CMA Stories

6 Fun Facts About the Lenape of Lower Manhattan

CMA’s Indigenous Peoples Cultural Festival will be held on Sunday, November 4th. We are partnering with Redhawk Native American Arts Council, a nonprofit organization founded and maintained by Native American artists and educators residing in the New York City area, to present workshops inspired by traditional and contemporary arts practices from the Indigenous community. We invite you to learn Lenape words in our Sound Booth workshop, the first language spoken in Lower Manhattan!

The first residents of Lower Manhattan were the Lenape People, and they called the island Manahatta, meaning hilly island. Their land, called Lenapehoking, included all of what is now New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, southeastern New York State, northern Delaware and a small section of southeastern Connecticut. Today, Lenape communities live all across North America.

“Even after all that has happened to us — there were thousands [of Lenapes] when the ships [migrating from Europe] first came — we are still here.”

— Linda Poolaw (Delaware/Kiowa)

Let’s learn together at the Indigenous Cultural Festival on Sunday, November 4th! To help us get ready, here are some fun facts about the Lenape People and the native language passed down over many generations.

  1. The word Lenape (len-AH-pay) means “the people.” The Lenape speak an Algonquian family language, one of over 20 families of languages in North America.
  2. The Lenape call the Hudson River Shatemuc, “the river that flows both ways,” because the river changes its flow from north to south following the Atlantic tides.
  3. In Lenape you exclaim Katu! as it starts to get chilly outside instead of “Brr!”
  4. Xàskwim or Chasquem means “corn,” and the Lenape have cultivated and prepared over 12 varieties. Along with the yellow corn you might be familiar with growing, red, blue, white, and multicolored corn are cultivated and prepared in many different ways. The Lenape invented the tasty movie theater treat, popcorn!
  5. The main trade route of the Lenape ran along Bowling Green and Broadway. The walking trail ran north from what is now Battery Park all the way to Boston, Massachusetts, and was used by many Native American nations.
  6. A common reaction of surprise in Lenape is O tamwe! It’s the same as saying “Oh my!”

We learned about the Lenape in Lower Manhattan from the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, a museum located just south of CMA in Manhattan. The museum’s permanent and temporary exhibitions—as well as a range of public programs, including music and dance performances, films, and symposia—explore the diversity of the Native people of the Americas. Learn more at americanindian.si.edu.

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