you say 'Gwalala' --
How do you pronounce
this place, anyway?*
Kashia Pomo who were
selling driftwood inscribed with words in their language at
the watershed event last weekend said the Gualala is
pronounced roughly Walali.
In the 1877 New
Historical Atlas of Sonoma County, California Robert
A. Thompson wrote: "The Valhalla, awkwardly spelled
Gualala, is a stream on the western border of the county
flowing due north, and parallel with the coast just inside a
range of hills which rise up from the shore of the ocean.
After a straight north course for almost twenty-five miles
it turns and empties into the ocean. There was never a
stream so well named, -- great redwood trees shade its
limpid waters, the favorite haunt of the salmon and the
trout: the hills are full of game; deer, elk and bear,
and if ever there was a place where the 'bear roasted every
morning became whole at night,' it was true, figuratively
speaking, of our Sonoma Valhalla, -- for the camp on its
margin was never without its haunch of venison or creel or
trout. May the fellow who tortured the name by trying
to Peruvanize it, never taste the joys of the true
It seems that 125 years
ago people were more concerned about eating bears than about
bears eating them.
On a U.S. government
map published in 1879 the name is spelled Wallalla.
Nellie Van de Grift
Sanchez wrote in Spanish and Indian Place Names of
California, published in 1914: "Gualala, a
village in Mendocino County, forty miles west of Cloverdale.
This is an Indian word, 'probably from walali, a
generic term of the Pomo language, signifying the
meeting-place of the waters of any in-flowing stream with
those of the stream into which it flows, or with the ocean.
The present spelling is probably influenced by the Spanish.'
-- (S. A. Barrett, California Publications of Archaeology
The 1969 edition of
1,000 California Place Names: The Story Behind the
Naming of Mountains, Rivers, Lakes, Capes, Bays, Counties
and Cities, by Erwin C. Gudde, published by University
of California Press, states: "Gualala, wah-lah'-lah
[Sonoma]. A Spanish phonetic rendering of Walhalla, in
Teutonic mythology the abode of heroes fallen in battle.
The form Walhalla (variously spelled) was applied by Ernest
Rufus, grantee of Rancho German in 1846, either directly
because of the romantic setting, or indirectly because the
name of the Indian village there sounded like the German word
Please pronounce it
Wah-lah'-lah -- or Walali.
*Independent Coast Observer
(ICO), August 29, 2003.