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Native American Legends: Yakwawiak, the Big Rump Bear

Name: Yakwawiak
Tribal affiliation: Lenape, Mohican, Shawnee
Alternate spellings: Yakwawi'ak, Ya'kwahewak, Yakwawi, Ya'kwahe, Yakwahe
Pronunciation: varies by dialect. Usually yah-kwah-wee-ock.
Also known as: Big Rump Bear, Naked Bear, Amangachtiat, Amangachktiat, Amankaxkti'at Maxkwe, Ahamagachkti‚t MecehquŠ, Ahamagachktiat Me-cehqua, Yagesho, Tagisho, Tagesho
Type: Monster, stiff-legged bear
Related figures in other tribes: Nyah-gwaheh, Katshituasku, Man-Eater, Hairless Bear

Yakwawiak were described as monstrous, man-eating creatures resembling enormous stiff-legged hairless bears. (Yakwawiak is the plural form of their name; Yakwawi and Ya'kwahe are singular forms referring to just one giant bear.) Although "Yakwawiak" is the most common name for these monsters in the Lenape, Shawnee, and other northeast Algonquian tribes, it is not an Algonquian word, and is probably borrowed from the Iroquoian name Nia'gwahe (pronounced nyah-gwah-heh), which means "Great Bear." Yagesho and Tagesho may be more corruptions of Iroquoian names. The original Algonquian name for the monster was probably one of the variants of Amangachktiat, which meant "big rumped" ("maxkwe" and "mecehqua" come from words for "bear.") Some folklorists believe the Ya'kwahe may have been inspired by mammoths or mastodon fossils. You can visit our stiff-legged bear site to read some opinions about that. The Yakwawi is described as a mammoth or elephant by some modern Lenape storytellers, though stories recorded in the past more often referred to it as a type of bear.

Yakwawiak Stories

*The Mastodon:
    Lenape Indian legend of an ancient war with the Yakwawiak (who this storyteller associates with mastodons.)

Recommended Books of Related Native American Legends

When the Chenoo Howls: Native American Tales of Terror:
    Spooky collection of Native American ghost stories and monster tales, told by a Native storyteller.
Spirit of the New England Tribes:
    Collection of Mohican and other Algonquian legends and traditional stories.
Algonquian Spirit:
    Excellent anthology of stories, songs, and oral history from the Algonquian tribes.

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Additional Resources

 The Delaware Tribe: A History
 Lenape mythology
 Mohican story
 Delaware language
 Mahican language
 Mahican words
 Lenape words
 Pennsylvania languages
 Northeast Woodland Natives
 Algonquian language family

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