03 June 2009

Chʼa Aadéi Yéi Unatéeg̱aa

While the rain comes down in buckets here in Honolulu as if I were actually back in Wrangell, I thought I’d post this little bit of opinion that I offered to Roby Littlefield Koolyéik’s mailing list. It’s from a question by Duane Aucoin Gastántʼ about the famous song called «Chʼa aadéi yéi unatéeg̱aa», which was offered by the Lukaax̱.ádi clan for use by all Tlingit people.

Attached is the official word from Nora Dauenhauer, Kheixwnéi, of the Lukaaxh.ádi. To some extent, hers is the final, definitive statement on the matter. As she says, people must keep in mind that it is not a “national anthem”, but is instead a passionate eulogy as well as a paean to the land of our people.

I don’t think people should have to stand up for it (or take off hats, or whatever), but if people *want* to do so I don't see why it’s a problem. I personally don’t, but I probably would doff my hat if I was wearing one.

I think the most important thing in singing it publically is to provide an explanation to the audience about the song's history and meaning. This is traditionally done with all songs, but it’s especially important when using the song of another people, whether
they are a different clan or a different nation. In explaining it succinctly to non-Tlingit, a good way to describe it might be as a song that laments the deaths of our elders and knowledge, and praises the beauty of our land.

Understanding the meaning of the song is critical for knowing when to sing it, and knowing that it is not for fun or to be taken lightly. (There are plenty of other fun songs out there.) «Chʼa aadéi yéi unatéeghaa» is what is called yadáli at shí, a “heavy” or “weighty” song, meaning that it is great at.óow that must be treated with
respect to the same extent as a clan’s crest hats, robes, or totem poles.

Another thing is that singers should try their hardest to sing the song properly and pronounce the words correctly. Again this applies to all songs, but such a yadáli at shí as «Chʼa aadéi yéi unatéeghaa» deserves this moreso than most songs. I know that pronouncing Tlingit is hard, and few of us nonnative speakers have the unparalleled gift of being able to speak Tlingit fluently, but nonetheless people must try their utmost to do so when singing, otherwise it's trivializing the songs and the work of the people who composed them.

Yéi áwé axh déixh (násʼk?) sínts,
Deisheetaan, Kakháakʼw Hít

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