Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More About the Walam Olum

In my last post I conceded that the Walam Olum (also known by other spellings) is not regarded as an authentic Delaware or Lenape document by most scholars. And given that document's history, we'll never know its exact origins.

However, a long-neglected scholarly article that appeared in the Texas Journal of Science in 1955 explains that the content of Constantine Samuel Rafinesque's 1836 translation could have come from Delaware spiritual leaders in the late decades of the 1700's. The article, "The Walum Olum of the Delaware Indians in Perspective," was written by William Newcomb Jr. and appeared on pages 57 - 63 of volume 7 of the Texas Journal of Science.

Although a Google search will take you to a number of articles that conclude the Walam Olum is a fraud (see my previous post), Newcomb's article is not available online. However, this is no reflection of any lack of scholarship on his part. Therefore, I will use his research to explain to you why the content of the Walam Olum may come from authentic Delaware voices dating long before Rafinesque's translation was ever published.

Newcomb's general opening comments are also relevant to Algonkian Church History:

The Walam Olum consisted of a creation myth, a deluge [flood] myth, and what purported to be the subsequent history of the tribe. The mythology was consistent with Algonquian mythology in general....(page 57).

(On the other hand, Newcomb concludes that the Walam Olum's account of historic Delaware migrations was not consistent with that described by observers like Heckewelder and Zeisberger.)

Anyway, Newcomb sets the stage for the Walam Olum by telling us that by about "1750 prophets and messiahs began to appear among the Delware, and they continued to appear sporadically until 1812 (page 59)." According to the prophets, proper ritual action among the Delaware people would reverse the trend of cultural disintegration and collapse that white contact had brought about.

The earliest and most successful prophet, of whom we have knowledge, was known as the Delaware Prophet or the Imposter. His career reached its zenith about 1762 (Peckham, 1947:98; Heckewelder, 1881; 293). This man had received in a vision instructions from the Great Spirit on how to restore his people to their former state.... His teachings were made concrete by a number of symbolic figures painted on a tanned deer hide. Replicas of this map were made, some on paper, and were sold by the Delaware prophet. Some of the purchasers in turn seem to have become minor prophets (Heckewelder, 1881: 293). Parkham (1910; 215) recounted Pontiac as saying, however, that: 'A prayer, embodying the substance of all that [the prophet] had heard, was then presented to the Delaware. It was cut in hieroglyphics upon a wooden stick, after the custom of his people; and he was directed to send copies of it to all the Indian villages'(page 60).

Newcomb concludes that both Heckewelder's account and Parkham's quoting of Pontiac "are correct" and he notes that the period in which prophets existed among the Delaware Indians coincides with the period of time in which the Walam Olum "might well have been produced"(page 60).

Bottom line: "The Delaware were acutely conscious of their past and were desperately trying to revive it." So Newcomb concludes that it would be perfectly "natural" or even "inevitable" that

some Delaware, perhaps one of the prophets, would symbolize by pictographic recordthe traditional myths and legends of his people? The myths and legends would, of course, be based upon or derived from, the traditional tales, but the emphasis and perhaps even their content would be changed to suit the conditions of the age (page 61).

I think that today's scholars are making a mistake when they are dismissive of the Walam Olum. On the other hand, some people who claim to be well-educated have tried to prove that specific things happened hundreds of years ago based on the Walam Olum. That is probably a much bigger mistake.


Myron said...


""we may never know?"

A growing group of us, including the Appalachian Shawnee tribe know the men who wrote the Maalan Aarum.

"Maalan Aarum" is the correct Old Norse name for the "Walam Olam."

Google Lenape E[ic, Lenape Migration.

Myron said...

Hi, Jeff,

I scanned your previous blog titles and noticed "The Mohicans and the Mahicans." Then i peeked at that entry. I had scanned past the title of your blog before.

"The Algonkian Church History Blog is about … Indians who voluntarily accepted Christianity. …

Now, I realize I have a lot of reading to do.

I came back to your to tell you that I, and a few of the "Travelers," who are people who have wandered around with the Maalan Aarum for a decade, have another rarely mentioned element of the Lenape Migration hypothesis.

We believe that the Mohicans were descendants of the original Lenape who came into New York.

I, and fewer of the travelers, think that Reider T. Sherwin was correct when he said that "Mohican" meant "Fish Hook"

Envision an older man in what will become New Jersey drawing a map in the sand to show the younger men where to go on their quests.

The long oval may have been "Coney Island," the older women's island. The long triangle may have been "Man Hatten," the peoples garden. The long line going north and then ending in a hook to the left may have been called the "Motigang" river.

"Moti" means "Fish," "Gang" means, instrument."

So, perhaps, the young men, who then found a good spot to bring women to raise children, would have settled along the "Motigang" river. As generations passed their g==grand kids would become "Mohicans."

Because their ancestors had been peaceful Christians for nearly 1600 years, the Mohicans should have taught Bible school instead of accepting the warfare version of Christianity. (Plan for war. Pray in the fort.)

But, perhaps, the Mohicans were practicing the "do onto others as you would have them do onto you" lesson that they learned from their parents.

Too bad. The preachers did not seem to make that lesson stick among the warfare Christians, who kept their guns primed.


Jeff Siemers said...

Hi Myron,

It is true that the Mohicans referred to the Lenape as their "Grandfathers."

I might respond to some of your other comments in an upcoming post.