Delaware (Lenape)

Burial Ceremonies of the Lenape Tribe

The people of the Lenape tribe believe life is centered around close bonds of kinship and family. Through family, identity and rights to land and livelihood were established. They lived life with "fierce independence" and struggled to "put the needs of the individual before the requirements of custom and law" (Grumet 13).

The respect given to the memory of the dead and the concept of the survival of the soul after the death of the body forms an integral part of the Lenape belief.

At the moment of death the spirit is to separate from the body, but it doesn't necessarily leave the territory. The spirit remains in the "vicinity for eleven days in which it subsists on food found in the houses of the living, if none has been placed at the grave" (Newcomb 52). It is said the food is not eaten, but somehow the spirit "extracts some nourishment from it" (Newcomb52).

After the eleven days the spirit travels to the "home of the Creator or highest heaven" (Newcomb 52). Here, the spirit lives eternity in the "Happy Hunting Ground" where "pain, sickness, sorrow, and worry have no place" (Newcomb 53). Those who have died before will be there and look the same as they were on Earth. People who were disfigured or handicapped would be perfect. The belief was "only flesh was injured, not he spirit" (Newcomb 53).

In regards to the memory of the dead, Lenapes bury their dead with ceremonies according to rank and condition of the body as described in History, Manners and Customs of the Indian Nation. The following excerpt describes the funeral for the chief of the tribe’s wife:

" the moment she died, her death was cried throughout the village by women appointed for this very purpose...." (Heckwelder 270).

The corpse was placed in a coffin, dressed and painted in the most "superb Indian style" (Heckwelder 270); from silver arm bangles to ornamented moccasins. Silver bands tapering from the head down to her waist confined her hair. The ornamentation was unforgettable.

Items the chief's wife enjoyed while on earth such as shoes, scissors, sewing utensils, a knife, basin and spoon, and other articles of importance, were placed in the coffin for her to use when she has reached her final "resting place."

Arriving at the burial site, the coffin lid was lifted and the corpse exposed for viewing. Principal war chiefs, counselors of the nation, and members of the tribe were all present. A circle was formed around it where they mourned her death for hours. "A feeling of sorrow was alive in a manner becoming the occasion" (Heckwelder 272). Women threw themselves about shouting prayers, cries of despair, and pulling out their hair for the death of such a great woman.

After the mourning was complete, the coffin was then placed into the ground where the grave was filled with dry soil, pieces of bark, and leaves so no fresh ground could be seen. This was done to prevent animals from destroying the body and disrupting its search for eternal peace.

"At dusk, kettles of victuals are carried to the grave and placed upon it. This was done every evening for the next three weeks" (Heckwelder 275) until the soul found its eternal resting-place.

When the entire mourning process was complete, the name of the deceased was only spoken "under special circumstances" (Grumet 22). If the individual had a name of an animal or object, new words would be made so as to not mention the deceased's name.

The men and women of the Lenape tribe looked for guidance and power through dreams, visions, prayers, and ceremonies, and through this their belief in a spirit surviving the death of the body and their regard to burial ceremonies, formed an integral part of the Lenape belief.

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