewa
hohanika
rorane
hiyanaineno

Wichitai to
himewa
hohanika
rorane
hiyana
henenowa

Wichitai to
himewa
hohanika
rorane
hiyanaineno

Wichitai to
himewa
hohanika
rorane
hohanika
rorane
hohanika
rorane

Hiyanaineno

Wichitai to
himewa
hohanika
rorane
hiyana
henenowa

By the way in between the fast part at the beginning and the jazz fusion version, you can hear him making various exclamations, including edabedehe, woshunge, pidaho, all Kanza, and he then also mentions Otoe, Pawnee and Winnebago. Otoe and Winnebago are related languages to the Kanza, but the Pawnee are not, they are simply historically and geographically associated with the Kaw.

The biographical article on Jim Pepper is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Pepper

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Water Spirit feelin' springin' round my head,
Makes me feel glad that I'm not dead

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Dec. 26th, 2013 07:45 pm (UTC)
A special thank you
Thank you for posting this tune. I am alive and I am happy to sing a joyful tune givings thanks to the miracle. It's so nice to find a song to help me do that. Love the music! :)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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