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.

Famous Delaware Indians

Delaware (Lenni-Lenapi) Legends:


Article Index:

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.

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.