Lenape Indians


The Lenape or Delaware Indians lived in the North East region of North America, including parts of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and northern Delaware. They are a peace loving people with a very interesting religion. Men and women contribute to the tribe in their own ways.


The Lenape grew squash beans and corn. They hunted a large variety of animals. They also built small canoes that were used to fish from. They would then cook over an open fire.


Lenape lived in homes called wigwam. They would bend wooden poles to create the frame of the structure. Then the whole structure was covered in animal skins to create durable walls. A fire pit was placed in the middle of the structure and a hole was cut in the roof so the smoke could rise. Usually one whole family would live in each.


The Lenape made clothes from elk and deer hides. Men wore loincloths and women wore skirts. During the winter they would wear fur robes and during the summer they preferred to wear as little as possible. Both men and women wore belts and moccasins. They painted and tattooed images of spirits all over their bodies.


The Lenape have a very interesting creation story. It all began on the back of a giant tortoise. The tortoise was swimming in the ocean that covered the whole world. There was one tree on the back of the tortoise. The first man sprouted from the roots of this tree. When the man was lonely the tree bent over it made new roots that the first woman sprouted from. This made the man very happy.


Every time a Lenape baby is born the baby’s parents would place the baby’s afterbirth in a green sapling tree. Then the parents would pray that their baby would grow up tall and strong just like the tree.


There were two main groups of Lenape priests. These groups were healers and dream interpreters/future tellers. They buried their dead in shallow graves and even sometimes in groups. The Lenape do believe in the afterlife but not in heaven and hell.


The Lenape treasured nature and admired its beauty. They did not like war or fighting. The Lenape lived in the North East woodlands. The weather is not too harsh there at most points during the year. This is also close to water so it would be easier to fish and ride in canoes.


Their language was Algonquin. There were three dialects; Unami, Munsee and Unalactigo. People who spoke one dialect would have a hard time understanding people who spoke in another dialect. Only two dialects, Munsee and Unami are still spoken today, by a few select elders of the Lenape.


Men made tools and weapons out of wood and stone. The Lenape had a large number of uses of wood these uses include; tools, canoes, frames of houses, baskets, dolls and various religious objects.


The first European invasion was in 1524 when an Italian navigator Giovanni da Verrazano sailed near the east coast of North America. This began happening more frequently in 1609. The number of invaders kept growing until the Lenape ware surrounded. The Lenape referred to these people as Shouwunnock or “Salty People.” They believe that all white people were created from the foam of salt water on the European shores. Many invaders began trading goods with the Indians. They traded objects that the Indians didn’t have such as glass and metal trinkets. Many Indians died from diseases that were brought over from Europe. Many Indians also began abusing alcohol which was brought by the new settlers, which greatly shortened their lives. Many Indians were forced to leave their land. The Unamis now became known as Delaware Indians because of the river that flowed through their land.


Many Munsee tribes started wars against the new settlers which lasted from 1640 to 1649. A large number of massacres of Indians took place during this time. This war became known as Governor Kieft’s War. The Lenapes were greatly weakened by diseases and war by the year 1700.


The Europeans kept taking more and more land from the Lenapes but their land was the most important thing to the Lenapes. Unfortunately, the Europeans wanted all