Kansa, pecan, Arkansas

Rankin, Robert L rankin at ku.edu
Sun Oct 3 00:48:49 UTC 2010

> I'd like to know how it's known that Kansa does not mean "south wind", "floats with the current," etc. 

Because Kansa and all the other Dhegiha languages have their own, different, term for 'south wind'.  It is /ak?a/, where ? is a glottal stop and ak?a is accented on the first syllable.  Kansa was a term used by the Algonquian-speaking tribes of the Ohio Valley to refer to all the Dhegiha-speaking tribes.  It is probably the term the Dhegiha speakers used to refer to themselves, but it has no meaning other than that.  Algonquian speakers prefixed it with a short /o-/ prefix, one that is often used in Algonquian for ethnonyms (Odawa, Ojibwe, etc.).  This short o- evolved in Illinois Algonquian into /a-/, giving rise to names like "Akansa", "Akansea", etc. found throughout early accounts.  Originally it seems to have been used to refer to all Dhegiha speakers, not just the Quapaw, and, of course, most of the Dhegiha tribes have a Kansa clan ("gens" in Dorsey).  

> I'm also interested in knowing more about any connection between Arkansas and pecan in Miami/Illinois. Bourgmont, in his "Exact Description of Louisiana" (circa 1725), after mentioning the Quapaw and ascending the Mississippi River, says, "There is also an abundance of nuts, extending over more than 200 leagues of land, called by the Indians Akansapaccana, from which they make oil to grease their hair and their firearms. But these nuts are found only in certain regions. There are a great many of them on the Wabash." Could early references to the Arkansas on the Ohio River be a folk explanation arising from the Miami/Illinois word for pecan? I'm curious.

I think it's pretty clear that these Algonquian speakers called the pecan "the Kansa nut".  I believe Shawnee has a term like /kaathemini/ (where /th/ is like the the first sound in "thick").  I'm not sure about the term /pakkana/, but maybe Dave Costa will enlighten us.  Kaathemini is "Kansa nut" however, so there was definitely some kind of association.

Early maps of the Ohio Valley also show a "River of the Akansea".  On some maps it seems to be the name for the Ohio but on others it seems to be a tributary.

For what it's worth, the names Omaha and Okaxpa (the latter for Quapaw) do seem to mean upstream and downstream respectively.  


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