Delaware (Lenni-Lenapi)

Delaware (Lenni-Lenapi) Legends

Ketanëtuwit (Kitanitowit) 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.

Characters found in Delaware Legends:

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

Mahtantu (Matantu,  Manëtu ) – The 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.

Mesingw (Misingw, Misinkhalikan) – 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.

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

Mhuwe (Mehuwe) – 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.

Moskim or Tschimammus – Rabbit, the benevolent culture hero of the Lenape tribes (sometimes referred to as a transformer). 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 Glooskap, Anishinabe Nanabozho, and Cree Wesakaychak.

Nanapush (Nanabozho) – 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.

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.

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.

Wemategunis (Matekanis) – 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.

Yakwahe – A giant hairless bear monster, associated by some people with ancient mammoths.

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Famous Delaware Indians

Delaware (Lenni-Lenapi) Legends:


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The Rainbow and the Flood

The Lenni-Lenapi are the First People, so that they know this story is true. After the Creation of the earth, the Mysterious One covered it with a blue roof. Sometimes the roof was very black. Then the Manitou of Waters became uneasy. He feared the rain would no longer be able to pour down upon the earth through this dark roof.

Therefore the Manitou of Waters prayed to the Mysterious One that the waters from above be not cut off.

At once the Mysterious One commanded to blow the Spirit of the Wind, who dwells in the Darkening Land. At once thick clouds arose. They covered all the earth, so that the dark roof could no longer be seen.

Then the voice of the Mysterious One was heard amongst the clouds. The voice was deep and heavy, like the sound of falling rivers.

Then the Spirit of Rain, the brother of the Spirit of Waters and the Spirit of the Winds, poured down water from above. The waters fell for a long time. They fell until all the earth was covered. Then the birds took refuge in the branches of the highest trees. The animals followed the trails to the mountain peaks.

Then the Manitou of Waters feared no longer. Therefore the Mysterious One ordered the rain to cease and the clouds to disappear. Then Sin-go-wi-chi-na-xa, the rainbow, was seen in the sky.

Therefore the Lenni-Lenapi watch for the rainbow, because it means that the Mysterious One is no longer angry.

Tradition of the Calamet

In the days of the old men, far to the north there lived a nation with many villages. Their warriors were as many as the buffalo herds on the plains toward the Darkening Land. Their tepees were many on the shores of a beautiful lake and along wide rivers.


Then the Mysterious One, whose voice is in the clouds, told the chiefs of a great nation, also of many villages, which hunted through all the country from the Big Water in the sunrise to the mountains in the Darkening Land.

Then the chiefs and the old men held a council. Runners came from many villages to the great council. And the council voice was to go to the great nation to the south, the nation with many villages, and bring back scalps and horses.

So the chiefs and warriors went out, one by one. Then runners were sent to all the villages, ordering the chiefs to dance the scalp dance.

Suddenly there came through the sky a great white bird. It came from the forest, and flew into the village of the great chief. It rested above the head of the chief’s daughter.

Then the chief’s daughter heard a voice in her heart. The voice said, “Call all the chiefs and warriors together. Tell them the Mysterious One is sad because they seek the scalps of the Lenni-Lenapi, the First People. Tell the warriors they must wash their hands in the blood of a young fawn. They must go with many presents to the First People. They must carry to the First People Hobowakan, the calumet.”

Thus the First People and the mighty people with many villages on the shore of the lake smoked together the pipe of council. So there was peace.