Au Pays de L’Ours Noir: Part 25

Excerpt from Au Pays de l’Ours Noir,

Dispatches of a Missionary 1897, by Father

Adrien Gabriel Morice




Translated by Neil Wylie and Garry Girvan

The Babines

The Babines owe their distinctive name to a practice which is now in disuse, borrowed from the aborigines of the coast, according to which any woman who wants to enjoy a modicum of consideration in the tribe had to wear a labret in the bottom lip.

By labret is meant a piece of wood generally made of mountain maple (Acer glabrum), sometimes made of bone with an oval shape which was sometimes of a maximum length of one and a quarter inches, passed through the bottom lip. It was made to hang by separating it from the teeth by the the whole width of the disk…

Its installation was the occasion of public rejoicing. The young girl received the labret when she reached the age of puberty, first in the form of a narrow wedge made of bone or hard wood which was gradually changed until it reached one inch in diameter…

By Babines I mean not only the natives of Babine Lake, but even those who are established on the Bulkley River at Rocher-Déboulé and upstream. These latter call themselves Hwotsu’tinni and are called by the Whites “Akwilguettes“, the name given to them by their neighbours the Kitiksons. The particularity which gave the name to the inhabitants of Babine Lake, the labret, was honoured every bit as mush as among the natives of Rocher- Déboulé. Moreover, the character, the customs, the dress and the linguistic traits of the two parts of the tribe are identical.

This is the first time that I have treated the Babines as a distinct tribe. The reason that has, up until now made me hesitate in doing that, is that their dialect, even while having several grammatical points and a number of words which are peculiar to it, resembles that of the Carriers. I have never made the least effort to master it (dialect of the Babines) and I understand it as well as the Carrier dialect.

The Babine dialect shows the effects of being a neighbouring dialect of the Kitikson tongue, a language of Tsimsiane origin where the consonants have a preponderance. All the z inflections of the Carrier words are replaced by ts in Babine; the pronominal z of the verbs of the third conjugation are changed to ht etc. Another idiosyncracy worthy of remark is that certain words which in Carrier differ from their Chilcotin equivalents, resemble their Babine equivalents, although from the geographical point of view the Carriers come between the two tribes.


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