John Kanaka

DESCRIPTION: Shanty. Characteristic line: "John Kanaka-naka, too-li-ay." The sailors describe how they will "work tomorrow but no work today!" Some details of their trip around the horn on a Yankee ship are given
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1926 (Eckstorm/Smyth-MinstrelsyOfMaine)
KEYWORDS: sailor shanty work
FOUND IN: West Indies(Barbados) US(NE)
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Hugill-ShantiesFromTheSevenSeas, pp. 288-289, "John Kanaka" (1 text, 1 tune) [AbEd, p.212]
Kinsey-SongsOfTheSea, pp. 94-95, "John Kanaka" (1 tet, 1 tune)
Fahey-Eureka-SongsThatMadeAustralia, pp. 50-51, "John Kanaka" (1 text, 1 tune)
Thompson-BodyBootsAndBritches-NewYorkStateFolktales, p. 219, "(No title)" (1 short text, which lacks the chorus but has the same first line as the Maine version of this song; it is too short to classify otherwise)
Eckstorm/Smyth-MinstrelsyOfMaine, p. 210, "Too-Li-Aye" (1 text)
Heart-Songs, pp. 72-73, "A Yankee Ship, and a Yankee Crew" (1 text, 1 tune)

Roud #8238
NOTES [190 words]: "Kanaka" was a term applied to Hawaiian men. Whether this song is referring to that or to "Canucks" (French-Canadians) is obscure. - PJS
The term is used in Australia for Polynesians in general, especially those who worked in the Queensland sugar plantations. (It is said to mean simply "man.") I have to suspect that the song originally referred to the Polynesians, though of course northern sailors might have thought it meant Canucks.
Edward E. Morris, A Dictionary of Austral English, 1898 (I use the 1972 Sydney University Press with a new foreword but no new content), p. 229, defines it as "n. and adj. a labourer from the South Sea Islands, working in Queensland sugar-plantations. The word is Hawaaian (Sandwich Islands)." The first use of the word in Hawaii is dated to 1794.
The version in Heart-Songs, "A Yankee Ship, and a Yankee Crew," is implicitly lumped here by Roud. I'm far from sure I agree -- "John Kanaka" is not mentioned, and the chorus form is different -- but I'll file it here to let you think about it. But I used the Eckstorm/Smyth-MinstrelsyOfMaine version as the earliest date, because it's certainly this. - RBW
Last updated in version 6.2
File: FaE050

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