Rosario Cooper was a yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini woman who is widely known for the vital cultural and linguistic information she shared with linguist John P. Harrington. J.P. Harrington’s mission in life was to record Native American languages which, in the early 1900s were rapidly being lost. Most of his work was done in California. In the course of his work he interviewed several indigenous persons who acted as language consultants. One of the people he interviewed was Rosario Cooper. During the years 1912 to 1917, Harrington spent approximately six to seven weeks doing intensive field work with Rosario. Our tribal name, yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini comes from his notes and means “The People.” Phonetically, it is pronounced similar to “yak teach you teach you.” Rosario is recognized as the last speaker of Obispeño Chumash. The term Obispeño is a Spanish word and it’s often used in reference to the language of yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini. The time she spent with J.P. Harrington saved our language from almost certain extinction, and for that we’re forever grateful.
We know that Harrington’s purpose of the interviews was to record languages, but when Rosario Cooper spoke she provided much more. Within her words, rich details about our family, extended kinships, places, and events are revealed. Rosario shared information about her daily activities, memories from her childhood and her long life. On wax cylinders, she left us recordings of her beautiful traditional songs and now these songs are being sung again. Her documented work is a priceless historical treasure and within her work there are still more discoveries to be made.
Rosario Cooper was born on October 7, 1845, died on June 15, 1917 at Lopez Canyon near Arroyo Grande, California. Rosario had one child who survived infancy. This child was Francisco Olivas who was father to several children and grandchildren. Three of Rosario’s great-granddaughters and many other descendants still reside in San Luis Obispo County and throughout California.
Today, Rosario’s words continue to inform us of our history and instruct us for our future. She was an elder at the time of the interviews and in declining health, but because of her and J. P. Harrington’s effort we are able to study our language and strive for its reawakening. For that, yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini and all Chumash Peoples are forever enriched and indebted.