Native Languages of the Americas: Lenape Delaware Indian Legends
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 contact us and let us know.
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.
(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 Kishelėmukonkw, which literally means "Creator," or as Kanshė-Pąhtąmąwas, 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 Ketanėtuwit as a divine spirit with no human form or attributes.
Ketanėtuwit is pronounced similar to keh-tah-nuh-tuh-wit, and Kishelėmukonkw similar
to keesh-shay-luh-mook-kawnk, with a slight whistle at the end.
Mahtantu (also spelled Matantu and other ways.)
The manėtu (spirit) of death. A destructive, often evil being usually in opposition to Ketanėtuwit. 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
Nanabozho, and Cree
Wesakaychak. "Moskim" is pronounced moh-skeem and "Tschimammus" is pronounced
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.
(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.
Mėxaxkuk (also spelled Maxa'xāk):
Underwater horned serpent common to the legends of most Algonquian tribes. It is said to lurk in lakes and eat humans.
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 (Pčthakhuweyok):
Powerful storm spirits that live in the sky and cause thunder and lightning. They are usually depicted as giant birds, 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.
(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, like the Windigo of the Ojibway and Cree tribes or the Chenoo of the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet.
A giant hairless bear monster, associated by some people with ancient mammoths. Pronounced yah-kwah-hay.
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.
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.
Excellent anthology of stories, songs, and oral history from the Delaware and other Algonquian tribes.
Great collection of traditional tales about little people from the Lenape and other tribes.