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Mahican vs. Mohegan

Of all the tribes of North America, the Mahicans and Mohegans are probably the ones most frequently confused. Even ordinarily reliable online sources like the Ethnologue of Languages and Wikipedia are incorrectly lumping these peoples together. This confusion is nothing new, either--in the 19th-century classic "Last of the Mohicans," James Fenimore Cooper famously confused important details from at least these two tribes (he may have gotten the idea of a tribe on the verge of extinction from a third Algonquian tribe of New England, since neither the Mahicans nor the Mohegans were in this situation.)

Anyway, so we get asked a lot whether these two tribes are really the same, whether their names are the same, and whether they spoke the same language. First, no, they are not the same tribe and never have been. They were kinfolk and shared many cultural traits, like other Algonquian peoples of New England, but they were no more closely related to each other than they were to the Lenape, the Munsee, the Wampanoag, the Abenaki, and dozens of other New England tribes whose names were less confusingly similar. Second, the names were not so similar before English speakers got ahold of them. The Mohegans called themselves Mahiingan, "wolf," and the Mahicans called themselves Muheconneok, their name for the Hudson River. And third, the languages were not the same. They were related to each other, like English and German, but were different enough that colonists who had learned one language could not communicate with the other tribe. (Most of the Indians in this area were multilingual themselves, so it is hard to tell from historical accounts how mutually comprehensible the languages were.)

Here is a comparative chart of a few vocabulary words in Mahican/Mohican and the same words in Mohegan/Pequot. These words come only from 18th- and 19th-century sources, so we did not include them on our main Algonquian vocabulary page, as the words that were recorded are too limited to compare with the living languages. However, this may at least help to illustrate some of the differences between the Mohican and Mohegan languages--as well as some of their similarities.

English Mohegan Mohican
One Nuqut Ngutte
Two Nis Nesche
Three Shwi Nacha
Four Yáw Náwa
Five Nupáw Nánan
Man In Nemanáu
Woman Sqá P'chánim
Dog Náhtiá Ndiáu
Sun Kisusq Keesog
Moon Wiyon Keesog
Water Nupi Npe
Heart Táh Tah
Bear Awáhsohs Machq
Night Tupkuw Tpochgo
Shoe Mahkus Maksen
Fire Wiyoht Stau

Click here to see vocabulary words in living Algonquian languages: Algonquian Indian Words

Mohegan and Mohican Picture Dictionaries

Here are some themed word lists in Mohegan and Mohican that we have put together and illustrated for language learners. Feel free to print them out for classroom purposes!

*Mohegan animal words
*Mohican animal words

Additional Resources

   Massachusetts Native American tribes
   Algonquian culture
   Indian counting
   Facts about Eastern Woodlands Indians

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