This is a capstan sea shanty originating from California in the USA. Kanaka is the collective name for the trading boatmen of the Sandwich Islands who used to come to California and who made a base for themselves in San Diego. They are described by Richard Henry Dana in his book Two Years Before the Mast as answering to 'Kanaka' either collectively or individually, and as their Sandwich Isle first names were hard to pronounce, taking on any first name given, be it the name of the ship they were serving on, or a simple christian name.

The song John Kanaka is, therefore, a song about one of the islanders and can be found on any good shanty compilation. The 'Ruff!' is a traditional shanty sound which denotes the 'pull' of the working men working at the capstan.


John Kanaka

I thought I heard the old man say,
Ruff!
John Kanaka-naka Too Li Ay
There's work tomorrow but no work today.
Ruff!
John Kanaka-naka Too Li Ay

Today, today is a holiday,
Ruff!
John Kanaka-naka Too Li Ay
We'll work tomorrow and we'll get our pay.
Ruff!
John Kanaka-naka Too Li Ay

Chorus
Too Li Ay Oh, Too Li Ay
Ruff!
John Kanaka-naka Too Li Ay

We're bound away for 'Frisco Bay,
We're bound away at the break of day.

Those 'Frisco girls ain't got no combs,
They comb their hair with herring bones.

Chorus

It's just one thing that grieves my mind,
To leave my wife and child behind.

They'll wave farewell down on the quay,
They'll wait and fear and weep for me.

Chorus

We're bound away around Cape Horn,
Where you'll wish to Christ you'd never been born.

The bosun said "Before I'm through,
You'll curse your mother for havin' you."

Chorus

It's rotten wheat and weevily bread,
And it's pump or drown, the old man said.

It's one more pull, and that'll do,
And we're the bullies for to pull her through.

Chorus

Chorus

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