Alonqua’s tribe is the Lenni Lenape which means “Common” or “Ordinary People.” The Lenape, through recorded history, have lived mainly in what is now Eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey. In the late 1600’s, the Lenni Lenape, also known as the Delaware, enjoyed a generally harmonious relationship with the white settlers, largely due to the great respect paid to the Tribe by the founder of the Pennsylvania colony, William Penn. The relationship went sour after Penn’s death.
Under the auspices of his sons, the Lenape were forced in 1737 to cede a great tract of land as a result of what is known as the Walking Purchase. The Lenape agreed to give up an amount of land that could be walked in a day and a half. Penn’s son hired trained runners who covered nearly seventy miles in that time span. Forced to give up more than five times the amount of land expected, the majority of the Lenape left and headed west. They arrived in North Central Ohio and settled most densely along the northern tributaries of the Muskingum River. Here there was rich land, good hunting, and relative peace for two generations. Many believed that they had returned to their ancient home, and that they had hunted the mastodons here at the time of the glaciers more than 10,000 years ago.
The Lenape lived there until the Revolutionary War, trying to stay neutral, even leaning toward the American side, while most other tribes supported the British. When America emerged victorious, any benefits of Lenape support soon faded in the wake of hordes of settlers seeking cheap land. The rise of the Shawnee chief, Tecumseh, sparked many Delaware to fight for their land, but after his death in 1811, hope was lost and they left the Ohio lands. The tribe first resettled in Indiana, but were soon forced to move on. One branch turned to the north and on into Canada, the other to the southwest, and finally into Oklahoma. These two branches, along with a remnant population in eastern Pennsylvania, comprise the majority of the Lenape living today.
The Lenape Way
That the Tribe called itself the “common people” reveals much about them and what can be referred to as “the Lenape Way.” It is also why I have been so deeply drawn to the people and their culture. A Lenape friend of mine once told me the Lenape Way is “the natural path of human beings untainted by any aspects of a dominant culture.” Not only do these “common people” not place any human being above or below another, consider what a Lenape chief said to an army officer who had come to a village in order to offer a treaty. When asked by the officer how many lived in the village, the Chief responded by saying he had no way of knowing for certain. It would take too long to count the trees and the animals who were seen as equal members.
My friend went on to say the Lenape Way asks that our inner rhythms join the rhythms of the Earth. He says, “Birds sing, so we learn to sing. Trees are still, so we learn to be still. Storms cleanse the air, we learn to do the same. Deer listen intently, we learn to listen intently. We learn from all that is around us, because all are one.”
The Lenape Way, then, is all about connections, the way all parts of creation mesh and resonate with each other. It is also about connecting past, present, and future, and how, at any moment we are, who we were, who we are, and who we will be. It is the Lenape Way that animates and shapes Alonqua’s story. And it is the Lenape Way that connects one boy of two hundred years ago to a boy of our time—and to a boy of the Ice Age.
The Lenape Way emphasizes that nothing natural is ordinary, that all of creation is sacred. Given that their “village” includes the trees and animals, Alonqua sees these entities, even “inanimate” objects, as living equals and he addresses them as such.