Study Guide for Wild Swan Theater's Production of:
a man had wings and bore black feathers, few of them would be clever
enough to be crows."
--Henry Ward Beecher
following information is taken from The Lenapes by Robert S.
Grumet. (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989.)
Lenape people were once sovereign over a huge area -- all along
the Middle Atlantic coast from New York Bay to Delaware Bay, between
the Hudson and Delaware river valleys. They called their homeland
"Lenapehoking" or "Land of the Lenapes." In their language their
name most properly means "ordinary people" or "common people." They
are also sometimes known as "Lenni Lenape" or "We, the people."
Lenape people have traditionally thought of themselves as individual
members of a single ethnic group sharing a common sense of identity
and heritage. Traditional social and political life has always been
organized around a complex but flexible network of closely related
independent communities, rather than a single political group. They
have been characterized as fiercely independent, putting the needs
of the individual before the requirements of custom and law. A Dutch
observer in 1655 wrote of them that, "They are all free by nature
and will not bear any domineering or lording over them" (p. 13).
Penn wrote of them "...in Liberality they excel, nothing is too
good for their friend" (p. 26). This generosity of spirit is as
characteristic as their strong commitment to the individual. Balancing
respect for individuality requires great social and political flexibility.
The qualities of tolerance, respect and flexibility created a generally
harmonious society relatively free of crime and discord.
individuals' sense of identity came from their family membership.
Life revolved first around the family, with families organized into
clans. Clans served as links among relatives living in different
communities. A clan is here defined as "groups of related families
that trace their origins to a common ancestor."
were a matrilineal tribe, meaning birthrights were passed through
the mothers. The matrilineages held all rights to the household
and clan lands. Women owned the lands and lodges in trust for their
clan. Lenapes also practiced matrilocality; a newly married husband
was required to move in with his wife's family, rather than the
new wife relocating to her husband's household, as is often the
custom in other patriarchal cultures.
Lenape language is part of the Algonquin linguistic family. Described
by one early European chronicler as "sweet and full of meaning."
William Penn wrote that "their language is lofty, yet narrow...in
Signification full; one word serveth in the place of three" (p.
believe that there may have been 4 dialects used. Two of them --
Munsee and Unami -- are still spoken by a few elders. Munsee means
"People from Minisink" or "the stony country." Munsee was originally
spoken by those who lived in the uplands of the lower Hudson and
upper Delaware rivers. Unami, the dialect of the "Down river people"
was originally spoken by the Lenapes of the flat plains -- southern
New Jersey, southeastern Pennsylvania, and northern Delaware.
names the Lenape were known by:
Algonquin-speaking people often referred to them as "Grandfathers."
western Algonquins as "Woapanachke" or "Easterners."
Canadians called them "Loups" or "Wolves."
of the Iroquois referred to them as "Akotshakane" or "Stutterers"
because that is what the Lenape language sounded like to them.
Dutch, Swedish and English colonists in the 1600's referred to
them as "River Indians." One of the rivers the Lenape lived on
was named the Delaware after Thomas West, Baron de la Warr, who
was the first governor of the Virginia colony; the name "Delaware"
later applied to all Native Americans living along that river's
life followed the seasons. Spring brought coastal Lenapes together
into large camps near waterfalls and rapids. Here they would spear
and net fish, and trap animals. Those living farther inland gathered
in smaller camps and gathered berries and hunted bear, deer, etc.
spring to summer many moved to small communities on rich soil where
they planted crops such as corn, beans, squash and tobacco. Others
stayed at the shore where they would gather fish and shellfish,
and make beads. They also made tools, weapons, clothes, and sacred
the summer they tended crops, gathered wild foods, hunted and fished.
They also traded with other clans and tribes, and went on raids,
sometimes as far as what is now the Carolinas and Mississippi.
the autumn they would harvest and dry their crops. They would also
go on communal hunting trips (men and women), where they would surround
a huge area of a forest with armed hunters, and then set fire to
it. The fire would drive the animals right into the waiting hunters'
spears. Up to several thousand acres of woodland might be burned
during these hunts.
the winter, people returned to their longhouses or wigwams. They
would gather in council houses or around cooking fires, telling
stories, singing of their visions and adventures, and dancing in
thanksgiving. At times, small groups of hunters would move to remote
camps to hunt and trap. Most people, however, stayed home for the
winter: working, playing and praying together.
Lenapes' creation story begins with Kishelemukong, the Creator.
Many Lenapes believed their history began when Kishelemukong brought
a giant turtle up from the depths of a great ocean. This turtle
grew and grew until it became a huge island, now known as North
America. They believed that the first men and women sprouted from
a tree which grew on the turtle's back. After the men and women
sprouted, Kishelemukong created the heavens, the sun, the moon,
all animals and plants and the "four directions that governed the
seasons" (p. 14). North, west, and east were all known as grandfathers;
the fourth, blowing the warm spring winds from the south, was known
as "our grandmother where it is warm" (p. 14).
story attributes the changes of season to gambling among the grandparents
-- spring would come when South Grandmother defeated North Grandfather,
for example. One interesting point is that, because of the Grandparent's
gambling games, the exact time of each change was a matter of chance.
believed that all things were alive, animated by spirits called
"manetuwak." Manetuwak and all other beings were created by Kishelemukong,
who "creates us by his thoughts" (p. 24). The majority of Lenapes
didn't believe that Kishelemukong was directly involved in daily
life; therefore men and women looked for guidance and power from
all manetuwak through dreams, visions, and prayer. During sacred
ceremonies, dancers called "mesinghholikan" wore masks and dressed
as game spirits known as "mesingw" and as other powerful supernatural
beings. During these ceremonies the Lenapes called forth supernatural
forces or gave thanks for their blessings.
major life transitions were marked by appropriate prayers, rituals
and ceremonies. Dances were held to honor the first fruits of spring,
the green corn of summer, and the fall harvest. Special prayers
welcomed newborn babies into the world, gave blessings to newlyweds,
and sent the dead on their journey into the next world.
(doctors or medicine people), who had unusually powerful spiritual
abilities, were in charge of these and other ceremonies, and oversaw
the spiritual needs of their people. Those who were visited by guardian
spirits, had recovered from a severe illness, or desired to give
thanks for specific blessings from healing spirits repaid their
spiritual leaders by becoming doctors and healers themselves, using
their powers to cast spells, or looking into the future, thus influencing
the course of events. Religious leaders were highly respected, and
had a lot of influence throughout the history of the Lenapes.
following information is taken from Wonders of Crows by Wyatt
Blassingame (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1979), and Listen
to the Crows by Laurence Pringle (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell
in Language and Literature
are found in almost every part of the world, except for New Zealand.
There is a common saying, "if a person knows only 3 birds in all
the world, one of these will be a crow" (Blassingame, p. 3). In
fact, crows are so popular that they've added words to our language:
the "crow's nest" is a lookout at the top of a ship's mast (crows
build their own nests very high); to "crow over" means to brag very
loudly, inspired by the harsh voice of the crow; to "eat crow" means
to take back what one has said.
are very popular in literature and myth. In Roman mythology, crows,
or ravens, were once as white as snow. However, when one unfortunate
crow brought some particularly bad news to the god Apollo, the god
"Black'd the raven o'er, and bid him prate in his white plumes no
more" (Blassingame, p. 14).
Norse mythology, the raven belonged to Odin, the god of war. The
raven soared over the battlefield and fed on the bodies of the dead.
(Crows are omnivorous, and will eat everything.)
...The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. (MacBeth, Act 1, sc. iv)
of course, there is Edgar Allen Poe's famous poem, "The Raven",
which features a midnight visitor, whose only utterance is the word
Facts About Crows
ornithologists divide the North American crow into three species:
the common crow, corvus btachyrhynchos; the northwestern
crow, corvus caurinus, and the fish crow, or corvus ossifragus.
Some further divide the common crow into four subspecies: the eastern,
southern, Florida, and western crow. The main difference in these
subspecies is a slight variation in size with the fully grown eastern
crow, the largest of the four, measuring about 17" from the tip
of its bill to the tip of the tail and the smallest of the group,
the northwestern crow, averaging about 14 1/2" from tip to tail.
are very intelligent. They have been taught to count, to recognize
and match written figures and shapes, and to speak a few human words.
They have also been heard mimicking crowing roosters, yelping puppies,
barking dogs and meowing cats (Pringle, p. 8).
are very capable birds. They have many different types of cawing,
which is how they communicate with one another. For example, they
often feed in flocks, with one or two crows posted as lookouts.
If a lookout sees a predator, he or she signals the others with
a specific caw meaning something like "danger." This enables the
whole flock to escape unharmed.
are believed to give themselves a "name" or a specific caw by which
other crows can recognize it. This allows them to keep in touch
with the entire flock while hunting, for example. The flock won't
necessarily be able to see each other, but they can hear the caws.
In this manner, each crow can tell the others about the food or
predators it finds.
are also very mischievous. They've been known to steal clothespins,
apparently just for the joy of watching the clothes fall to the
ground! (Pringle, p. 27)
crows mate for life. Jackdaws, one species of crow, also get engaged!
Although they are not able to mate until their second year, they
pair off at the end of their first, and remain with their mate for
males and females build nests. Crows typically lay between four
and six eggs, which are incubated by both parents. The parents
usually take turns sitting on the nest, but have been seen sitting
on the nest together. The eggs usually take between eighteen and
twenty days to hatch; baby crows can open their eyes five days later.
By four weeks, the new crow has most of its feathers. One interesting
fact is that even after the young have left the nest, the family
stays together for awhile.
was mentioned earlier, crows are omnivorous. They often build their
nests near duck and geese nesting places, and will rob those nests,
eating the eggs or the young birds. Baby crows themselves are so
noisy in their constant demands for food that they are often eaten
too, by hawks, raccoons, cats or snakes.
have few enemies. Their biggest enemy, aside from man, is the great
horned owl. The owl's advantages are its size, its ability to see
at night, and the almost total silence with which they fly. The
crow's biggest advantages are its intelligence, its ability to communicate
with other crows, and to work with one another. Crows will recognize
an enemy, call to every crow within hearing, and rush in, literally
are another enemy. Crows can do thousands of dollars' worth of damage
to an orchard in just a few hours. They love corn and will pull
up young plants, eat the seed from the bottom, and throw the rest
away. They have also been known to destroy entire fields of watermelon
by poking holes in each one to get sips of watermelon juice. Crows
can also be a benefit, of course, by eating harmful insects and
are very cautious. They fly slow and steady, rather than swiftly
or in a darting manner. This would seem to make them easy to hunt
-- except that they are so smart it is virtually impossible to sneak
up on them!
a model Lenape village
as many other creation stories as you can find. See if there are
any others which feature turtles or humans sprouting from trees.
Compare and contrast similar ideas found in the stories.
a ritual dance to celebrate a particular season or event.
masks to go with your dance.
a journal entry as an early explorer or settler, describing what
you know about the "River people."
another story explaining how fire first came to earth.
a story or myth about the first winter, or the first time animals
or people noticed snow.
a story about the seasons. Let someone else retell it and see
how it changes.
a story using only instruments.
for other versions of Rainbow Crow; compare and contrast them.
a "caw" language and have a conversation.
a journal about the crows in your neighborhood -- what do you
notice about them?
and sneak up on a crow.
production of Rainbow Crow is based on a book of the
same name, retold by Nancy Van Laan. Ms. Van Laan heard the story
at a corn-planting ceremony near her home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
That afternoon, Bill "Whippoorwill" Thompson, a Lenape Elder and
the official teller of the Rainbow Crow tale, told many stories
of his people, including the legend of Rainbow Crow. The story has
been handed down in his family, from father to son, for many generations.
Ms. Van Laan was captivated by the story of the Crow's bravery,
and very much wanted to write it down. Mr. Thompson gave permission
to Ms. Van Laan to adapt the tale for publication; Wild Swan Theater
has been fortunate in receiving permission to adapt it for production.
Enjoy the show!