Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Part V, Nova sote, Novas ote, NABASOTO, Neva sawed her...
As there is a possible Castillian cognate: Navas Oto, valley other, so too is there a possible French/Iroquois meaning for "Navasota": As Joutel, the priest who accompanied La Salle, recounted the last trail of his fallen hero, he was using his and La Salle’s rudimentary knowledge of Great Lakes tribal languages, and specifically Iroquois. The Dakota suffix for cloudy is “ota,” hence Minnes-ota, meaning water-cloudy. Having spent a good deal of time in the Great Lakes region, La Salle studied the Iroquois language, which is related to the Sioux languages, like Lakota, Mohawk and Cherokee. This would have been a word that La Salle and his men would recognize or even use. In another related native language, Ota means path. When the Nabedache said something like Nava soto, perhaps a name given to the river by these traders who passed through the area, the Frenchmen thought they heard something familiar. As in Nova Scotia, nova could mean new in French. Novas-ota could possibly translate as New Path. But now I have opened a can of worms.
There is still another Native American possibility! Iroquoian sote is child. In another French-Indian amalgamation, Navasota might be Novas ote, meaning “new children.” In another amazing coincidence, several possible translations could have context within the French point of view. Indeed, La Salle was blazing a new path, and gathering new children or subjects for his king. Of course, it might have been arguable who was new, or who were the children. The Caddoan Nabadache, who belonged to a confederation of tribes that stretched from Mexico to Missouri might have considered the Frenchman new children as well, observing how hopelessly lost they were. Imagine LaSalle explaining this ambitious if not arrogant Imperialist claim to the local “Nabedache,” christening them Nova Sote, and then they cheerily repeating some facsimile of this to the Spaniards who came after, who then forever named the river by their supposed proclamation. Perhaps. If you are like me, by now it is all overwhelming and I don’t care as much as I used to.
What we do know is this valley had been an ancient native source for buffalo and clay and the edible prickly pear. It should not surprise us that possible translations reflect this. The Yoeme remembered “Prickly Bones” and "Cactus Pottery," the Castilian’s the “Other Valley" of the Arms of God, and the French their “New Children.” In any language, this was a great flowing river named by forgotten passers-through that provided hope for a “Novas Ota,” a new pathway, in a strange and dangerous land. Somehow it all fits, and perhaps the name came from a single familiar phrase that meant different things to each group. But we will never know. And now I can sleep in peace.