“I sit there as a Bird on a Bow: I look about and do not know where to go; let me therefore come down upon the Ground, and make that my own by a good Deed, and I shall then have a Home for ever; for if you, my Uncles, or I die, our Brethren the English will say, they have bought it from you, and so wrong my Posterity out of it.” -Teedyuscung (1700–1763) King of the Delawares.
Lenni-Lenape:Traditional Warrior Dance
The Lenape consist of several organized bands of Native Americans whose name for themselves, sometimes spelled Lennape or Lenapi, means “the people.” They are also known as the Lenni Lenape (the “true people”) or as the Delaware Indians. English settlers named the Delaware River for the governor of the colony at Jamestown, Virginia, and they used the term “Delaware Indians” for the Lenape people living along this river and its tributaries.
At the time of European contact in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Lenape lived in the area roughly around and between the Delaware and lower Hudson Rivers, encompassing current areas of the state of New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, the north shore of Delaware; and much of southeastern New York.
After the arrival of settlers and traders to the 17th-century colony of New Netherlands, the Lenape and other native peoples became extensively involved in the North American fur trade. Their trapping depleted the beaver population in the region, proving disastrous for both the Lenape and the Dutch settlers. The Lenape were further weakened by newly introduced infectious diseases, and by conflict with both Europeans and the traditional Lenape enemies, the Iroquoian-speaking Susquehannock.
Over the next centuries, they were pushed out of their lands by Iroquoian enemies, treaties and overcrowding by European settlers, and moved west into the Ohio River valley.
In the 1860s, most Lenape remaining in the Eastern United States were sent to the Oklahoma Territory. In the 21st century, most Lenape now reside in the U.S. state of Oklahoma, with some communities living also in Kansas, Wisconsin, Ontario, and in their traditional homelands.
Delaware/Lenape Culture Then
The “tribes” of early America are often misunderstood as being similar to present-day “nations”, but they are perhaps better understood as language groups.
At the time of first European contact, a Lenape individual would likely have identified primarily with his or her immediate family and friends, or village unit; then with surrounding and familiar village units; next with more distant neighbors who spoke the same dialect; and ultimately, but loosely, with all those in the surrounding area who spoke mutually comprehensible languages, including the Mahican.
Among other Algonquian peoples, the Lenape were considered the “grandfathers” from whom all the other Algonquian peoples originated. Consequently, in inter-tribal councils, the Lenape were given respect as one would to elders.
Lenape society was organized into clans determined by matrilineal descent. Children inherited membership in a clan from their mother. On reaching adulthood, a Lenape traditionally married outside the clan, a practice known by ethnographers as, “exogamy”. The practice effectively prevented inbreeding, even among individuals whose kinship was obscure or unknown.
Early Europeans who first wrote about Indians found matrilineal social organization to be unfamiliar and perplexing. Because of this, Europeans often tried to interpret Lenape society through more familiar European arrangements.
As a result, the early records are full of clues about early Lenape society, but were usually written by observers who did not fully understand what they were seeing. For example, a man’s maternal uncle (his mother’s brother), and not his father, was usually considered to be his closest male ancestor, since his father belonged to a different clan. The maternal uncle played a more prominent role in the lives of his sister’s children than did the father. Early European chroniclers did not understand this concept.
Territory was collective, but divided by clan. Land was assigned to a particular clan for hunting, fishing, and cultivation. Individual private ownership of land was unknown, as the land belonged to the clan collectively while they inhabited it. Clans lived in fixed settlements, using the surrounding areas for communal hunting and planting until the land was exhausted. In a common practice known as “agricultural shifting”, the group then moved to found a new settlement within their territories.
The Lenape practiced large-scale agriculture, mostly companion planting (planting of different crops in proximity, coupled with the slash and burn technique, which extended the productive life of planted fields). Their primary crops were varieties of the “Three Sisters” (squash, maize, and climbing beans). They also practiced hunting for small game, birds, and deer, and the harvesting of fish and shellfish, in particular, clams year-round.
Women did most of the field work, processing and cooking of food. The men limited their agricultural labor to clearing the field and breaking the soil. They primarily hunted and fished during the rest of the year.
Tribalpedia’s Questions for Comprehension and Discussion
1. What does Lennape or Lenapi, mean?
2. Where did the the Lenape live at the time of European contact?
3. After the arrival of settlers and traders to the colony of New Netherlands, the Lenape and other native peoples became extensively involved in the North American fur trade. What did this do to the animal population in the area?
4. What else weakened the Lenape tribal members?
5. What events caused the Lenape to move west into the Ohio River valley?
6. In the 1860s, most Lenape remaining in the Eastern United States were sent to which state?
7. Back then, how was the Lenape society organized? What types of food did they eat?
Delaware/Lenape Culture today
Lenni Lenape living in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have not gained federal recognition, although two tribes in the former area have state recognition. They do not have reservation land or their own systems of government, although many members continue to practice the Lenape culture. There are federally recognized tribes, state recognized tribes, and unrecognized communities in Oklahoma: Delaware Tribe of Indians (Bartlesville) and Delaware Nation (Anadarko); Ohio: Allegheny-Lenape Indian Tribe of Ohio; Pennsylvania: Lenapehoking in West Philadelphia; Wisconsin: Stockbridge-Munsee Community; New Jersey Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indians and Ramapough Mountain Indians; Ontario, Canada: Munsee-Delaware Nation 1, Moravian of the Thames First Nation, and Delaware of Six Nations.
A Lenape Creation Story
A Lenape came to the house of a Dutch man who lived in Hackensack. The Dutch man was curious about the Indian’s beliefs. He asked the Lenape, “And where did your father come from? And your grandfather and great-grandfather, and so on to the first of your people?”
The Lenape was silent for a little while, and he then took a piece of coal out of the fire and began to write upon the floor. He first drew a circle, on which he made four paws, a head, and a tail.
“This,” he said, “is a tortoise, lying in the water.” He moved his hand around the figure, and continued: “This was all water, and so at first was the earth. Then the tortoise gradually raised its round back up high, the water ran off, and thus the earth became dry.
He then took a little straw and placed it on end in the middle of the figure, and proceeded: “The earth was now dry, and there grew a tree in the middle of the earth. The root of this tree sent forth a sprout, and there grew upon it a man, who was the first male. This man was alone, and would have remained alone, but the tree bent over until its top touched the earth, and there came forth another sprout, on which there grew a woman. From these two were all people produced.
A Lenape Creation Story : “A Lenape Indian Myth,” pp. 10-14.Adapted from The Journal of Jasper Danckaerts, 1679–1680.
Teedyuscung (1700–1763) remembered as King of the Delaware.
The Folklore and Folklife of New Jersey, by David Steven Cohen. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1983.
Wikipedia Delaware Chief Tamanend
Words/Phrases from the Reading:
Ohio River valley.