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  Shelters and Villages          

Buidling a HouseThe 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.  

The Lenape lived in settled villages but did not stay in one place for the whole of theirInside House 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.  

  Clothing and Decoration


The Lenape 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.


Woman Combing Hair

They kept 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. 

Woman with Braid

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 tribes.

Man with Roach

Face PaintingThe 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.  Necklace and Comb

Men tattooed themselves with pictures of animals, birds, snakes or various geometric designs.  Both men and women wore earrings, necklaces and hair ornaments from many natural objects like shell, bone, feathers, stones, clay, and animal claws and teeth.


  Preparing the Food

The 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 Sisters

  BeansSquash & Corn

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 inWoman Grinding 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.  

Drying and Storing
Storage Pit 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.



  Travel and Transportation

WalkingThe 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 byCanoe 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.





  Games, Music and Storytelling

Boys playing Spear & Hoop GameGames
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 hadCup and Pin Game 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.  

FootballBoth 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.


Deer Hide DrumMusical instruments consisted of simple hide-and-water drums, 
bird bone 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 withTurtle Shell Rattle 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).  Bird Bone Whistle

Storytelling Man with Family 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 Story








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  (For additional information see The Lenape or Delaware Indians, or The Indians of Lenapehoking.)


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