Displaying items by tag: Native American

Thursday, 18 November 2021 21:02

The Lenape languages


Yesterday, I came across two very interesting books written in the language of the Lenape, the indigenous people of eastern Pennsylvania. Both are Christian books, containing translated hymns and Biblical stories. Both had the name “A. Luckenback” on the title page, so I did a little digging into him.

Abraham Luckenback was a Moravian missionary born in Lehigh County in 1777. He left an autobiography published by the Moravian Historical Society in 1917. In 1800, he became a missionary and traveled west with a Moravian married couple into Indiana, the territory of the people he knew as the Delaware Indians.

On his way, Luckenback stopped for a time with an older missionary named D. Zeisberger, who had translated many German hymns into the Delaware language.* Luckenback lived for 5 years in Indiana, and he gives several interesting accounts of Lenape rituals and a little bit about their day-to-day life. He describes their houses and diets. His mission was not successful, and he returned to Pennsylvania in 1806.


Luckenback spent a couple of years in Bethlehem learning the Lenape language and translating. In 1808, he returned to missionary work, travelling to Canada and Michigan. He remained among the Lenape and other tribes until he retired from the work in 1843. By that time, many of his congregants had been pushed further west by white settlement.


In addition to Zeiberger’s hymnal, we have Luckenback’s translations of Bible stories. According to his autobiography, he also translated the New Testament. Luckenback never mentions that the Lenape originally inhabited Pennsylvania.




While William Penn was known for his fair relations with the Lenape, his sons notoriously cheated the land’s inhabitants out of over one million acres in the Walking Purchase. Most Lenape were forced westward into Ohio, Indiana, and Canada. From there, the nation was forced into Kansas, and then Oklahoma, where two of the three federally recognized Lenape tribes are located (the other is in Wisconsin). Delaware and New Jersey also recognize Lenape tribes in their states.

Although Pennsylvania does not recognize any indigenous tribes, there is evidence that many Lenape stayed in the region, often marrying into white families and practicing their traditions in secret. Today the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania is trying to gain state recognition.

800px Lenape Languages

By -, CC BY-SA 3.0,


*The term “Delaware” referred to two different language speakers – Unami and Munsee. The languages are closely related. The people living in this area spoke Unami. I’m afraid I don’t know which language the books are in.


Luckenback, Abraham.  "The Autobiograph of Abraham Luckenback." Transactions of the Moravian Historical Society Vol. 10, No. 3/4 (1917), pp. 359, 361-408 (49 pages)

Published in Found in Collection
Wednesday, 28 November 2018 21:23

Native American Pipes

Recently, we have been researching two pipes that were claimed to be made by Native Americans. Although we were unable to pinpoint the creator of these pipes, we determined they were most likely created by someone in Montgomery County who was inspired by Native American culture or wanted to celebrate a specific event.

The first pipe is made from a hollow piece of wood and has a stone end shaped like a face. Although we are not sure of this pipe’s origin, the design of the face looks similar to Native American designs in the Central and Southern American region.

pipe 1

Pipe 1, HSMC

The second pipe also has a hollow wood piece. Unlike the previous pipe, this one has a long stone design at the end and is painted red. Without any distinct carvings, we are unsure where this pipe originated. However, since the pipes were housed together in our vaults, it seems likely that these two pipes were made by either the same individual or social group.

pipe 2

Pipe 2, HSMC

Although these two pipes are not authentic Native American pieces, they demonstrate people’s interest in Native American culture. So what does an authentic Native American pipe look like? Observe the picture below.

authentic pipe

Photograph by Katherine Fogden, NMAI. Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

This is a Sisseton Dakota pipe bowl and stem, c. 1870.[1] It is made from catlinite pipestone, wood, mallard feathers, porcupine quills, horse hair, ribbon, wool cloth, and sinew. Unlike the two pipes at HSMC, authentic Native American pipes like this one are made from thick, strong wood. Authentic pipes are often decorated with feathers, string, beads, or carvings.

Native American pipes have different functions, depending on the tribe. Pipes like the one from NMAI are often used as a way to pray. According to George P. Horse Capture (A’aninin), “Tobacco is placed into the pipe bowl and tucked in with a pipe tamper, and the pipe is then lighted and smoked by each of the participant as they pray.”[2]


[1] George P. Horse Capture (A’aninin). “Ceremonial Pipes”.

[2] Ibid.

Published in Found in Collection