John Kanaka

One of the songs Tim sings that tends to bring down the house.  Stan Hugill seems to have been the first to publish the song and he writes that he had learned it from “Harding of Barbadoes” who “sang it with many falsetto yelps and hitches almost impossible to imitate.”  He goes on the explain that the chorus is Polynesian.  A “kanaka” was a word for the Hawaiian crew members of ships who Richard Henry Dana mentions in his “Two Years Before The Mast” as being particularly keen on singing of work songs… Clearly in some form or another these were adopted and adapted by “white” sailors, adding to the already colourful repertoire of working songs.  Stan pointed out one time while I was in earshot that the chorus is “tulai e, oh, tulai e!  John Kanaka ‘naka, tulai e!”  and NOT “Too-Rye-Ay” as many are wont to do… They is no “R” in Polynesian languages and the mistake is likely due to people being used to Irish American songs.  You will find that while most performers of this song share similar verses, there are ALWAYS variations and sometimes new and different verses.

 

I thought I heard the First Mate say
John Kanaka ‘naka, tulai e!
You’ll work tomorrow, but not today
John Kanaka ‘naka, tulai e!

CHORUS
tulai e, oh, tulai e !
John Kanaka ‘naka, tulai e!

I thought I heard the old man say
John Kanaka…
Today, today is a sailing day
John Kanaka…

CHORUS

We’ll work tomorrow, but no work today,
John Kanaka…
We’ll work tomorrow, but no work today.
John Kanaka…

CHORUS

We’re outward bound from Frisco Bay
John Kanaka…
We’re outward bound at the break of day
John Kanaka…

CHORUS

We’re bound away around Cape Horn,
John Kanaka…
Where you wish to Christ you’d never been born!
John Kanaka…

CHORUS

It’s rotten meat and weevily bread
John Kanaka…
In two months out you wish you were dead
John Kanaka…

CHORUS

It’s one more pull and then belay,
John Kanaka…
For today, today is a holiday,
John Kanaka…

CHORUS

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