Seattle Art Museum has cannily tied its show on Quileute art and culture, opening this Saturday, August 14, to the insanely popular Twilight books and movies. It’s an irresistible link: The Quileutes’ origin myth says they’re descended from a pair of wolves turned into humans by Kwati the Transformer. Twilight author Stephenie Meyer borrowed this to make them teenage heart-throb shape-shifting werewolves who tangle with the immortal teenage heart-throb vampires of nearby Forks.
Fact is the Quileute, former master whale hunters of the far Olympic coast, are a people apart, in a fundamental way that as far as I know isn’t noted in Twilight or SAM’s Behind the Scenes: The Real Story of the Quileute Wolves. As Seattle anthropologist and linguist Jay Miller explained to me, “their language is unique in the world, not closely related to any other, which says they’ve been on the Peninsula a long, long time.”
Quileute is the last living language of the Chimakuan group; the only other known Chimakuan tongue was Chimakum, spoken by people living between Port Townsend and Hood Canal (hence today’s town of Chimacum). Chief Seattle and his Suquamish raiders wiped them out in 1850 and 1860. Maybe he was a vampire.
Quileute is unique among local tongues, and nearly unique in the world, in having no nasal consonants (m, n). Come to think of it, I’ve never heard a wolf ask for M&Ms.
Behind the Scenes: The Real Story of the Quileute Wolves opens Sat, Aug 14, with a Quileute dance and drum circle from 1 to 3pm.