Lenape collection a longtime love affair

February 24, 2009 at 3:11 am Leave a comment

Her affair has been with her hobby — an artifact collection she amassed for her lectures on the culture of the Lenape, a Native American tribe native to all New Jersey and to Pennsylvania, New York and parts of a few other neighboring states.

For health reasons, Mary-Ellen Flynn of Willingboro said she no longer is able to give her show-and-tell presentations to school students and other groups.

“I can talk but I can’t walk back and forth,” laments the retired high school science teacher.

Therefore, she said she has decided to donate for museum use her 215-piece collection, which is composed both of original artifacts and of handmade replicas of more perishable daily life items that were not able to survive the ages.

Rather than wait until her death to will the collection, she said she will be giving it soon to Dr. David Oestreicher, a noted Lenape scholar, author and Rutgers University graduate, for part of a new exhibit on the Lenape at Ellis Island.

Mindi Rambo, assistant public affairs officer for the National Parks of New York Harbor, said the temporary exhibit is due to open by fall in the main hall and will highlight the island’s first inhabitants, who long preceded its fame as an immigration screening station.

Oestreicher is also hoping to locate a permanent museum in West Chester County, N.Y., where Flynn says she hopes her collection will be permanently displayed and used one day.

“It has been my goal since the 1950s to demonstrate the daily life of the Lenape unlike many private collectors whose things are behind glass or on walls and often untouchable,” she said.
She said she has either made or had others make items using the same techniques the Lenape would have used. These include quivers made of tree bark that the Indians used to carry their arrows, cradle boards of wood to tote babies, leather rattles with jangling deer toes inside and buckskin clothing.
As an example, Flynn has mounted arrowheads, ax heads and knife blades — all more properly termed “points,” she clarifies — on shafts or handles of wood. The points usually are wedged into wood and then tied to it with sinew.

She has built wigwams and made the fringed buckskin blouse, skirt and moccasins she was wearing during an interview. Around her neck was a turtle carved from bone — the symbol of one of three clans of the Lenape. The other clan symbols were the wolf and turkey.

Picking up a hemp fishing net from a display table in her home, she said, “I used the real stuff — hemp — to weave it.”

Tied to the bottom of the net were a half-dozen original stone sinkers used by the Lenape and found in New Jersey.

“Kids at my lectures are allowed to look and touch. They get a kick out of sound effects from rattles and drums and I show them how the deer topes clang,” she said.

The teacher said she became enamored of the Lenape culture after spending time in a field biology course in Stokes State Forest in Sussex County while at Montclair State College in the mid-1950s. She also worked at a summer camp once inhabited by the Lenape.

“Some of the counselors who gave programs were misrepresenting the Lenape by wearing war bonnets and somehow I knew that wasn’t right,” she recalled.

She said she discussed this with the state forester, who gave her a copy of a book about the Native Americans of New Jersey.

“They were not a warring people and traded with Europeans when they arrived here in the 1600s,” she said. “For their time they had a pretty good life in this region with its rivers and streams, woods, berries, small-cobbed corn, fish, deer and other animals for food and clothing.”

A pet peeve of hers is the name Lenni Lenape. She quickly corrects anyone who uses it as well as if they mispronounce the second word as LEN-AP-EE like the high school in Burlington County instead of LEN-AHH-PAY.

She said the Lenape never used Lenni as part of the tribal name and always called themselves Lenape.

“It’s redundant to say Lenni Lenape because both words mean “man,’ ” she said.

The Lenape later became known as the Delaware after an English sailor named the river and bay separating New Jersey from Pennsylvania and Delaware after Lord De La Warr.

Though she is parting with her collection, she retains her passion for all things Lenape.

“I don’t mind giving it up — the collection. I have a lot of good memories,” she said.

by Carol Comegno

South Jersey Courier Post

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Entry filed under: Get Wet, Natural Waterfront, Region. Tags: , , , , , , .

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