The Lenape Indians

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The Lenape Indians
Pennsylvania and Local History
The Lenape Indians

The Delaware River, named after Sir Thomas West, Lord de la Warr the governor of the Jamestown colony, flows from the Catskill Mountains in New York to the Delaware Bay along the borders of New Jersey and Delaware. The Delaware River meanders along and forms the boundary of present-day Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The first known inhabitants living along the banks of the Delaware River were the Eastern Woodland natives known as the Lenape Indians – sometimes called the Lenni Lenape or the Delaware Indians. Lenape stands for common or ordinary people and they called their land along the Delaware River Lenapehoking meaning Land of the Lenape (Kraft, 2005). At one time, the area known as Lenapehoking covered the southeastern portion of New York (including Staten Island and the western portion of Long Island), the southwestern portion of Connecticut, Eastern Pennsylvania, all of New Jersey, and the northeastern portion of Delaware along the Delaware Bay (Kraft, 2005). Evidence of the Lenape Indian’s presence in this geographic region dates back 3,000 years. The Lenapes first encountered the Europeans during the 16th Century. The discovered artifacts, the writings of the European settlers, and the stories passed down through the generations of Lenapes give us the story of the life and customs of the Lenape Indians as it was back during that time period. Two distinctly large groups of Lenape Indians, separated by geographic regions, made up what was known as Lenapehoking. The group of Lenape living north of what is today the Delaware Water Gap spoke a Munsee dialect and the group to the south spoke a Unami dialect (Lenape Lifeways, Inc, 2002). These two groups of Lenape Indians were organized into many bands which the Europeans called tribes. These small groups lived along the streams and rivers at the edge of the thick forests. In the northern Munsee group, the bands included the Raritan, Hackensack, Tappan, and Minisink Indians. The Unami group to the south consisted of the bands known as the Siconese, Mantaes, Remkokes, and Sankhikan Indians (Kraft, 2005). Each band of Lenapes had three separate clans also known as phratry – the turtle clan, the wolf clan, and the turkey clan. All Lenapes belonged to one of these three clans (Kraft, 2005). The extended families within each band were related through their mother. Clan membership was always passed down through the mother’s lineage. Each family group consisted of the mother and all her children and their children, the grandmother, and the mother’s brothers and sisters and their children. The Lenape married in their teens and were required to marry someone from a different clan. The new husband left his clan and moved in with his wife’s family. Their children and grandchildren always stayed with their mother’s clan (Grumet, 1989). The Lenape spent much of their time working out-of doors. This accounted for their tanned skin coloring and their muscular physique. The males spent their days hunting, trapping, and fishing. The men did the heavy work such as clearing the forests for their homes and gardens, building their shelters, and making tools out of stone and animal bones which were necessary for them to hunt, sew, and garden. All pieces of the animals they hunted were used for some practical tool, pieces of clothing or blankets, or decoration. The woman kept busy caring for the children, cooking, gardening, sewing, scavenging for food, herbs and firewood in the forests, and preparing food for storage. Their clothing was minimal in the warmer weather. When it got colder, both the males and females wore leggings, fur robes, and moccasins (Kraft, 2005) made from the hides of the animals they hunted. Their clothing was often decorated with seeds, shells, and paints. The Lenape were seasonal travelers and always...
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