[Background] [Culture] [Children/Games] [Place Names] [Today]
It has been said that the mark of progress is to cut down trees and name streets after them.
According to the Europeans of the 16th century almost into modern times, progress was marked by
obliterating groups of people, hundreds of thousands of people, Indian tribes, and then naming
towns and streams after them.
Long before the Europeans arrived in what is now Central and Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Delaware, well-organized groups of people hunted and cultivated these lands. Known to us as the Lenni Lenape, they comprised three distinct groups with several minor differences; the northern group was later known as the Munsee (Minsi) and in the lower areas they were known as the Unami (Delaware). In southern New Jersey lived those referred to as the Unalachtigo who were eventually absorbed into the Delaware. Each group spoke their own dialect within the Algonquin linguistics group.
It is sometimes believed that the state of Delaware and the river and were named for the Indian tribe; however, the Europeans first named the river in honor of Sir Thomas West, Lord de la Warr and governor of Virginia and then referred to the Indians by the same name.
For many Algonquin, the Lenape were the "grandfathers," a term of great respect stemming from the widespread belief that the Lenape were the original tribe of all Algonquin-speaking peoples, and this often gave the Lenape the authority to settle disputes between rival tribes.
An Eastern Woodlands tribe, the Lenape called their lands Lenapehoking (Land of the Lenape). An Eastern Woodlands tribe, the Lenape called their lands Lenapehoking (Land of the Lenape). First contact with white Europeans occurred in 1524, when Verrazano was exploring the New Jersey coast. Verrazano described them in such glowing terms as: ". . are most beautiful and have the most civil of customs ... women are shapely and beautiful ... well-built men." It was observed that they were a very vocal people whose language was characterized by beauty, strength, flexibility, and rhythm.
The Delaware were not migratory and appear to have occupied their homeland for thousands of years before the coming of the Europeans. The Lenni Lenape's first contact with the white man occurred during the leadership of Chief Mattanikum (Not Strong) when the Swedish first landed in their territory. The Swedes were soon followed by the Dutch. Later, the English Quakers negotiated several treaties, the first in the New World, through William Penn. These treaties, the most important of which was signed in 1653 by Penn and Delaware Chief Tamanend established peaceful colonization and coexistence and promised that the two peoples would "live in love as long as the sun gave light." However, after Penn's death, his son Thomas was not nearly as generous. In 1737, he tricked the Delaware Indians out of 1,200 square miles of land in the Walking Purchase (as far as a man could walk in three days) by hiring several runners.
During the next three centuries, white settlement forced the Delaware to relocate at least twenty times. By 1900 they had lived in: Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Ontario, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Oklahoma. However, a government plan to move some of the Delaware to Minnesota was never carried out.
"In 1600 the Delaware may have numbered as many as 20,000, but several wars and at least 14 separate epidemics reduced their population to around 4,000 by 1700 - the worst drops occurring between 1655 and 1670. By 1845 it had fallen to combined total of about 2,000 Delaware and Munsee in both the United States and Canada. The current Delaware population has recovered to almost 16,000, most of who live in Oklahoma. Nearly 10,000 Delaware are in eastern Oklahoma and, until very recently, were considered part of the Cherokee Nation." 1 [top]
The Indians located their villages and campsites near streams where transportation was readily available, although much of their travel was by foot. They lived in relatively permanent villages, leaving them only in their quest for food or furs and trade. The Lenape were not a warlike people. "They had excellent memory, lively imagination, genuine wit, natural understanding, and were very curious about things that were happening around them.
They did not live in teepees but rather in wigwams or longhouses. Their houses were made of bark. First a framework made from trees was built, usually in a rectangular or oval shape, and then this was covered with large sheets of bark. Sometimes, especially in the summer, the houses were covered with mats made from reeds. In the southern part of Lenapehoking, the houses were mainly built for a single family. In the northern part larger multiple-family bark houses were made and these had rounded ends and a door on the side. Usually several related families lived in these.
"The three nations, the Minsi, the Unami and the Unalachtigo, each occupied a specific geographical area. In addition to this division, the Lenni Lenape were further divided into three subdivisions or "families" bearing the same names and totem insignia as those which apportioned the state, but had nothing to do with the area in which the people lived. Members of the "family" may have been required to marry outside their totem groups. Each "family" was further divided into 12 clans."2
The Minsi (People of the Stone Country), Unami (People Who Live Down-river) and the Unalachtigo (People Who Live by the Ocean) each had their own national totem (an animal spirit). Each family within the nation also had a representational totem animal. Each of the 12 clans within the families had their own chief. Although there was not a single chief to represent the Lenape as a whole, each clan chief represented the clan at tribal councils. Since theirs was a matrilineal system, each chief or sakima inherited his position through his mother.
The Lenni Lenape people participated in both hunting/gathering as well as cultivation. In their lands were a great assortment of animals such as deer, elk, bear, fox, raccoon, opossum, muskrat, beaver, squirrel and rabbit. Nothing went to waste. Furs were used for clothing, bone was used for fashioning tools and toys for children as well as being used for sewing needles, and sinew was used as sewing thread.
The Lenni Lenape people participated in both hunting/gathering as well as cultivation and fishing. In their lands were a great assortment of animals such as deer, elk, bear, fox, raccoon, opossum, muskrat, beaver, squirrel and rabbit. Nothing went to waste. Furs were used for clothing, bone was used for fashioning tools and toys for children as well as being used for sewing needles, and sinew was used as sewing thread. Fish leftovers were used as fertilizer. They made maple sugar and had an abundant supply of natural honey. Cultivated garden plots usually contained corn, beans, pumpkins or squash, and tobacco.
The Lenape made and wore clothing both as protection from the weather and also for comfort. Leggings not only kept them warm, but also protected them from scratches as they walked through the woods. Men wore breechcloths that were held in place by a belt. Women wore dresses or shirts and skirts, both wore moccasins or sandals. Clothing was made from animal hide and sometimes decorated with beads or shells. They made baskets and pottery. The pots had rounded bottom and when used for cooking they were held upright by three stones and a fire was built around them.
They traveled extensively and had major and minor trails leading between villages and used dugout canoes or major trails to go to Cape May, New Jersey. Contrary to popular belief, they did not use the lightweight birch bark canoe. Some travel was for ceremonial purposes, some for hunting/fishing (including shellfish) and some for visiting or trading and for gathering stone and clay from local quarries. Mothers carried their babies on the backs in a cradleboard. The cradleboard could also be left hanging from a tree while the mother was busy gathering food or working in the garden.
The Lenape believed that a Great Spirit controlled the world along with many other lesser spirits. These spirits were responsible for the harvest being good or bad or for the weather and held celebrations throughout the year to honor these spirits. They believed that Kishelemukong, the Creator, "brought a giant turtle up from the depths of a great ocean. The turtle grew until it became the vast island now known as North America. The first men and women sprouted from a tree that grew upon the turtle's back. Kishelemukong then created the heavens, the sun, the moon, all animals and plants, and the four directions that govern the seasons. Three of these directions were known as 'grandfathers'; the fourth, who blew the warm winds of spring from the south, was known as 'Our Grandmother Where it is Warm.'
"Many Lenapes believe that gambling among their grandparents of the Four Directions caused the seasons to change. Thus, spring came when South Grandmother was defeating North Grandfather, and autumn signaled a change in his luck. The seasons repeated themselves over and over. As in a game, however, the exact time of their appearance was always a matter of chance."3
Children were valued members of Lenape society; they were loved and well cared for. They helped out with family chores, but also had plenty of time to play games that were not just for the purpose of fun. Many games helped them build the skills they would need later in life.
"Lenape men and boys would play together quite often. To test their strength, they wrestled each other, raced, and jumped over obstacles. They also tossed spears through a rolling hoop. A hoop was rolled across the ground, and anyone who speared the hoop received a point. The hoop was then rolled again and the play continued.
"Young girls played house with dolls made from leather, wood, or cornhusks. They also played the cup and pin game (which was also played by boys). In this game of skill, a hollow bone, or a piece of hard leather with a hole through it was tied to the pin with a short string. The bone or leather piece was tossed into the air and the player tried to put the pin through the hole." 4
Jackstraws was also played frequently. This game, similar to pick-up sticks, was played with a bunch of sticks thrown in a pile on the ground. The players tried to lift off as many sticks as possible without moving the other sticks in the pile. When a stick was disturbed by accident, that player stopped and gave another person a turn. The player who picked up the most sticks won the game.
(Rabbit Tail) Game. This used a sharp stick with string tied to the base and some cone-shaped pieces on the string with a rabbit tail tied on the end of the string to keep the cones from coming off. Object is to catch the cones on the stick. Good for agility.
Similar to Jackstraws. Pieces of reed were decorated with various lines and dots (for scoring purposes) and these were dropped onto a surface and then picked up one at a time without disturbing any others.
A dice game. Some dice were placed in a wooden bowl, and it is brought down on a folded hide or blanket to make the dice jump in the bowl.
The game is accompanied by sticks or beans for scoring. Dice were usually carved from bone or antler, in some versions plum or peach pits were used. Dice were engraved, burned and polished or painted to distinguish one side from the other when they are tossed.
A spear-like instrument (about 7 feet long) was tossed down a prepared trough in the snow. The trough was prepared the night before and allowed to refreeze so it would be lined with ice. The object was to see who could get it to go the farthest. This may have been adopted from the nearby Iroquois as they also play it."5
Materials: a wooden paper or plastic cup, straight twelve-inch stick, fourteen-inch piece of string, needle/pin. How to make it: Find a straight stick (twelve inches long.) Cut a piece of string fourteen inches long and knot one end. With a needle or pin, make a small hole in the bottom of a paper cup. Then put the thread through the hole (knotted end on the inside of the cup.) Bind the other end of the string around the stick (several times) and tie it tightly. Swing the cup around and try to catch it on the stick.
Pahsahëman is a team sport in which the men play against the women. It is played with a ball that is called pahsahikàn, on a field, which is generally 150 feet long and 60 feet wide. (The field size is not absolute and can be larger if the players desire, but the dimensions given here are the ones usually used.) At either end of the field are trees or posts measuring about 5-6 inches in diameter, 15 feet high, and about 6 feet apart, called goal posts The ball is oblong in shape, about 9 inches in diameter at it fattest point, and traditionally was made of deerskin and stuffed with deer hair. It was laced shut and at the end of the season, if the ball was in good enough condition, the hair was removed and the shell put away for usage next season. The game was played only from March or April (as soon as the weather became good enough to permit play) until mid June. It was considered wrong to play it at other times of the year. It was played in the afternoon. There was no set number of games played...just whatever the people decided.
"The teams had no set number of players, the number being decided by mutual agreement. One team consisted of all men while the other team was all women. Young people could also play, but small children were not allowed to play for fear of them getting hurt.
"The game begins when a selected elder goes to the center of the field and throws the ball straight up into the air. The players jump up and try to knock it towards their own goal posts. The men cannot run with nor pass the ball. They can only kick the ball forward. The women can run with the ball, pass the ball, or kick the ball, if the ball is on the ground, (women can not high kick the ball) forward. If a man intercepts the ball, or catches a kicked ball, he must stand where he is and kick the ball forward. A man cannot tackle or grab a woman, but must feign to prevent the women from passing by him or passing the ball. He may knock the ball from her hands. Women can grab or tackle the men.
"Scoring is accomplished by the women by running, passing, or kicking the ball between the goal posts. The men score by kicking the ball between the goal posts. Score is kept by a selected elder. A pile of 12 sticks, about 2 inches long is used to keep the score. When the women score a point a stick is removed from the pile and placed to the side, when the men score, a stick is removed from the pile and placed to the side as well. In such manner 2 rows of sticks are made, one for the women's score and one for the men's score. When all 12 sticks are gone from the original pile, whichever team has more sticks in their row is the winner. If the score is tied, a 1-point playoff is played to determine the winner.
"An aside to the game: A bet string is passed around the village. A bet string is a long string on which those who wish to bet on a team tie something. If the team the person bet on wins, the person can go and get anything off the bet string that has not already been spoken for." 6
Many cities, towns, streams, parks and mountains in the Delaware Valley carry names or translations of Lenape words or phrases. This list is by no means complete and only contains those names with which this author has personal experience.
For in-depth meanings and translations, it is suggested that you consult the book,
A History of the Indian Villages and Place Names in Pennsylvania
by Dr. George P. Donehoo.
Allegheny – fair, beautiful river (several towns -- Alleghenyville (Berks County, PA)
Aramingo – wolf walk (a county in PA and a street in Phila, PA)
Catasauqua – thirsty earth (town in Lehigh County, PA)
Catawissa – growing fat (town and creek in Columbia County, PA)
Cacoosing – owl (creek and park in Berks County, PA)
Cocalico – where the snakes collect in dens to pass the winter (town and creek in Lancaster County, PA)
Conshohocken – pleasant valley (town in PA)
Kittatinny – great mountain (west of Harrisburg, PA)
Lackawanna – forks of a stream (county in PA)
Lehigh – corruption of at the forks (county in PA)
Lenape (town in Chester County, PA)
Macungie – feeding place of bears (town in Lehigh County, PA)
Manatawny – where we drank liquor (creek in Berks County, PA)
Manayunk – where we go to drink (section of Phila, PA)
Mauch Chunk – bear mountain (now called Jim Thorpe, PA)
Maxatawny – bear path stream (town in Berks County, PA)
Monocacy – stream with several large bends (creek in Northampton County, town in Berks County, PA)
Moselem – trout stream (branch of Maiden Creek and town in Berks County, PA)
Neshaminy – two streams, double stream (town in Bucks county, PA)
Neversink – corruption of Navasink "at the promontory" (town in NJ and Mountain in Berks County, PA)
Nittany – single mountain (mountain and valley in Centre County, PA and part of the team name for Penn State's sports)
Ontelaunee – little daughter of a great mother (mother refers to Schuylkill River), meaning Maiden Creek, misnamed by settlers (creek and town in Berks County, PA)
Paxtang (also Paxton) – where the waters stand (Dauphin County, PA)
Perkiomen – where there are cranberries (creek in Montgomery County)
Pocono – a stream between mountains, or two mountains bearing down with a stream between (mountain range in NE PA)
Skippack – wet land (town in Montgomery County, PA)
Tulpehocken – turtle land (creek and town in Berks County, PA)
Wissahickon – catfish stream (creek in Phila, PA)
Wyomissing – maybe variation of Wyoming – great meadows (creek and town in Berks County, PA)
Youghiogheny – four streams or winding stream (river in western PA) [top]
Today, many Lenni Lenape live on the reservations in Oklahoma. Throughout these centuries, however, some remained in Pennsylvania, intermarrying and assimilating into the dominant culture. These ancestors hid their Native heritage to protect their children from persecution, and at times, death. In Native culture, decisions are made with the future generations in mind. Only in the last few decades has it been possible for the descendents of those ancestors to begin to practice their religion and culture again. It is a tribute to their ancestors and their efforts to ensure the future survival that today many say, "There are no Indians here in the East." In truth, there are thousands of them, and they have begun to reclaim their heritage. 7
Sources Cited and Terrific Links and Webrings
Other anthro4n6 online research papers:
The Book Store is now open!
Comments and questions may be addressed to Terrie
© 2002 W3WebDesign
All Rights Reserved
This site designed and maintained by