Book Review: Cogewea The Half Blood

Figure 1A: The cover of the book Cogewea by Hum-ishu-ma.

Figure 1A: The cover of the book Cogewea by Hum-ishu-ma.

I discovered this book at a charity bookshop and felt disappointed that I had not known of it before. Afterall, the author, Hum-ishu-ma (Mourning Dove) was from the Okanogan tribe and was written on the West Coast of the United States in Washington State. I had met members of the Okanogan but had no long term contact to establish relationships of friendship with them. So I was presently surprised to have found this book and that the author was the first known aboriginal author in the Western Hemisphere to bring her thoughts systematically into the English language.

Figure 2A: The author Hum-ishu-ma (AD 1888-1936), in a photo enclosed in her ground breaking work, Cogewea.

Figure 2A: The author Hum-ishu-ma (AD 1888-1936), in a photo enclosed in her ground breaking work, Cogewea.

Hum-ishu-ma, living as a migrant farm worker and after ten hour days in the hop fields and apple orchards, would type out this historical fiction text. The work, Cogewea, although not based upon an actual historical figure, is indeed based upon historical events and peoples at the time. The result is a catalogue of events that relate to American invasion of the continent, extermination attacks, pogroms, the use of disease in germ warfare and general damage levied against the aboriginal peoples that the invaders found upon arrival.

Cogewea is a half blood, a “breed,” a reference to the fact that she has an American father and an aboriginal mother. She is unable to mesh fully with either side and suffers rebuke from both parties. Her suffering is alleviated partially by growing up around other breeds such as her faithful friend Jim, who acts as a big brother figure. Their lives, the treachery of their invaders and the secret designs against them are aptly noted by the author.

Figure 2A: Hum-ishu-ma, The author of Cogewea,  who was also forced to take an English name. She was also described by her occupiers as "cold and unfeeling." My  query is how someone is supposed to be towards his or her captor.

Figure 2A: Hum-ishu-ma, The author of Cogewea, who was also forced to take an English name, Christal Quintasket. She was also described by her occupiers as “cold and unfeeling.” My query is how someone is supposed to be towards his or her captor.

Once can also see that much of what is related about the main character reflects the tribulations suffered by the author. The pain rings forth on every page and leaves the reader desiring more. I can say this with first hand experience as I finished the book in one day as it was such a page turner I could not put it down. It took two chapters to be able to fully acclimate myself to the slang and wild west vernacular used at that time.

Overall it is a great book and if one can get past the vernacular, great benefit can be derived. I also am in the process of trying to obtain her other works. Her great grand-daughter (engl. name Jeanette Armstrong) lives on and tries to keep her memory alive among the other Okanogans and the literary world at large. I strongly advise anyone with the time and effort to learn more about the Okanogans and also Hum-ishu-ma and her great grand daughter. You will not regret it.

 

Al-Hajj Abu Ja`far Al-Hanbali

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