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Lenape made dome-shaped houses called wigwams where a
small family or individual could live.
They pushed a circle of poles into the ground and then
bent them over one another to make a domed frame, which they
covered with sheets of bark, skins or woven rush mats.
Sometimes several families lived together in a larger “longhouse,”
still rounded on top, but longer.
Inside the longhouse were platforms of poles on either
side that could be used as seats or beds.
Down the center was a row of fires to share.
Openings in the roof let the smoke out.
Corn and herbs were hung high in the roof and there was
room to store other goods beside the doorway.
lived in settled villages but did not stay in one place for the
whole of their lives. Every
ten or twelve years they had to move their entire village to a
new site because they had used up many of the natural resources
of their area. During
the year, small groups might re-locate to temporary camps
farther removed from the main village.
Here they would stay for an indefinite time until they
procured the desired materials or foods.
dressed for snow and icy winds or for sticky heat, depending on
the season. For men,
light clothes would be a breechclout and leggings tied to a belt,
and for women, a short, wrap-around skirt.
Clothing worn next to the body was usually made of deerskin
or beaver skin. In
colder weather people added a hide shirt, fur robes, and perhaps
mittens and fur caps. Everyone
wore soft-soled deerskin moccasins.
themselves clean and were accustomed to a daily swim or used a
sweat lodge or steam bath. The
women wore their hair long and when working around fires, kept it
in a braid or bun in the back of their head.
For decoration, they might wrap their hair with a snakeskin
or give their hair a gloss by applying bear grease.
Young men often would cut their hair or pull it out by the
roots so that only a small round spot on the crest of the head
would remain. Although
Lenape men did have sparse facial hair, most got rid of it by
plucking it out. Men
typically wore a hairpiece called a “roach,” made out
of porcupine hairs and dyed deer hair.
They might also wear feathers in their hair, but usually
only about two – never the big war bonnets worn by the Plains
The women used a
type of red paint made from the bloodroot plant mixed with bear
grease to put a round dot on each cheek, on their ears, and where
they parted their hair. Men
often painted their face, chest and shoulders.
tattooed themselves with pictures of animals, birds, snakes or
various geometric designs. Both
women wore earrings, necklaces and hair ornaments from
many natural objects like shell, bone, feathers, stones, clay, and
animal claws and teeth.
Lenape had a great variety of food and believed that food was
there to be shared. People
were entitled to what they had trapped or gathered, but no one
should be allowed to go hungry.
Whenever visitors arrived, they were offered food.
In turn, the guests always ate what was given to them.
Food was cooked in clay pots over the fire or wrapped in
leaves and set in the hot ashes.
The three most important planted crops were corn (also called
maize), beans and squash, known as “The Three Sisters” by many
Eastern Woodland tribes. Corn
on the cob was boiled, baked, or fried in bear grease.
Sometimes the women scraped the corn kernels off the cob,
ground the kernels into a paste and shaped the paste into patties,
which were then wrapped in leaves and baked or boiled.
Corn was also used to make soup, bread, and puddings.
Beans were boiled or fried, made into soups, or added to
meat dishes. Squash
was boiled or baked whole. Greens
were added to meat dishes, wild herbs to soups, and berries to
puddings or breads. Utensils
consisted of bark plates or wooden bowls and spoons.
Plant foods were also stored away for the wintertime.
Ears of corn were tied in bundles and hung from the
ceilings of the houses to dry.
Corn kernels and beans were removed and stored in skin or
woven bags. Pumpkins
and squash were cut into rings, put on a stick, and hung up to dry
in the sun. Meat and fish could also be sun-dried or sometimes
were placed over a smoldering fire to slowly smoke dry.
As long as these foods were kept dry, they would not spoil.
When a Lenape woman wanted to use dried food, she cooked it
in water. The water
made the dried food swell up and became soft enough to eat.
Some Lenape women dug deep, wide
holes or storage pits into the earth.
Dried meat, dried fish, nuts and other dried edibles were
placed in these storage pits.
These subterranean storage areas were lined with mats or
grasses to keep food free of dirt and keep out mice and other
vermin. Stored foods
enabled the Lenape to survive the cold winter.
The Indians of Lenapehoking used different kinds of transport
according to the season and the area in which they lived.
Often they simply went on foot, making their own trail or
following animal tracks or a dry streambed.
Both men and women often carried heavy loads.
They would rest the bundle on their back and support some
of its weight with a strap called a tumpline.
This was attached at each end to the bundle and passed in
a loop around the wearer’s forehead.
In summer, when
streams and lakes were not frozen, it was sometimes easier to
travel by water than by land.
The Lenape used dugout canoes for this purpose.
The canoes were made from a hollowed-out tree, which
could carry several people.
Music and Storytelling
Not much is known about Lenape games and sport.
Children’s toys usually consisted of miniature tools and
weapons for the boys, and cornhusk dolls, small mortars
and pestles, and toy pots for the girls. With these
objects, children had fun and began to learn the skills
they needed later in life.
The Lenape also admired
strength and liked to compete with one another in contests
or games. Young men wrestled or tried to see who
could throw a large stone the greatest distance. To
be able to run fast was an important skill and so races
were often held. Boys tried their skill with the bow
and arrow, or with a pole that had to be thrown through a
rolling hoop. The “cup and pin” game, made from
deer toe bones and a stick, was a favorite pastime, and
gambling appears to have been very popular. For
this, pieces of bone or wild plum pits were painted on one
side and then thrown into the air from a wooden bowl.
Points were scored depending on how many of each color
came up. In the moccasin game, one person would take
four moccasins and hide something under one of them; the
other players would have to guess where it was.
Both males and females
enjoyed team games. Lacrosse, a very popular sport
among neighboring Indian tribes, may or may not have been
played by the Lenape. A kind of football called
Pahsaheman may also have been played. In this game,
the ball was made of deerskin stuffed with hair and both
men and women engaged, though the rules were different for
each sex. Men could catch the ball but could not
carry it or throw it; they had to kick it. Moreover,
the men were prohibited from tackling or grabbing the
women. Women, however, could catch the ball, run
with it, pass it, or kick it, and they could tackle the
men, sometimes tearing off their shirts.
consisted of simple
whistles or possibly wooden flutes, and rattles made of
turtle shell, bark, and gourds. Dancing accompanied by
music and singing was a favorite pastime.
Early writers noted that “the women, who always follow
the men, dancing in a circle, act with decency and
becoming modest … (but) the men shout and leap and stomp
with such violence that the ground trembles under their
feet” (Zeisberger 1910:118).
Stories were often fun to listen to and in winter people
told stories to pass the time. But stories also
served a serious purpose. Stories explained beliefs
about creation, past events and social values and were an
important part of a child’s upbringing. Children
looked forward to long winter evenings by the fire,
listening to the tales told by the Elders. Children
were expected to be good listeners and have good memories.
Click Here for a Lenape
(For additional information see
Lenape or Delaware Indians, or The Indians of Lenapehoking.)
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