The Henry Madden Library Special Collections Research Center is now home to two recent donations preserving aspects of local Native American history and culture: The Wikchamni Online Dictionary, which documents a native dialect spoken in and around California’s San Joaquin Valley, and the donation of The Yokuts and Paiute Songs and Culture book and compact disc, which records the earliest of folk songs sung by Native communities in the area.

The Wikchamni Online Dictionary

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Compiled by Dr. Geoffrey Gamble, the Wikchamni Dictionary is the result of fifty years of linguistic research into a particular dialect of the Yokut languages once spoken in the San Joaquin Valley. The Dictionary is a detailed record of the language as spoken by the Pohot family, specifically sisters Cecile Silva, Mary Friedrichs, Virginia Aguilar, and Susie Metcalf, who feared the language would be lost after their passing. Although all the sisters spoke English at home, Cecile, Mary and Virginia would carry out lengthy conversations in Wikchamni when they got together, using the language as taught them by their parents, Joe and Mary Pohot. Silva took a particularly active part in helping to preserve her language and culture as she guided Gamble in the study of her language.

Dr. Gamble, a Fresno State alumnus and president emeritus for Montana State University,  worked for many years and was supported in this effort by Fresno State’s Department of Linguistics, the Survey for California and Other Indian Languages at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Anthropological Archives at the Smithsonian Institution,  as well as Henry Madden Library, which helped organize the site and hosts it online.

Research materials from Gamble’s Native American linguistics work, specifically on the Wikchamni people, is available in the Geoffrey Gamble Papers in the Special Collections Resource Center. Gamble’s Wikchamni dictionary is available at wikchamnidictionary.library.fresnostate.edu.

 

Yokuts and Paiute Songs and Culture

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In 1952, Alfred Pietroforte graduated from Fresno State with his Masters in Education, presenting a thesis on the earliest forms of American folk songs. This led him to study and capture the songs of the local Native American communities, specifically the Yokuts and the Paiutes. In 1965 he published Songs of the Yokuts and Paiutes.

Forty years later, he updated the work and added recordings of the songs sung by Native singers. He said that, in many cases, the native people have forgotten their songs solely because they were not written down and the elders had passed away, so they could no longer hear those songs. Local leaders approached him and asked if he would write a newer version of his book and include the recordings that he had made of their elders singing so long ago.

Yokuts and Paiute Songs and Culture is the 2006 book and compact disc which Mr. Pietroforte has donated to Henry Madden Library for our collections. One copy resides in Special Collections and another in the stacks for anyone to access.

Mr. Pietroforte is thrilled that this piece of Native American preservation will have a home at Henry Madden Library.

And we are excited to add to our growing collection of Native American resources in the Library. In addition to these, the Henry Madden Library is also home to Molarsky Mono Indian collection,  which contains oral histories, songs and lectures by and about Mono Indians from North Fork and Auberry.


Thank you to Tammy Lau and Julie More for contributing to this piece. Post by Heather Parish.