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Wappinger Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Wappingers for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to look through our main Mohican page for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Wappinger pictures and links suitable for teaching all ages.




  Wappinger Tribe

How do you pronounce "Wappinger?" What does it mean?
Wappinger is pronounced "WAH-pin-jer." Some people think this name might have come from the Algonquian word Waban, meaning "dawn" or "east," but according to historical records it actually comes from the word Wapinkw, which means "opossum people." The -er ending was added by the Dutch, who always use this ending to refer to people's nationalities, and the g was softened by English speakers later.

Were the Wappingers part of the Mohican tribe?
Not originally. They spoke related languages and shared similar cultures, but the Wappinger and Mohican used to be distinct tribes, each with its own leadership. But after Europeans arrived, many Native American people of the east coast died from disease and warfare. The survivors merged together, and many of their original tribal distinctions were lost. This happened to the Wappingers and Mohicans.

Where did the Wappingers live?
The Wappingers were original people of southeastern New York and western Connecticut.

How is the Wappinger Indian nation organized?
In the past, the Wappinger tribe was ruled by a sachem, or chief. Even when the Wappingers joined the Mohican Nation, they still had their own sachem, separate from the Mohicans.

Today, there is no separate Wappinger tribe. People of Wappinger descent have all been absorbed into other Indian tribes (especially the Mohicans) or into the general American population.

What language did the Wappingers speak?
They spoke a dialect of the Mohican language. The last Mohican Indian who could speak this language died in 1933, but the language is still used by the Stockbridge Mohicans for cultural and religious purposes, the way Italians may use Latin words today. If you'd like to know a few easy Mohican words, aquai was a friendly greeting and wunneet means "It is good!" You can also see a Wappinger picture glossary here.

How do Wappinger Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have dolls, ball games, and toys such as miniature bows and arrows. Wappinger mothers, like many Native Americans, traditionally carried their babies in baby boards on their backs--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were men and women's roles in the Wappinger tribe?
Wappinger men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Wappinger women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. In the past, Wappinger chiefs were always men, but today a Mohican Indian woman can be a politician too.

What were Wappinger homes like in the past?
The Wappingers didn't live in tepees. They lived in small round houses called wigwams. Here are some pictures of wigwams like the ones Wappinger Indians used. Wappinger villages were sometimes palisaded (surrounded with a log wall for protection) and often included a council hall and a sweat lodge as well as family dwellings. Today, Native Americans only build a wigwam for fun or to connect with their heritage, not for shelter. Most Mohican people live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Wappinger clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Wappinger women wore skirts with leggings. Wappinger men wore breechcloths and leather leggings. Shirts were not necessary in the Wappinger culture, but the Wappingers did wear sleeved shirts in cool weather. Wappinger people also wore moccasins on their feet. Here are some photographs and links about Native American Indian clothing in general.

The Wappingers didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Usually they wore a beaded headband with a feather or two in it. Wappinger men and women both kept their hair in two long braids most of the time, but warriors sometimes wore a Mohawk hairstyle or shaved their heads completely except for a scalplock (one long lock of hair on top of their heads.) Many Wappingers tattooed designs onto their faces as well.

Today, some Wappinger people still have a traditional headband or moccasins, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Wappinger transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes, the Wappingers used bark canoes to travel by river. Here is a website with birch bark canoe pictures. Over land, the Wappingers used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) Wappinger Indians used sleds and snowshoes to help them travel in the winter. (They learned to make those tools from northern neighbors like the Cree Indians.) Today, of course, Wappinger people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Wappinger food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Wappingers were farming people. Wappinger women harvested corn, squash, beans and sunflower seeds. Wappinger men did most of the hunting. They shot deer, moose, turkeys, and small game, and went fishing in the river. Wappinger recipes included soup, cornbread, and trail mix. Here is a website with more information about Native recipes.

What kinds of weapons did the Wappingers use?
Wappinger hunters and warriors used bows and arrows, spears, and axes. Fishermen used spears and nets. Here is a website with Indian weapon pictures and information.

What are Wappinger art and crafts like?
The Wappinger tribe is known for their native beadwork and basketry. Like other eastern American Indians, Wappingers also crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. The patterns and pictures on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.

What other Native Americans did the Wappinger tribe interact with?
The Wappingers were close allies of their kinfolk the Mohican Indians. They also traded regularly with other New England Algonquians, particularly the Wampanoag and Delaware Indians. Sometimes they fought with the Mohawks and other or the Iroquois Indians.

What kinds of stories do the Wappingers tell?
There are lots of traditional Wappinger legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Wappinger Indian culture. Here is a story about a woman who avenged her husband, translated into English from the original Mahican language.

What about Wappinger religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about Mohican mythology or this site about Native American religions in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy The Last Algonquin. Despite its confusing title (the main character is Wecquaesgeek, a Wappinger tribe of New York, not Algonquin), this is a very good book for middle school or high school students. It is a biography of an Indian survivor of war and smallpox reflecting on his changing world. You can also browse through our recommendations of Native American books in general.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2013.

Thanks for your interest in the Wappinger Indian people and their language!

Learn More About The Wappingers

Wappinger Indian Tribe
An overview of the Wappinger and Mohican tribes, their language and history.

Wappinger Language Resources
Wappinger language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Wappinger Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Wappinger Indians past and present.



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