Kansa, pecan, Arkansas

David Costa pankihtamwa at earthlink.net
Sun Oct 3 17:18:17 UTC 2010

Hello all...

Bob basically has the Algonquian end of this story correct. The term  
<acansa> got borrowed into Illinois early on as what appears to be a  
cover term for all the Dhegiha tribes. By the mid-19th century, kaansa  
is the Miami-Illinois term just for the Kansa tribe, and there are  
other terms for the Quapaw, Osage, etc.

And yes, Bob is right, very early on, Illinois acquired a term  
essentially meaning 'Kansa/Dhegiha nut' as their word for 'pecan'; in  
LeBoullenger's circa-1720 Illinois dictionary, this appears as  
<acansipacane>, while Pinet's Illinois dictionary from 20 years before  
gives the plural <acansepacana>. By the late 19th century, this  
variably appears in Miami and Peoria as kaansa pakaani or  
kaanseeseemini. Shawnee has similar kaa0eemi 'pecan' ('0' =  theta),  
which was later borrowed by Unami Delaware as ká·se·m (some speakers  
changed this to ká·nse·m).

And finally, the Miami-Illinois name for the Ohio River is literally  
'the Kansa/Dhegiga River'; the most common variant seen is  
kaanseeseepiiwi. Shawnee also has this, as kaa0eewi0iipi.

I've assumed for a long time that what this means is that Miami- 
Illinois speakers and Shawnee speakers first encountered Dhegiha- 
speakers on the Ohio River, presumably in southern Ohio or maybe  
southern Indiana, at a time when they weren't seperated into their  
modern divisions yet, and when something sounding like /kaansa/ was  
their name for themselves. I also assume this is when the Algonquians  
first encountered pecans, or at least when they first encountered them  
in big numbers.


>> 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.
> Bob
> <winmail.dat>

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