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11 November 2006


Looking Back by Julia White


The "Red Record" (The Wallum Olum) is not new or a recently discovered piece of ancient history. It was given to the white man in 1820, when its last caretaker presented it to a Dr. Ward, a Moravian missionary and physician who had lived among the Lenni-Lenape for a number of years. Dr. Ward had saved the life of the village historian and, as a show of appreciation, the Red Record was given with the statement, "This is like our Bible".

The Red Record has passed through many hands, but most did not even examine the carved and painted prayer sticks made of bark and wood. Finally, it fell into scholarly hands and the inquiry into its meaning began. As the words and symbols of the Red Record were matched to each other by anthropologists, archaeologists and historians, the impact of these writings began to emerge. Each time understanding was near, the writings were pushed aside. There were a number of reasons for this, as there are for all ancient writings as they are discovered.

Firstly, translating and understanding the Red Record would have destroyed the European position that they had taken this land because it was an uncivilized country inhabited by heathen savages. Secondly, it was believed that these heathen savages did not have the mental capacity to maintain a written history of their people. Thirdly, so little was known of the world described by the Red Record that it was passed off as more Native myths and legends.

In spite of this, the inborn curiosity of the intellectual and learned people of history were fascinated by this mystery. With the aerial photographs of Russia, China, Japan and Africa of World War II, and the later, sophisticated photographs and maps from satellites, connections were made with the Red Record which set about the first serious and scientific examination of its meaning. After more than 20 years of work and study, a translation was completed.

In 1976, David McCutchen, a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara and the California Institute of the Arts, was hired to research the history of the Delaware Nation. It should be pointed out that the tribal name "Lenni-Lenape" meant the "Original People". In 1610, Captain Samuel Argall sailed up the Lenape River, and named both the river, and the people living on its banks, the "Delaware" in honor of his patron, Lord De La Warr. From that time on, these people were referred to by outsiders and Europeans as the "Delaware".

In his work, McCutchen came upon The Red Record, the history of its translation, some of the original wooden prayer sticks, and the original words which described the meanings of the carvings. He completed his study as far as he could, and then proceeded to go to the source. He took the results of his research, photographs of the original prayer sticks, and all materials the curators would allow, to Linda Poolaw, the Grand Chief of the Delaware Nation Grand Council of North America in Oklahoma. With Chief Poolaw's assistance, McCutchen was able to fill in the blanks, answer remaining questions and complete the final translation of The Red Record. In 1980, the tribal descendents of the Lenni-Lenape passed a resolution endorsing McCutchen's recreation of the entire Red Record as an accurate re-telling of the history of their people.

As we begin the journey of the Lenni-Lenape, it is important to remember the time frames covered. They did not fly the friendly skies, nor did they take the bus and leave the driving to someone else. THEY WALKED!!

The Red Record begins with the Lenni-Lenape story of the Creation - with Adam and Eve and the Snake of Eden - each with a Native name. Throughout time, the snake has been the Lenni-Lenape symbol for the enemy. The story of man's struggle continues through the Great Flood, and the re-settling of the land after the waters receded. At the time of the re-settling, there came a common understanding shared by all the people that a great body of water lay to their east. It was their destiny to reach that body of water, and so their migration began.

The first scholar to investigate the Red Record estimates that the migration began 1600 years Before Christ. The people set out from their ancestral home located near the border between present day China, Mongolia and Russia. On their journey eastward, settlements, villages and towns of the various inhabitants along their path were encountered. Some were avoided, and some allowed safe and peaceful passage, but there battles and wars to be fought, especially among the great dynasties of China.

The Lenni-Lenape reached the Bering Straight, which was primarily a land bridge with a small strip of swift and treacherous water between them and the shores of present day Alaska. Realizing that they could not cross the water safely, they camped along the shore waiting for the waters to freeze over. When the freeze came, some 10,000 people made the crossing into the North American Continent. As they traveled inland, they encountered other Natives already living in the area. The main body of the migration divided, with some bearing south into the area of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, and others continuing deeper into Canada. Their passage through this territory continues to be evidenced today by marked differences in the appearance and customs of the interior Eskimo, and the coastal Eskimo/Inuit.

During their travels, the Lenni-Lenape encountered many Natives already living and working on the land. When they reached fertile areas where the fishing, hunting and farming were good, they would settle for a time, learn the hunting and farming techniques of the people already there, and replenish their strength and their food supplies. During these times of peace and prosperity, their numbers would increase. Each time the main body of the migration would continue their search for the great water in the east, various groups would remain behind because they had become attached to the area and its life. Others would continue southward, and eventually ended up at the mesas and pueblos of the Anasazi to became their peaceful neighbors. This would account for the oriental features found in the remains of some ancient Anasazi as previously discussed. The groups who settled in various parts of the country eventually took other names more descriptive of their lifestyles, or were given different names by neighboring tribes.

The physical environment, and the attitude of the existing inhabitants, greatly influenced the crossing of this continent. Great droughts forced them to move quickly, and great wars stopped them altogether. Two major conflicts are worthy of mention: one in the Pacific Northwest and one in the Mississippi River Valley. The tribes of the Pacific Northwest, at this time in history, were extremely fierce and war-like, and did not look kindly upon the newcomers. They practiced sorcery and black magic, which were hated by the Lenni-Lenape. A great war broke out and the Lenni-Lenape, who were great warriors, prevailed.

The Mississippi River Valley was lush and fertile, and was looked upon by the Lenni-Lenape as a good place to establish a permanent settlement. They followed it downstream to its junction with the Missouri River where they came face to face with the mighty Talega; The Mound builders. Highly sophisticated and intellectual, the center of Talega land was the walled city of Cahokia located near our present East St. Louis. Cahokia was the commercial, political and religious center of the Mound builder culture, and has been described as "a cross between New York, Washington, D.C. and the Vatican".

A message was sent to the Talega leader asking permission for the Lenni-Lenape to settle in their area as friends and allies. Permission for a settlement was denied, but safe passage across their territory was granted. A peaceful crossing was begun, but trouble soon reared its head. Over the generations, the numbers of the Lenni-Lenape had swelled greatly. When the Talega leader saw the thousands of people preparing to cross his land, he panicked. Fearing an invasion, the Talega warriors were ordered to attack, killing those who had already crossed the river. Enraged by this deception, the Lenni-Lenape swore to "Conquer or die", and called upon the Iroquois (with whom they had established a strong bond) for help. Help was granted.

What followed has been described as one of the largest wars ever fought on the ancient continent. One stronghold, called Fort Ancient, had palisade walls 13 feet high and 5 miles long, and could shelter 10,000 people. The war raged over the lifetimes of 4 Lenni-Lenape chiefs before they were finally victorious, driving the Talegas south forever. The Natchez are the descendents of the final remnants of the defeated Talega.

After 9,000 miles, the Lenni-Lenape finally reached that great body of water in the east, and stood on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in the general vicinity of New Jersey or Delaware. During their migration, their language lay at the root of the Algonquian-speaking people; the most widespread language group in pre-Columbian North America. They were the founding fathers of: The Mohicans; the Nanticokes; the Shawnee; the Ojibwa; The Cree; the Powhatan; the Abenaki; the Massachusetts; the Blackfoot; the Cheyenne; the Munsee; the Yurok; the Wiyot; the Algonkian; the Montagnais; the Arapahoe; the Menominee; the Potawatomi; the Ottawa; the Sauk; the Fox; the Nipmuc; the Narraganset; the Pequot; the Wampanoag; the Montauk; the Illinois; the Conoy, and surely many others not discovered, all of whom tell the same story of creation and migration, all of whom refer to the Lenni-Lenape as "Grandfather", and all of whom defer to the Lenni-Lenape as their ancestral elders.

This remarkable story goes far to explain how houses, customs, clothing, art, ceremonies, beliefs, colors and all things great and small can be the same from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from Alaska to Mexico. The last entry into the Red Record was in 1620, and reads "Who are they" referring to the white men in great ships they had met at New York Harbor. However, there is an addition to the Red Record, called "The Fragment", which picks up the Lenni-Lenape history in the mid-1600's, and ends in the early 1800's with their forced removal to "Indian Territory". The Fragment also ends with a question "Shall we be free and happy there"?

The Red Record is the oldest written record of a Native North American people, and spans almost 100 generations. It is not a large book, and is fast reading well worth your time. It may be in the history or research section of your library, or any store that carries Native American books can order it for you. Complete information is: The Red Record: The Wallam Olum, by David McCutchen, (c) 1993; Avery Publishing Group, Inc., Garden City Park, New York; $14.95.

Art courtesy of the Lenni-Lenape Historical Society.

Published with the permission of Julia White. See her site Innerspace for more interesting information on related subjects:  Her E-mail: meyna@mindspring.com

Manuscript from The Wallam Olum

Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, Wallam Olum: The First and Second Parts of the Painted and Engraved Traditions of the Linnilinape. Manuscript: 1833. This manuscript version of the Walam Olum was written ca.1833 ca.1833; the text was published by Rafinesque in 1836.

Walam OlumWalam Olum

From The Library of University of Pennsylvania:


****This book is awesome. March 10, 1999, by a  Reviewer from USA. Scientists and Native Americans argue amongst themselves and each other about if/when/how the Indians reached North America. Much of the so-called debate in the popular press is shallow and insipid. Here we have the written pictograph record, along with accompanying orally transmitted songs - and translation, of the Lenni Lenape people, known to us white folks as the Delaware (named for some dead white guy). The Lenni Lenape were acknowledged as "grandfathers" among the Lenape family of tribes, known to us white folks as the Algonquian language group, the largest language group of Native Americans in North America. The Wallum Olum begins with the mythical creation of the world, the entry of evil and strife, and a great flood. Sound familiar? Then, things get interesting, as the tale takes on a more historical character, discussing a migration, perhaps from somewhere near Lake Baikal, north, until the icy sea is reached. Lacking a land bridge to "stumble" (as one white guy put it) across, the Lenape set out in boats and explore a beautiful country to the east. When the icy sea freezes over, 10,000 Lenape cross in an arctic night, after a debate on the subject. They find a North America already populated by humans. They interact with these others as they migrate across the continent - Iroquois, Mound builders, others. And as they migrate, they leave a trail of splinter groups of Lenape peoples, Yurok, Wiyot, Salish, Blackfeet, Cree, Cheyenne, Shawnee, Nanticoke, etc.. Finally they reach Delaware and wait a few hundred years to get "discovered" by whites. Well, I apologize for telling so much of the story, but it is really a fascinating story, and David McCutcheon does a much better job of telling it than I can, so go check it out. In addition to translating the Wallum Olum and including other stories of the Lenni Lenape and other Lenape tribes that illuminate their culture and migration, he also provides plenty of sound analysis tying the story to the various geographical locations I've hinted at. This book blew my mind. I wonder what we'll learn when we take a serious look at the stories of other Native Americans.

The Red Record is now out of print, but used copies can be ordered from: http://www.amazon.com for $10-$15.)

A portion of The Walam Olum:

From The Lenape and their Legends by Daniel G. Brinton (1884)


wala1.jpg 1. Wulamo maskanako anup lennowak makowini essopak.
Long ago there was a mighty snake and beings evil to men. 

wala2.jpg 2. Maskanako shingalusit aniline essopak shawelendamep ekes shingalan.
This mighty snake hated those who were there (and) greatly disquieted those whom he hated. 

wala3.jpg 3. Nishawi palliton, nishawi machiton, nishawi matta lungundowin.
They both did harm, they both injured each other, both were not in peace. 

wala4.jpg 4. Mattapewi wiki nihanlowit mekwazoan.
Driven from their homes they fought with this murderer. 

wala5.jpg 5. Maskanako fishy penauwelendamep lennowak owini palliton.
The mighty snake firmly resolved to harm the men. 

wala6.jpg 6. Nakowa petonep, amangam petonep, akopehella petonep.
He brought three persons, he brought a monster, he brought a rushing water. 

wala7.jpg 7. Pekelan pehella, pohoka pohoka, eshohok eshohok, palliton palliton.
Between the hills the water rushed and rushed, dashing through and through, destroying much. 

wala8.jpg 8. Telepath miniport Nanaboush maskaboush owinimokom linnwimokom
Nanabush, the Strong White One, grandfather of beings, grandfather of men, was on the Turtle Island. 

wala9.jpg 9. Gishikin-pommixin tulagis- hatten-lohxin.
There he was walking and creating, as he passed by and created the turtle. 

wala10.jpg 10. Owini linowi wemoltin, Pehella gahnite pommixin, Nahiwi tatalli tulapin.
Beings and men all go forth, they walk in the floods and shallow waters, down stream thither to the Turtle Island. 

wala11.jpg 11. Amanganek makdopannek alendyuwek metzipannek.
There were many monster fishes, which ate some of them. 

wala12.jpg 12. Manito-dasin mokol-wichemap, Palpal payat payat wemichemap.
The Manito daughter, coming, helped with her canoe, helped all, as they came and came. 

wala13.jpg 13. Nanaboush Nanaboush wemimokom, Winimokom linnimokom tulamokom.

[Above image to be added. Editor.]

[And also] Nanabush, Nanabush, the grandfather of all, the grandfather of beings, the grandfather of men, the grandfather of the turtle. 

wala14.jpg 14. Linapi-ma tulapi-ma tulape- wi tapitawi.
The men then were together on the turtle, like to turtles. 

wala15.jpg 15. Wishanem tulpewi pataman tulpewi poniton wuliton.
Frightened on the turtle, they prayed on the turtle that what was spoiled should be restored. 

wala16.jpg 16. Kshipehelen penkwihilen, Kwamipokho sitwalikho, Maskan wagons pillowed palliwi.
The water ran off, the earth dried, the lakes were at rest all was silent, and the mighty snake departed.


wala17.jpg 1. Pehella wtenk lennapewi tulapewini psakwiken woliwikgun wittank talli.
After the rushing waters (had subsided) the Lenape of the turtle were close together, in hollow houses, living together there. 

wala18.jpg 2. Topan-akpinep, wineu-akpi- nep,kshakan-akpinep, thupin akpinep.
It freezes where they abode, it snows where they abode it storms where they abode, it is cold where they abode. 

wala19.jpg 3. Lowankwamink wulaton wtakan tihill kelik meshautang sili ewak.
At this northern place they speak favorably of mild, cool (lands), With many deer and buffaloes. 

wala20.jpg 4. Chintanes-sin powalessin peyachik wikhichik pokwihil.
As they journeyed, some being strong, some rich, they separated into house-builders and hunters; 

wala21.jpg 5. Eluwi-chitanesit eluwi takauwesit, elowi chiksit, elowichik delsinewo.
The strongest, the most united, the purest, were the hunters. 

wala22.jpg 6. Lowaniwi, wapaniwi, shawaniwi, wunlceniwi, elowichik apakachik.
The hunters showed themselves at the north, at the east, at the south, at the west. 

wala23.jpg 7. Lumowaki, lowanaki tulpenaki elowaki tulapiwi linapiwi.
In that ancient country, in that northern country, in that turtle country, the best of the Lenape were the Turtle men. 

wala24.jpg 8. Wemiako yagawan tendki lakkawelendam nakopowa wemi owenluen atam.
All the cabin fires of that land were disquieted, and all said to their priest, " Let us go. 

wala25.jpg 9. Akhokink wapaneu wemoltin palliaal kitelendam aptelendam.
To the Snake land to the east they went forth, going away, earnestly grieving. 

wala26.jpg 10. Pechimuin shakowen' nungihillan lusasaki pikihil pokwihil akomenaki.
Split asunder, weak, trembling, their land burned, they went, torn and broken, to the Snake Island.
(From: http://www.usd.edu/anth/cultarch/ltribes.html )

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