Interview with Cliff Matias about the Lenape/Delaware Indians
They were part of the Lenape nation, often referred to as the Delaware Indians, who lived in “Lenapehoking” (Land of the Lenape). Those who lived above the Raritan River and the Delaware Water Gap would speak a different dialect than those to the south.[i] Despite the difference in language, their cultures remained similar.
Kinship played an important role in the Lenape lifestyle. They would often live in groups of 25 to 50 people that could grow to become villages of two hundred to three hundred. All the land belonged to the community and property was shared. Every ten to twelve years, villages would move to a new location due to expended resources.
The Lenape had different clans, which determined who a mother’s children could marry. Sons of one of the three clans, wolf, turtle, and turkey, could not marry women of the same clan. To govern the clans and villages, chiefs or sachems were chosen to lead the community in rituals. Chiefs were also often trustworthy, had strong communication skills, and could easily make sensible decisions. War leaders on the other hand had to gain their power through bravery in battles. Once a leader, they had the power to lead raids as they pleased.
Tasks in the community were often split by gender. Women often worked to plant, harvest, and gather crops. Corn, beans, and squash or “The Three Sisters” were the most important. Women would be trained to make pots out of clay, weave, and make hides for clothing and shelter. Men were delegated to do more of the physical labor. They would clear land, build houses (wigwams) and dugout canoes, and hunt.[ii]
Most members of a family had basic medicinal knowledge to cure more common ailments. “Nentpikes” were herbalists who would cure diseases and heal wounds using natural remedies. “Meteinu” were herbalists that could also use witchcraft to cure sickness and keep evil spirits away. The Lenape also had a “pimewakan” or a sweat lodge in which one could enter for “ritual, cleaning, and curing all manner of sickness.[iii]”
[i] “Who were the Lenape?” Lenape Lifeways
[ii] “Sharing the Work,” Lenape Lifeways, http://www.lenapelifeways.org/lenape1.htm#sharing (Accessed April 27, 2015).
[iii] “Beliefs and Rituals,” Lenape Lifeways, www.lenapelifeways.org/lenape3.htm (Accessed April 27, 2015).