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Lenape/Delaware Indian Legends and Stories

This is our collection of Delaware (Lenape) folktales and traditional stories that can be read online. We have indexed our Native American legends section by tribe to make them easier to locate; however, variants on the same legend are often told by American Indians from different tribes, especially if those tribes are kinfolk or neighbors to each other. In particular, though these legends come from the Lenape (Unami) Delawares, the traditional stories of related tribes like the Nanticoke and Munsee Delawares are very similar.

Enjoy the stories! If you would like to recommend a Lenape legend for this page or think one of the ones on here should be removed, please let us know.

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Important Lenape Mythological Figures

Click on each character's name for more detailed information about his or her role in Lenape mythology.

The Walam Olum (also spelled Walum Olum, Wallum Olam, and several other ways.) This was the name given to a book of Lenape mythological pictographs supposedly discovered by the European eccentric C.S. Rafinesque. It turned out to be a hoax-- Rafinesque drew the pictures himself-- but he clearly did base the book on real Algonquian myths. Unfortunately, since Rafinesque was so intent on pretending he had discovered an original Lenape writing system, he didn't properly source any of the myths he recorded in the Walum Olum, at least some of which definitely came from tribes other than the Lenape; so even though some of this work must have come from real Lenape storytellers, it's impossible to be certain which parts those are, and the Walam Olum can't be treated as a reliable source for Lenape folklore.

Ketanëtuwit (also spelled Kitanitowit and other ways.) This means "Great Spirit" in the Lenape language, and is the Lenape name for the Creator god. He is sometimes also referred to as Kishelëmukonkw, which literally means "Creator," or as Kanshë-Pàhtàmàwas, which means "great god." Unlike most other Algonquian folklore, Lenape stories sometimes personified the Great Spirit as a human interacting with the Lenapes; other Lenape myths treated Ketanëtuwit as a divine spirit with no human form or attributes. Ketanëtuwit is pronounced similar to keh-tah-nuh-tuh-wit, and Kishelëmukonkw similar to keesh-shay-luh-mook-kawnk, with a slight whistle at the end.

Mahtantu (also spelled Matantu and other ways.) The manëtu (spirit) of death. A destructive, often evil being usually in opposition to Ketanëtuwit. After the introduction of Christianity, Lenape people frequently identified Mahtantu with the Devil. Pronounced muh-tun-toh.

Moskim or Tschimammus. Rabbit, the benevolent culture hero of the Lenape tribes (sometimes referred to as a "transformer" by folklorists.) Not many stories about Moskim are still told today, but he seems to have shared some similarities with other Algonquian heroes such as the Wabanaki Gluskap and Cree Whiskey-Jack. "Moskim" is pronounced moh-skeem and "Tschimammus" is pronounced chuh-mah-muss.

Nanapush (also spelled Nanabozho and other ways.) Nanapush was not a Lenape character at all but the culture hero of the Anishinabe tribes. This is one of several confusions introduced by Rafinesque's "Walam Olum" book. Lenape stories featuring Nanabush were probably originally about Moskim/Tschimammus, or else may actually be Chippewa stories mistaken for Lenape ones.

Crazy Jack (Wehixamukes, Kupahweese, etc.) Human trickster figure, notable for foolishness and laziness, but usually escaping serious peril through moments of intuitive wisdom and good luck.

Mesingw (also known as Misingw, Misinkhalikan, and other variants.) This is the Lenape Mask Spirit, a powerful, sacred medicine spirit who appears to Lenape men in dreams and is the focus of certain traditional Lenape religious rituals. Some people (especially non-Natives) have begun associating Mesingw with Bigfoot recently, but this is not a traditional view-- many Native American tribes do indeed have sasquatch/hairy man legends but the Lenape Mask Spirit is not one of them. The name is pronounced in between muh-seeng and muh-seeng-wuh.

Mëxaxkuk (also spelled Maxa'xâk): Underwater horned serpent common to the legends of most Algonquian tribes. It is said to lurk in lakes and eat humans.

Underwater Panthers: Powerful mythological creatures something like a cross between a cougar and a dragon. They are dangerous monsters who live in deep water and cause men and women to drown.

Thunder Beings (Pèthakhuweyok): Powerful storm spirits that live in the sky and cause thunder and lightning. They are usually depicted as giant birds in Delaware stories, although sometimes they have human heads or other attributes. Thunder Beings are dangerous spirits who sometimes kill people with their powers, but they are also sworn enemies of the horned serpents and sometimes rescue people from those monsters.

Wemategunis (also spelled Matekanis and other ways.) Magical little people of the forest, like sprites or dwarves. They are mischievous but generally benevolent creatures, although they can be dangerous if they are disrespected. Their name is pronounced weh-mah-teh-guh-neese.

Mhuwe (also spelled Mehuwe and other ways.) A man-eating giant of Delaware folklore, like the Windigo of the Ojibway and Cree tribes or the Chenoo of the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet. Pronounced muh-hoo-way.

Yakwahe: A giant hairless bear monster, associated by some people with ancient mammoths. Pronounced yah-kwah-hay.

Delaware Indian Folklore

*Lenape Stories:
    Online collection of Lenape Indian legends and oral history from the Delaware Tribe of Indians.
*The Lenapé Creation Story * Lenape Creation Web:
    Lenape myths about the creation of the world and the Great Flood.
*Rainbow Crow, a Lenape Legend * Mànàka'has:
    Lenni Lenape myths about the origin of fire.
*The Meesink Story * The Masked Being * Msiingw and the Big House:
    Lenape Delaware myths about Mesingw.
*The Good Looking Woman: * The Pretty Maiden:
    Lenape legends about a girl punished for her rudeness.
*The Greedy Maiden:
    Lenape legend about a girl punished for her greed.
*The Hunter and the Owl:
    Lenape legend about a man who broke his promise to the owl.
*The Stubborn Girl: * The Stubborn Girl:
    Why never to bother a dog.
*Corn Mother:
    Delware legends about how the Lenapes lost and regained corn.
*Squirrels Were Said To Be Huge * When Squirrels Were Huge * The Giant Squirrel:
    Lenape legends about how squirrels became small.
*The Boy Who Had Dog Power:
    Lenape legend about a magical dog.
*The Girl Who Joined The Thunders:
    Legend about how the Thunders rescued a Lenape girl from the land of snakes.
*How the Turkey Buzzard Became As He Is:
    Lenape legend about the time Buzzard saved the world.
*How the Spider Came To Be:
    Lenape legend about the origin of spiders. (We suspect that this is not actually a traditional Lenape story
    at all, but actually a Lenape retelling of the Greek myth of Arachne. Nonetheless it is a nice story.)
*How the Butterfly Came To Be:
    Lenape legend about the origin of butterflies.
*The Battle with the Monster:
    How the animals got their brains.
*When the Animals Left Lenapé Land:
    Leni Lenape myth about treating animals with the proper respect.
*How The Pipe Came to the Lenapé:
    Delaware legend about the origin of the sacred pipe.
*The Warrior and the Eagle:
    Lenape legend about an eagle-catcher punished for his pride.
*The Man They Cannot Hold:
    Lenape myths about the hero Wa-Sha-Xnend.
*The Grasshopper War:
    Lenape and Shawnee folktales about a war started for a frivolous reason.
*Wematekan'is and the Hunter * Che-py-yah-poo-thwah:
    Delaware stories about the Little People.
*Snow Boy:
    Lenape myth about a magical winter child.
*The Seven Wise Men:
    Lenape myth about the origin of the Pleiades.
    Lenape legend about a battle with the mastodons.
*Why Dogs Sniff Each Other:
    A humorous Lenape legend about a conflict between the dogs and wolves.
*Which One Do You Feed?:
    Lenape fable about forgiveness.
*A Man Visited the Thunder Beings * Grandfather Thunder: * The Man Who Visited the Thunder-Beings:
    Lenape legends about the Thunderers.
*The Story of the Maple Tree * Axsìnamìnshi:
    Legend of how the Lenapes learned to tap maple trees.
*The Lost Boy:
    Delaware legend about a boy who joined the water spirits.
How Moccasins Were Made:
    Lenape legend about the man who made the first moccasins.
The Last Track:
    A Lenape wisdom story about beginnings and endings.

Recommended Books on Lenape Mythology
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Legends of the Delawares:
    Collection of Delaware Indian folktales including four in Lenape (with English translation.)
Mythology of the Lenape:
    An overview of the Lenape worldview and belief system including several legends and traditional stories.
The White Deer:
    Collection of Lenape and Munsee Delaware folktales.
Rainbow Crow:
    Children's book based on a Lenape legend about the origin of fire.
When the Shadbush Blooms:
    Beautiful picture book by a Lenape author illustrating Native American life in the past and present.
Algonquian Spirit:
    Excellent anthology of stories, songs, and oral history from the Delaware and other Algonquian tribes.
The Deetkatoo:
    Great collection of traditional tales about little people from the Lenape and other tribes.

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Additional Resources

 Lenape Mythology
 Delaware Indian medicine
 Lenape Indians
 Lenape words
 Native American Indian religion
 New Jersey Indian tribes
 Northeast Woodlands cultures
 Algic languages
 Lenape tribe
 Indian cultures and customs

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