Illustration of a wokas camp at the close of the season

Wokas as an Article of Commerce

In the preparation of lolensh and of shiwulinz the broken seed shells (tsi’-hlak) are winnowed, as already described, from the seed kernels. These seed shells or hulls are not always thrown away, but they are often saved for a later curious use. In the manufacture of their finer baskets and trays the Klamaths use for both warp and weft cords twisted from the split outer surface of the tule (Scirpus lacustris). Upon the main body of the basket as woven from these cords are overlaid various designs in white, black, yellow, and maroon. The patterns in black are made from the same material as the body of the baskets, split tule stems, which have been colored by a certain dyeing process. Ordinarily this is accomplished by immersing the tule stems in the black mud of sluggish springs containing iron. A superior color, however, is obtained by the addition or a quantity of wokas hulls, which contain a large amount of tannin. The same result is now frequently secured among these Indians by prolonged soaking of the tule stems in an iron kettle, in water containing a liberal amount of the hulls. The color is evidently due to the development of tannate of iron. Samples of the wokas hulls analyzed through the courtesy of Dr. H. W. Wiley, Chief Chemist of the Department of Agriculture, were found to contain 20 per cent of tannin.

Wokas as an Article of Commerce

Illustration of a wokas camp at the close of the season
The end of a wokas camp. At the right is an awal pile still smoldering. On the teats is wokas in various stages of extraction, and in front of the dugout are two sacks of dry seeds.

Wokas, when freshly parched so as to be nicely browned, is a delicious food, particularly if slightly salted and eaten with cream. There is every reason to believe that wokas could be brought into successful use as a breakfast food. Small quantities of it can be purchased from the Indians, but only at a price of from 10 to 20 cents a pound. It is evident that in order to enter into successful competition with other breakfast foods economical machine methods must be devised for extracting the seeds from the pods and putting them through the processes necessary to bring them to the lolensh stage, which is the best form for shipment. The primitive methods at present employed by the Indians are altogether too expensive. Some of the various means now used by seedsmen, coffee dealers, and millers for macerating, roasting, milling, and cleaning seeds are undoubtedly applicable, with some modifications, to the production of wokas.

The writer does not consider the cultivation of the wokas plant on a commercial scale to be feasible. The available supply of the seeds must be limited to the natural product, which in the Klamath country is estimated at about 10,000 acres. Other, but, so far as known, smaller areas of the plant exist on the Northwest Coast. There seems to be no probability that the pods can be harvested by any other method than that now practiced by the Indians-hand picking from, boats. It should be possible to secure the pods in this way at 10 cents a bushel, a bushel of the pods producing about one-fourth its bulk of seed, and the seeds about one-third their bulk of lolensh. The weight of lolensh to the measured bushel is about 59 pounds. When parched the lolensh expands to nearly three times its original bulk, a sample of the best shnaps weighing about 21 pounds per bushel. The season of harvesting in the Klamath country is about six weeks-from the middle of August to the end of September.

Coville, Frederick Vernon, Honorary Curator, Division of Plants. Wokas A Primitive Food of the Klamath Indians. From the Report of the United States National Museum for 1902, pages 725-739 with 13 plates. Washington: Government Printing Office. 1904.

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