Frank Speck and Witapanoxwe, circa 1928
This photograph, taken in 1928, shows the anthropologist Frank Speck and the Delaware (Lenape) Chief Witapanoxwe (James Webber or War Eagle) from Oklahoma. Speck worked with Witapanoxwe for four months in 1928 to record, transcribe, and translate his knowledge of the Delaware Big House.
Because Big House ceremonies are sacred to the Delaware or Lenape people, the recordings available in this exhibit features “Woman’s Stomp Dance” and “Raccoon Dance,” which are social events that can be shared with the general public. The voices are of Speck and Witapanoxwe. They were originally recorded on wax cylinders, made here in Philadelphia.
The social dance songs are sung at Stomp Dances, which begin after sundown and last all night. These dances were performed around a fire, with the singers sitting on the north side of the dance area while the lead singer accompanies himself on a water drum. At least two other singers would be seated on either side, keeping time with rattles, usually made of gourds.
Peter Stephen DuPonceau
The American Philosophical Society has been preserving the Delaware or Lenape language for two hundred years, dating back to Peter Stephen DuPonceau’s involvement with the Society (1791-1826, President of APS 1827-1844). Archival materials related to the Delaware in their ancestral homeland of what is now Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York range from treaties printed by Benjamin Franklin in his newspaper to more contemporary recordings made in Oklahoma by Sue N. Roark-Calnek of dances, songs, prayers, and vocabulary in the 1970s.
Collections with Delaware audio recordings: