14. Delaware (Lenni Lenape), Shawnee (Shawun)

Perhaps the most intriguing tribe to me is the Delaware because they figure into so many other tribes’ legends. Remember the Mound Building Yuchi of Tennessee who insisted that the Delaware were the only people in that region when the Yuchi made their way into Tennessee? The Yuchi referred to the Delaware as the “Old Ones”. Most oral traditions of the Algonquian claim that they are descendants of the Abenaki, “The Fathers”. But the Abenaki of the New England region claim that they are descendants of the Delaware, “The Grandfathers”. The Algonquian Shawnee and the Iroquoian Cherokee claim their descent from the Delaware. The same claim is made by the Huron, Nanticoke, Conoy, and Mohican, and all surviving Algonquian groups. I think if I were asked to pick a candidate as a possible descendant of the Paleo-European Solutreans who migrated from Europe perhaps 26,000 years ago, it would be the Delaware. Unfortunately they were savaged by the English early on, shattered and scattered to the four winds. There are numerous pockets of survivors, perhaps 3000 members collectively, most of which were absorbed by other tribes long ago. But something of their world survives through the customs remembered by or still being observed by many tribes that claim their grandfathers were in fact the Delaware.

The Delaware are known to have had three separate bands or sub-tribes: Munsee, Unami, and Unalachtigo. It is believed that these three groups are synonymous with the three major clans of Wolf, Turtle, and Turkey. Each of these three major clans is further divided into 12 sub-divisions, some if not many are now extinct, but it is thought the clan system was arranged as follows:
WOLF CLAN
1.    Big Feet
2.    Yellow Tree
3.    Pulling Corn
4.     Care Enterer/Cave Enterer (?)
5.    Across the River
6.    Vermilion
7.    Dog Standing by Fireplace
8.    Long Body
9.    Digging
10.    Pulling Up Stream
11.    Brush Log
12.    Bringing Along
TURTLE CLAN
1.    Ruler
2.    High Bank Shore
3.    Drawing Down Hill
4.    Elector
5.    Brave
6.    Green Leaves
7.    Smallest Turtle
8.    Little Turtle
9.    Snapping Turtle
10.    Deer
·    Two extinct by 1877 and unknown
TURKEY CLAN
1.    Big Bird
2.    Bird’s Cry
3.    Eye Pain
4.    Scratch the Path
5.    Opossum Ground
6.    Old Shin
7.    Drift Log
8.    Living in Water
9.    Root Digger
10.    Red Face
11.    Pine Region
12.    Ground Scratcher

Why the historian (Morgan, 1877) recorded this list and other tribe/band divisions without some explanation as to their meaning seems tragically short-sighted. Each of these clans would have had distinct customs, responsibilities, and rituals associated with the medicine they protected and handled. If this is known today the secrets are well guarded. I could find no further reference or explanation. But each of these clans had a place in the Delaware Longhouse or Big House ceremony, observed by virtually all Algonquian tribes that shared many of the same beliefs, practices, and rituals.

The design and construction of the Delaware Longhouse is based entirely on their creation myth given to them by the Manitou in dreams. The Longhouse re-creates the cosmos, and the detailed design is a specific configuration of sustained power. If you consult the Conner Prairie link provided at the end you will find extraordinary detail in the construction and meaning of the Delaware Longhouse.

The Manitou is at once one Creator and many. Every individual had his or her own personal Manitou that spoke directly to them. Personal Manitou appeared during prolonged puberty rites that included pronounced fasting and acute isolation. The relationship lasted a lifetime and was revitalized in Longhouse rituals once or twice a year. Each Manitou mask was carved into a wooden post and the post was set in the Longhouse. An individual could renew his connection to his personal Manitou with a face to face encounter, where he could seek guidance and restore his personal harmony with the cosmos.

Longhouse ceremonies included everything from righting wrongs to revivifying transcendental relationships with the spirits that lived in the Manitou masks. The construction of the Longhouse made manifest the twelve houses of the cosmos, and the four directions. The east and west doors accommodated the movement of the sun and moon and therefore the direction the people moved in the ceremony that re-created the cosmos.

I have simplified the details of an otherwise extremely complex structure that sustained the cosmos and its power, and that served to create and sustain harmony with the natural and supernatural worlds. Equally complex was the ritual itself with wave after wave of dances during which individuals could stop and commune with the spirits in the masks. Smudges of cedar and tobacco were maintained continuously. Between each round of dancing the floor was tamped down and swept with turkey plumes. Dust was regarded as the negative force released at the moment of Creation.

The twelve individual poles and masks are thought to represent the Seven Thunders, the Four Directions, and the Earth Mother. I won’t speculate on the meaning of the Seven Thunders but know that each had both a human face and an animal face believed to be in control of the weather, to provide rain for crops, and protection from water monsters. It seems a trite generalization for what was obviously a complex, transcendental, sophisticated belief system and practice.

The Shawnee believed that the Grandmother created the Delaware first. She kindled a fire and placed a Delaware man and woman in the east. She then created an old man and an old woman, the Shawnee division. Finally She created a young man and woman who were to have children that became three of the Shawnee bands. The Shawnee and the Delaware still insist that they were once one people divided long ago by a children’s squabble over a grasshopper. The Shawnee also believe themselves relatives of the Kickapoo. This suggests to me that both split from the Delaware long ago or the Kickapoo split from the Shawnee. The Shawnee are not thought to have ever had a complex clan system like that of the Delaware, but both had a Man Eater Society, led by four women. Man Eaters disposed of captive bodies by eating them, much like the Atapaka in the south. I don’t know if this custom was due to a cultural exchange among these three tribes, or that the custom evolved independently, or was in fact widespread at one time.

http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/tribes/delaware/delawarehist.html

http://www.connerprairie.org

http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/tribes/shawnee/shawneehist.html

http://allisonbruning.blogspot.com/2012/06/shawnee -allies.html




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