The Lenape, or Delaware,
are an Eastern Algonquian people who originally lived in what is now the greater New York and Philadelphia metropolitan region and have since been dispersed across North America. While the Lenape have long attracted the attention of historians, ethnographers, and linguists, their oral literature has remained unexamined, and Lenape stories have been scattered and largely unpublished.
This catalog of Lenape mythology, featuring synopses of all known Lenape tales, was assembled by folklorist John Bierhorst from historical sources and from material collected by linguists and ethnographers-a difficult task in light of both the paucity of research done on Lenape mythology and the fragmentation of traditional Lenape culture over the past three centuries.
Bierhorst here offers an unprecedented guide to the Lenape corpus with supporting texts. Part one of the "Guide" presents a thematic summary of the folkloric tale types and motifs found throughout the texts; part two presents a synopsis of each of the 218 Lenape narratives on record; part three lists stories of uncertain origin; and part four compares types and motifs occurring in Lenape myths with those found in myths of neighboring Algonquian and Iroquoian cultures.
In the "Texts" section of the book, Bierhorst presents previously unpublished stories collected in the early twentieth century by ethnographers M. R. Harrington and Truman Michelson. Included are two versions of the Lenape trickster cycle, narratives accounting for dance origins, Lenape views of Europeans, and tales of such traditional figures as Mother Corn and the little man of the woods called Wemategunis.
By gathering every available example of Lenape mythology, Bierhorst has produced a work that will long stand as a definitive reference. Perhaps more important, it restores to the land in which the Lenape once thrived a long-missing piece of its Native literary heritage.