Non-Historical Stories and “Prophesies” – Fiction and Fairy Tales

10 November 2011

There are many people who are erroneously teaching recently “invented” stories and “prophesies” as traditional to the Nanticoke or Lenape.  Stories are an important part of Native American Culture, they tell of our history, our life, our culture, and our beliefs.  These stories are specific to a certain People, they carry within them cultural, historical, and sometimes ceremonial meaning to a specific People, these cultural understandings are often lost when a story is passed on to another unrelated people,  when these stories are taken out of their context they often lose their cultural value.  Contemporary stories and the sharing of stories among Native People is not unheard of, and actually happened a lot among tribes who interacted, and intermarried, however even in contemporary stories a cultural identity remains in the story and these often show a change of times for that specific people.  Shared stories are often retold honoring whomever shared the story, for example a shared Cherokee Story told by, say a Lenape, is still a Cherokee story.  In the following two reviews, this is quite possibly what happened.   Outside of Lenape Communities and Lenape People there was little available regarding traditional Lenape stories during the time frame in which these stories were made up, and during this time there was an abundance of non-tribal people wanting to claim Lenape Culture and Heritage as their own, despite not knowing the culture, history, language, and beliefs; therefore, taking stories from other cultures and modifying them to meet their needs.

A Review of “The Fourth Crow Prophecy” 

Over recent years, a purported “Lenape” prophecy has come to life, but this story is not a Traditional Lenape “Prophecy.”  The characters, crow and fox, are not predominant figures in Traditional Lenape Culture.  The crow has no significant role in Lenape culture, and certainly is not a symbol of Lenape People as implied in this story.  The role of a crow in Traditional Lenape stories is extremely limited and are found in stories of outside influence; for example,  a story called “Crow brings Corn” documented in the New York City Area around 1679 attributed to Lenape in the area is actually of Seneca and Narragansett.  The assertion that this story has been “….passed down for decades”  is hard to accept considering it was concocted  in the late 1980’s and is tied into another non-Lenape Story, “Rainbow Crow,” which will be reviewed next.  The manner in which this story is told and documented is also a good indicator that it is not Lenape, or even Native American.  It is told in a simplistic, “broken” flow, one might find in an old western movie where a Non-Native was cast to speak broken English to imitate a Native.  In contrast, authentic Lenape stories are often very complex, culturally detail oriented, and will often tie into other Lenape stories.  This story has none of these characteristics.  Furthermore, the translation of this story into Lenape is in the manor of a non-Lenape speaker translating a story from English into Lenape, word for word, using a vocabulary list with a poor understanding of the language, not to mention the use of words from two different, and not interchangeable, dialects of Lenape.  In conclusion, the understanding of the coming of “Four Crows” in traditional and contemporary authentic Lenape Culture is nonexistent, and has absolutely no cultural tie to Lenape People, history, or Culture and should not be perpetuated as such.  We, as Lenape People, have many traditional stories documented, recorded, and passed down through generations that teach us an understanding of our Ancestors ways, life, and beliefs and these are the stories that should be told of our people, and by our people.

A Review of “Rainbow Crow” Retold by Nancy Van Laan

Again the lack of the  “crow” as a major figure in Traditional Lenape Culture must be expressed.  The role of the Crow in many other Native American Cultures is well documented, however this specific story is believed to have come from a modified version of a traditional story among the Cherokee called “Cherokee First Fire, “ which can be found in “Myths of the Cherokee” by James Mooney.  The source credited with telling this story probably took the Cherokee story and modified it to fit his needs and mislabeled it “Lenape.”  Again, much like the “Forth Crow Prophecy,” there are no cultural connections between this story and Lenape Culture, it is undocumented and unknown among any Lenape People prior to its publication in 1989.  This is a “nice” story, and may be inspired by some elements of a generic view of American Indian culture, but it is not historically traditional among the Lenape.  Many of the references in this story are not related to Lenape Culture and belief.  In conclusion, once again, perpetuating this story as “Lenape” is misleading and demeaning our traditional stories.  There is no shortage of true Lenape and Nanticoke stories that accurately portray our history, life, culture, and beliefs that can be told, and shared, these stories are important to our people, cherished pieces of our culture that everyone can not only learn from, but appreciate for their lessons.

Continuing Culture and Community Authenticity

American Indian Tribal Culture is not stagnant.  Typically, what is historically “traditional” can also be historically evolving.  Each generation can pass down not only what is ancient, but also what has become a common practice or story as time has gone on.  The key to determining what is authentically part of a “tribal” tradition is to determine if it originated among, or was adapted by, a historic and continuing tribal community and has been passed from one generation to the next.  An authentic American Indian tribal community is made up of interrelated people, descended from a historic tribe or tribes, who have continued a tribal identity that can be documented through many generations.  Such a tribal community may pass on, or establish, authentic tribal traditions and practices as expressions of their ancient and continuing identity.

Non-historic cultural enthusiast groups, even when erroneously calling themselves “tribes,” “bands,” or “nations,” do not have the characteristics of authentic tribal communities and, therefore, cannot originate authentic tribal traditions.  And, to retell their inventions as though they are tribal traditions is to do violence to the very culture they claim to celebrate.

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