How Can an Alligator Save the Houma Language?

Posted By Toyacoyah Brown September 7th, 2014 Last Updated on: September 7th, 2014

The Houma language could be resurrected as descendants of a woman hear her singing for the first time.

Here's a short clip of Elvira Billiot singing “Chan Chuba”, a children's song about an alligator:

In a story from The Advocate, they interviewed the great-granddaughter of Elvira Billiot. She never met her great-grandmother but she said she felt an immediate connection to her when she heard the song “Chan Chuba” for the first time.

“When we played it, it was like we were unlocking a trunk that had been locked up and covered in dust,” said Colleen Billiot.

The alligator song could help resurrect the Houma language that has not been spoken for a century. Colleen Billiot and another Houma descendant, Hali Dardar, also 25, have spent the past year trying to translate the lyrics to “Chan-Chuba” in hopes that they can translate that one song as a first step in reconstructing the language.

“It’s this tiny connection to your ancestors that you haven’t had in 100 years where you were able to speak,” Dardar said. “Just having that bond is pretty cool and pretty strong.”

Many Houma have heard of “Chan-Chuba,” Dardar said, but no one knows what the words mean, beyond chan-chuba, which is Houma for alligator. They know that generations ago, grown-ups would chase their children around the house, Dardar said, singing the song and chomping with their hands at kids.

The small scrap of song is a window to the women’s Houma heritage.

Pretty neat! I hope they're able to fit all the pieces together and get a list of words together for future descendants.

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About Toyacoyah Brown

Toyacoyah Brown is an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation, currently living in Chicago. She received her B.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and an M.A. in Media Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. When she's not scouring the Internet for fun things to share with PowWows.com readers you can find her digging for vinyl in her local record store or curling up with a good book.

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