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Lenape Lore:
Perspectives 5

In many people's minds, traditional Indian clothing is that put into the 1950's "Western" type movies--big flowing warbonnets and other type of clothing that became Hollywood's way of dressing Indians. But all tribes had their own unique clothing, and decorative patterns.

Before colonial times, men typically wore a breechcloth as the primary clothing for everyday work, plus moccasins made of deerskin. Sometimes leggings were added when going into brushy areas, or during colder weather. Nearly all our clothing was deerskin except for some fur robes worn in winter time.

In the summer, the women wore a deerskin skirt that reached from the waist to the knees or below, and moccasins. The skirt was basically a large rectangle that was wrapped around the body to allow for flexibility and comfort while doing everyday tasks.

Both men and women sometimes adorned themselves with turkey feather capes. Delaware men also sometimes wore a bandolier bag. This had a wide, fully beaded shoulder strap attached to a beaded bag. A number of these are now in museums as they were a favorite of collectors.

When cloth became readily available during colonial times, many of the clothing items began to be made of cloth, other than the moccasins. The styles of garments have evolved over the generations, but there are consistent elements to traditional Delaware garments of both men and women. Here are some examples:

Lenape Traditional Men's Clothing
The Men's Bandolier Bag
Lenape Traditional Women's Clothing

Many people wonder if the Delaware just disappeared. In fact, the author of Indian Territory, Warm Springs, was once told, quite seriously, by a federal personnel officer, that she couldn't be Delaware becaue "there are no more Eastern Woodlands Indians." What a shock that would be not only to Delawares, but also to the Senecas, the Mohawks, and so many others!

There are two bands of Delawares here in Oklahoma because the western group (now centered at Anadarko, Oklahoma) split off from the group about 150 years ago when we were all in Indiana. They headed down through Louisiana, then into Texas, and finally got pushed out of there into western Oklahoma. After leaving Indiana our group went to Kansas and we lived there for thirty years until we were forced to move into Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Our group which is headquartered in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, is the main group with tribal membership now at about 10,500.

During the many removals, and from the time of first contact, Christian missionaries loomed large in the history of Indian survival. The debate over how much they helped, or hindered, is a vibrant one in Indian Country.

Many Delawares say that they have mixed feelings about the impact of the missionaries. First, we are not sure the earliest attempts by the Swedish Lutherans in the 1600's was able to make any converts, or at least the evidence is lacking.

Next was David Brainerd, a Presbyterian. It seems like he wasn't around long enough to have too much impact, and unfortunately he probably spread more consumption (tuberculosis) than religion.The Moravians were at it a bit longer, but the strictness of their beliefs seems to have kept many possible converts away.

They did some good things with the language, and we still refer to their works. We cannot help but think that had they offered to teach how to read and write Lenape to all the people and not just the converts the Lenape would today have their own written literature. Also, with wars and massacres such as Gnaddenhutten the "deck was stacked against" the missionaries and, sadly enough, their converts.

By the time the Lenape got to Kansas they were mainly preached to by Methodists and Baptists, but again, the same problems occured that faced Indian tribes across the country. When you converted, you had to give up the old ways. It caused a great deal of division in the tribe. It also was part of the downfall of the traditional beliefs.

This is a difficult matter to discuss because in one way missionaries were attempting to bring a good belief to the Lenape. However, by trying to make it be the only belief, and by strict rules forbidding many activities that were our native ways, they also caused harm in terms of the retention of traditional values and ways. Luckily, many Delaware individuals managed to quietly, and privately, hold on to these important things, and to hand them down to the descendents. Today, with greater freedom of religioin for Native Americans, and with the greater acceptance of multi-ethnic cultures, the Lenape traditional culture is enjoying a public and private resurgence among our people.

Speaking of traditional ways, old Lenape games are now being played at our annual Delaware Days get-together. A new generation of youngsters is learning to enjoy the Kokolėsh (Rabbit Tail) Game. This uses a sharp stick with sinew or string tied to the base and some cone-shaped pieces (usually deer or pig hooves), on the string with a rabbit tail tied on the end of the string to keep the cones from coming off. The object is to catch the cones on the stick--and those who can catch al three at once have a great deal of dexterity!

Then there is Selahtikąn, not unlike Jackstraws. Pieces of reed are decorated with various lines and dots for scoring purposes. The reeds were dropped, and then then picked up one at a time without disturbing any others. Most children today play the modern game now called "Pick Up Stick."

Another favorite is Mamandin, a dice game. Some dice (usually made of bone or deer antler) were placed in a wooden bowl,. The bowl was then thumped down on a folded hide or blanket, making the dice jump in the bowl. Various combinations yielded various scores.

The Munsee and Delaware people who were relocated to Canada play a winter game called Snowsnake. A spear-like projectile, about 7 feet long, is tossed down a trough that has been prepared in in wh. Prepared the night before, the trough was allowed to refreeze to make sure that it would be lined with ice. Players were challenged to see who could get their lance to go the farthest without jumping out of the trough. This may have been adopted from the nearby Iroquois as they also play it.

Return to Perspectives 1
the opening page or go on to:

Federal Recognition Again
Men's Clothing| Lenape Football Game
Women's Clothing
Humor | Walking Purchase

Indian Territory, Warm Springs