The Lenape Tribes have a fascinating and rich cultural history. Here are some things that you probably didn’t know about the Lenape way of life.
1) The Women Were in Charge of the Crops
The Lenape people planted crops to make sure that they had a plentiful source of food. These crops included squash, maize, sunflowers and beans. The women were in charge of the planting – the men did not work in the fields.
The Lenape did not fence off their crops, preferring instead to have an open field system. This meant that when the Europeans arrived many of the crop plantations were unseen by them as they were expecting all the crops to be fenced in. The colonists were also confused as they expected that it would be the men working in the fields, not the women.
2) Sense of Dress
Both men and women would wear clothes made out of animal skins such as deer, otter, beaver and raccoon. Women wore knee length skirts in the warmer weather, and full length tunics and cloaks to keep warm in the winter months. Lenape men wore a breech cloth in the hot weather, but changed to the more practical leggings for hunting.
Body paint was very important to the Lenape people. Face painting was often use for ceremonies, but it was also a part of everyday life, particularly for the men in the Tribe. Many of the men had tattoos of animal figures.
Women tended to use a red dye on their hair which was made out of the bloodroot plant. They would also put the die on their cheeks and their ears.
The Lenape had a very equal society which recognized the rights of both men and women. Each were seen as having different roles within the Tribe, but the men and women were equal. This was in stark contrast to the European culture. Men and women did get married, but this was an entirely private matter, and there were no ceremonies created around marriage. If either party did not want to live with the other anymore then they simply agreed to separate.
4) Advanced Healing Techniques
The Lenape people were skillful healers. The herbalists in the tribe were known as Nentpikes. It was very important to the Nentpikes that the plants used should be treated in the proper way, and a ceremony was performed to appease the spirit of the plant selected. The herbalist would select a plant in the forest and dig a small hole next to it. They would then leave some tobacco as an offering to the spirits. Only after the ceremony had been performed could the plant be taken and used to cure the member of the Tribe who needed help.
5) Death and Burial
The Lenape believe in reincarnation and the circle of life. When a baby was born the elder women of the Tribe would look at the child to see if there were signs that it had lived before. They believed that specific people would be reincarnated, so the baby could be the rebirth of a passed relative.
The life expectancy of a member of the Lenape Tribe was only around 35 years old. Many children died in infancy.
When a member of the Lenape Tribe died the others would not speak his name again. The body would be buried in a sitting position, and often food and gifts would be buried with the deceased.