Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Legend of Chief Tawanka

                                                                   Chief Tawanka

There are two stories of Chief Tawanka - one steeped in historical legend and the other an urban myth that rings true. You decide which is closer to the truth.

Legend has it that Chief Tawanka was a Mohawk Indian warrior who as a young boy befriended Natty Bumppo - better known as Hawkeye," the Lenni Lenape Indian whose exploits are chronicled in James Fenimore Cooper's "Last of the Mohicans" novel.

Indian legend has it that a hundred years before the arrival of the white men from Europe the Lenni Lenape were recognized as the "Mother Tribe" of a dozen tribes that settled along the Delaware River basin and watershed, an area extending from lower New York State, eastern Pennsylvania, all of New Jersey and parts of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

Tribal tradition has an oral history in the form of an history laden tribal dance called the Wallim Olum or Red Score - because the symbols were painted in red cranberry ink on birch bark - that recalls the tribes migration from Asia across the Bearing Strait and treck across America to the sea where they settled and made the Delaware River valley their home.

They lived peacefully for nearly ten thousand years until they were defeated in a decades long war with the Six Nations, a allied association that included Iroquois and Mohawks that defeated the Lenni Lenape and "made them women."

Tawanka - a Mohawk from upstate New York, near Niagara Falls, and Hawkeye from the Delaware, were from waring tribes but became lifelong friends after meeting in extenuating circumstances when Hawkeye traveled into unwelcome Mohawk territory.

Hawkeye and his companion Chimaachgook, who like Tawaka, later became respected Chiefs, saved Tawanka's life and they became close friends and traveling companions.

Although the Six Nations defeated the Lenni Lenape and made them subservient, they supported the French in their seven year war against the English, and lost, while the Lenni Lenape backed the English.

Years later, when the Lenni Lenape made peace treaties and sold land to William Penn and the Quakers near Philadelphia, legend has it that Tawanka came south to the land of the Delaware and visited his old friend Hawkeye.

Chief Tawanka, no longer the fierce young warrior he once was, warned his Lenni Lenape friends that not all of the Europeans were as good and friendly as the Quakers, and many were untrustworthy.

"We lost our freedom when we stopped fighting," Tawanka pleaded, but the Chiefs around the fire at the pow wow decided to accept the peace treaty and sale of lands to Penn and the Quakers.

The Lenni Lenape agreed to sell the land to Penn, live on the first reservation in the USA and eventually to move to a reservation in Oklahoma.

Legend has it that Chief Tawanka died while in the land of the Lenni Lenape and is buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in the South Jersey Pine Barrens.

Then there is the other story that Chief Tawanka never really existed and was a figment of the imagination of a Madison Avenue Advertising Mad Man who created the name, image and manufactured 70 cigar store Indians to promote a line of cigarettes that no longer exist.

Which story is true I can not tell you, and though the second rings true, the Indian legend also has mythical meanings worth reflecting on.

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