Residence: St. Louis, Missouri
Date of Performance/Collection: April 2012
Primary Language: English
Item: A story from camp, called WATAHOTAHO
Transcribed from our interview:
My informant’s explanation:
“First day of every camp session, which is in the mountains, they take everybody to this like opening in the mountains, yeah I’m not going to remember this well but, they oh I know I remember now, there was randomly in this mountains there was a stack of rocks that was unexplainable, not from an avalanche, either some natural thing or man made, it was kind of weird. It looked like a cave with some weird rocks out fornt. This camp direct has this big walking stick and he goes up there with all the campers and every time he tells this story on Watahotaho.
It is a story of an Indian tribe in which there was a chief and there are three sons and one is hunting, one grows things,a nd one herds, idk, but they get ina huge fight and they all go and their land used to be very beautiful and when they got in a fight they all left and they didn’t do well making tribes, and their old tribe didn’t do well. So chief tried to have them come back, he turns to each one and tells them they need to work together. The cave was where it all happened. You all yell watahotaho together because the spirit is still around, and the legend is that if everybody says it in unison, you can hear a spirit calling back. They send some counselor away, and they do a delayed echo so it sounds like a sprit is calling back.
Little kids really bought into it, so it was funny by the time I was older. Every year you come he changes his story a little bit, so you realize how stupid it is. “
What it meant to my informant: “Well it was a good way to entertain these kids, to get them introduced to camp and get them to interact with eachother. The shouting thing was just sort of fun. I would just run around camp and to make fun of it I would just yell watahotaho because I thought it was so stupid, but the kids loved it.”
There are several key elements to this tradition, like when this happens and the interactive portion of the story. The story’s theme is teamwork and community, and since this is the first day of a summer camp for kids, this encourages the children to be more outgoing and embrace each other as a community. The interactive portion supports this, forcing the kids to work together. Moreover, by yelling WATAHOTAHO, the kids are almost performing enactive speech, their shouts in unison symbolizing the bonds they create. My informant said it was most effective for smaller children, which makes sense: they are most gullible, so the counselor’s trickery would be more effective. Regardless, Justin Elliot grasped the “silliness” of the word, which is also effective for small children; letting young children speak in a different language at the top of their lungs is exciting and liberating for them, especially because they are normally a disempowered community that must follow rules like maintain “inside voices.” Thus, immediately the campers are introduced to a new community and set of rules that sets the tone for the rest of their stay at the camp.