Lenni Lenape

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Wanaque is the name given to our valley by the Indians. These early inhabitants had no written language, but pronounced the name Wa na’key or perhaps Wyanockie. This word, in the language of the Lenni Lenape, may come from an Algonquin root meaning “rest and repose.” A more popular interpretation is “place of sassafras.” Historians have found old deeds and documents which reveal the word Wanaque had many spellings – Wynokie, Wynocky, Wynoky, and Wynockie.

1,000 Years Ago in the Ramapo Mountains:

Lenni Lenape

The people who lived in this area 1,000 years ago may have been related to the Munsee tribes of the Lenni Lenape nation who called this region home at the time of early European colonization. The Lenape homeland included all of New Jersey and nearby areas of New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Through their legend called the Wallum Olum, we learn that the Lenape migrated to New Jersey from the “North Country” crossing the Mississippi River, gradually traveling east to New Jersey. The country of origin in the legend is believed to be in Asia and the migration they speak of probably took them across the Bering Strait into Alaska and then eastward. We cannot pinpoint the exact time the Lenape came to the area, as other groups of people preceded them; it is known that people have lived in New Jersey at least 10,000 years. (Price, Lynda. Lenni Lenape, New Jersey’s Native People. Paterson: Paterson Museum, 1979.)

WestbrookDuring the span scholars call the Late Woodland period, which lasted from about A.D. 500 until the beginning of European settlement in 1638, large Indian towns and villages were established. Hunting declined in favor of agriculture and probably became more of a seasonal pursuit. Triangular arrowpoints were in use, replacing earlier stemmed forms.

Corn, beans, and tobacco were grown. Wooden pestles from this period, apparently replacing earlier stone pestles, have been found along with elaborately decorated clay pipes stamped with designs, modeled human faces, and animal heads. Tools made from stone, bone, and antlers have been found. These include needles and awls, arrowheads, scrapers, and flaking tools used in chipping stone artifacts, along with barbed harpoons made of bone and antler. Pottery, from this period, was often globular or oval in shape with decorated collars or other forms of decoration. (Cross, Dorothy. New Jersey’s Indians. Trenton: New Jersey State Museum, 1970.)

An Algonquin speaking people, the Lenni Lenape were called “grandfathers” by the other Algonquin tribes. In their language, the words Lenni Lenape mean “men of men,” or, “original people.” Every band had a sachem or chief chosen by certain women called chiefmakers. It was the job of the chief to tend to the welfare of the band and administer during peacetime. In times of war, the leadership of the band fell to the captains or warleaders. Although the Lenape society was organized under the leadership position of a chief, they also maintained a council which consisted of the chief, shamen (medicine or holy men), elders and warriors. This council of men actually ruled the tribe.

The Lenni Lenape located their villages along the banks of a river, usually in an area with good soil in which to grow their crops. Moderate in size, the semi-permanent villages consisted of small single family dwellings with a large house in the center to be used for religious and social ceremonies. The traditional Lenape home was a bark covered wigwam, either round with a domed roof or rectangular with a gabled roof. Other saplings were tied lengthwise to the structure to give the dwelling strength and support. Bark, corn stalks, or woven mats were then placed over the shell to cover the wigwam and a hole was left in the roof to allow smoke to escape from the interior. A bark cover was hung over the ceiling hole when the fire was not burning and a hide was used to cover the doorway for protection from the elements. The interior of the wigwam was furnished with rough benches around the perimeter which, when covered with furs, were used as beds and seats. Personal possessions were stored beneath the benches. (Price, Lynda. Lenni Lenape, New Jersey’s Native People. Paterson: Paterson Museum, 1979.)

The rivers of New Jersey were the thoroughfares by which the Lenape traveled from place to place. Handmade dugout canoes were used by most of the Lenape in this area. The canoes were made by carefully selecting and cutting down large trees. The interior of each tree was then set on fire and the charred wood and ashes were scraped out with scrapers and gouges. Dugout canoes could safely navigate most rivers. When the Lenape ventured out into larger bodies of water, two dugouts were lashed together. Lenape traveled on foot between villages by means of a system of trails connecting different sections of the state. The trails generally followed waterways, going around mountains and other obstacles. Some of the most frequently used trails became roads during colonial times. (Price, Lynda. Lenni Lenape, New Jersey’s Native People. Paterson: Paterson Museum, 1979.)

Indian Names

  • WYANOKIE, WANAQUE – Sassafras
  • MACOPIN – Wild Potato
  • WINBEAM (WOMBIMISH) – Chestnut tree
  • PEQUANNOC – Cleared ground
  • IOSCA – Shining waters
  • POMPTON – Wry mouth (twisted)
  • POMPTON VALLEY – Crooked mouthed. This probable refers to the manner in which Ringwood and Ramapo Rivers pass down and discharge themselves into the Pompton River near this place.
  • MAHWAH – Beautiful
  • CUPSAW – Curly brook
  • HOHOKUS – Tall cedars or cleft in the rock
  • TAMARACK – Larch tree
  • RAMAPO – Chestnut forest
  • IAWANDA -Placid water
  • ACQUACKANONK – A place in a rapid stream where fishing is done with a bush net.
  • ACQUACKANUNCK – Where gum blocks were made or procured for pounding corn.
  • LONG POND – Greenwood Lake

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