Walam Olum

Walam Olum

The Walam Olum, usually translated as "Red Record" or "Red Score," is purportedly a Lenape (also called "Delaware") Native American historical narrative. Controversy over the authenticity of the Walam Olum has been voiced since it was first published in the 1830s by botanist and antiquarian Constantine Samuel Rafinesque. Ethnographic studies in the 1980s and analysis of Rafinesque's manuscripts in the 1990s have produced significant evidence that the document is a hoax, though some Delaware people believe Rafinesque based his writing on real Lenape stories [ [http://www.native-languages.org/lenape_culture.htm Lenape Nation: Lenape Culture] ] .

The work

Rafinesque published what he alleged was a translation of the entire text and a sample portion of the Lenape words of the Walam Olum in the first volume of his book, "The American Nations," in 1836. The Walam Olum includes a creation account, a flood story, and the narrative of a series of migrations, which Rafinesque and others claimed or interpreted to begin in Asia. A long list of chiefs is included, which appears to provide a timescale for the epic. According to Rafinesque, the chiefs appear as early as 1600 BCE.


The original was allegedly recorded in pictographs on birch bark, or cedar wood tablets or sticks (Rafinesque explained that "Olum.. implies a record, a notched stick, an engraved piece of wood or bark"). These were allegedly acquired in 1820 from the Lenape in return for a medical cure, and passed to Rafinesque by a Dr. Ward "of Indiana"- though his personal notes indicate that Dr. Ward actually lived in Kentucky. The explanatory accompanying transcription of verses in the Lenape language apparently came from a different source, in 1822. [Brinton, Daniel G. (1885) "The Lenâpé and their Legends: With the Complete Text and Symbols of the Walam Olum".] Curiously, when he wrote a competition essay on the Lenape language in October 1834, Rafinesque did not mention the "Walam Olum" at all, but submitted a supplement about it two months later (shortly after he had acquired a list of authentic Lenape names compiled by John Heckewelder).Oestreicher, David M. (1996) "Unraveling the Walam Olum". "Natural History" 105 (10):14–21. (also revised version in Boewe, 2003)] Rafinesque's translation of the 183 verses totals fewer than 3,000 words; the supposed Lenape pictographs and verses in the Lenape language that explain them appear juxtaposed in Rafinesque's manuscript, which is now at the University of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, any items of Rafinesque's large collection of specimens which did not find a ready sale after his death were apparently destroyed, so there is no evidence that the original sticks ever existed except for Rafinesque's testimony, and scholars have only had his alleged copy to study.

Twentieth century archaeology has confirmed that by Rafinesque's time Native Americans had been using birch bark scrolls for over 200 years. In 1965 the archaeologist Kenneth Kidd reported on two finds of "trimmed and fashioned pieces of birch bark on which have been scratched figures of animals, birds, men, mythological creatures, and esoteric symbols" in the Head-of-the-Lakes region of Ontario. Some of these resembled scrolls used by the Mide Society of the Ojibwa [Kidd, Kenneth E. 1965. Birch-bark Scrolls in Archaeological Contexts. American Antiquity. Vol 30. No 4. page 480.] A scroll from one of these finds was later dated to about 1560+/-70. [Rajnovich, Grace "Reading Rock Art: Interpreting the Indian Rock Paintings of the Canadian Shield". Dundurn Press Ltd., 1994, ISBN ISBN 0920474721]

The Walam Olum in the 19th century

Despite the unclear origins of the Walam Olum, it was treated as an accurate account by historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists for many years. A recent biography by Professor Terry A. Barnhart of Ephraim G. Squier, widely regarded as an influential figure of American archaeology, tells the story of how Squier was first to republish the text in 1849. He accepted it as genuine, partially on internal evidence but also because George Copway, to whom he showed his manuscript, "did not hesitate in declaring the symbols, the accompanying translations in Delaware, and the general ideas transmitted in the narrative to be authentic," and stated that Rafinesque's translation was accurate. Barnhart points out that although Copway was "fluent in his own dialect... he was certainly not an expert on the traditions and language of the Delaware."Barnhart, Terry A. 2005. "Ephraim George Squier and the Development of American Anthropology", University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 978-0803213210 - searchable at [http://www.amazon.com/Ephraim-Development-American-Anthropology-Critical/dp/0803213212/ref=si3_rdr_bb_product Amazon] , pp130-131] However, not all scholars accepted Rafinesque's story. As early as 1849 Henry Rowe Schoolcraft wrote to Squier that he believed the document might be fraudulent.

In 1885, the well-known ethnologist, Daniel G. Brinton, published a new translation of the text [ Daniel GarrisonBrinton, Constantine Samuel Rafinesque. 1885 The Lenâpé and Their Legends: With the Complete Text and Symbols of the Walam Olum. A New Translation, and an inquiry into its authenticity. Searchable at [http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&id=jaZegQr677wC&dq=rafinesque+walam+olum+&printsec=frontcover&source=web&ots=f-A73ojqP2&sig=OTQRiPltl-2am1E189ruL5lEV5E&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=2&ct=result] ] Brinton explained "In several cases the figures or symbols appear to me to bear out the corrected translations which I have given of the lines, and not that of Rafinesque. This, it will be observed, is an evidence, not merely that he must have received this text from other hands, but the figures also, and weighs heavily in favor of the authentic character of both (Brinton, Page 157)."

The Walum Olum in the 20th century

In the 1930s, Erminie Voegelin attempted to find evidence of "Walam Olum" narrative elements in independent Lenni-Lenape and Delaware sources; the parallels were at best inconclusive. [Voegelin, Erminie W. 1939 "Cultural parallels to the Delaware Walam Olum", in "Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of science", vol. 49, pp28-31] Criticisms of the text's authenticity began to grow. In 1952 renowned archaeologist James Bennett Griffin publicly announced that he “had no confidence in the Walam Olum.” Historian William A. Hunter also believed the text a hoax. In 1954 archaeologist John G. Witthoft found linguistic inaccuracies and suspicious resemblances of words in the texts to 19th century Lenape-English word lists, concluding that Rafinesque composed the narrative himself from Lenape texts that had already been put into print,Witthoft, John, 1955. "The Walam Olum Project" in "International Journal of American Linguistics" Vol. 21, p194.] but was unable to convince most of his colleagues that the text was spurious (citation needed). A Walam Olum project was announced in 1955 by Witthoft in the Journal of American Linguistics, but this project apparently never materialized.

In 1954, a multidisciplinary team of scholars from the Indiana Historical Society published yet another translation and commentary, saying that "the Red Score is a worthy subject for students of aboriginal culture," although, as a reviewer noted, "Paul Weer traces the history of the document, concluding that the 'Dr. Ward' from whom Rafinesque said he received it cannot be historically identified, and that, therefore, the circumstances of its origin are undeniably clouded." [ cite journal|title=Review of "Walam Olum or Red Score. The Migration Legend of the Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indians. A New Translation, Interpreted by Linguistic, Historical, Archaeological, Ethnological, and Physical Anthropological Studies"|journal=American Antiquity|date=October 1955|first=Richard B.|last=Woodbury|coauthors=|volume=21|issue=2|pages=191–192|id= |url=|format=|accessdate=2008-06-12|doi=10.2307/276869 ] The Indiana University anthropologist Della Collins Cook commented on the 1954 study, "the scholarly essays are best read as exercises in stating one's contradictory conclusions in a manner designed to give as little offense as possible to one's sponsor. To the end of his life Lilly [the sponsor] remained convinced that the Walam Olum would eventually prove to be authentic. At a 1974 [event] celebrating the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology at Indiana University, Black's successor, James A. Kellar, suggested that the team had shown it to be inauthentic. Mr Lilly rose and said that he considered 'the jury to be still out'." [Buikstra, Jane & Beck, Lane (eds). "Bioarchaeology: The Contextual Analysis of Human Remains" Academic Press (2006) ISBN 978-0123695413] Other translations and commentaries have followed, including translations into languages other than English.

Selwyn Dewdney, art educator and researcher into Ojibway art and anthropology, wrote the only comprehensive study of the Ojibwa birchbark scrolls (wiigwaasabakoon). In it he wrote: "A surviving pictographic record on wood, preserved by the Algonquian-speaking Delaware long after they had been shifted from their original homeland on Atlantic shores at the mouth of the Delaware River, offers evidence of how ancient and widespread is the myth of a flood (see Deluge (mythology) involving a powerful water manito. The record is known as the Walum Olum (Painted Sticks), and was interpreted for George Copway by a Delaware Elder... Apart from the reference to man's moral wickedness, the mood and imagery of the Walum Olum convey an archaic atmosphere that surely predates European Influence." [Dewdney, Selwyn. 1975. "The Sacred Scrolls of the Southern Ojibway". Glenbow Museum & U. Of Toronto Press. p128] A review of his study by the anthropologist Edward S Rogers states "Dewdney is apt to rely upon ethnographic generalizations that were in vogue a quarter of a century ago, but in the intervening years have been modified or disproven...Dewdney handles ethnohistorical matters no better than he does ethnographic topics...Dewdney has deceived the unwary who do not realize that the exact distributions and certain proposed migrations of Ojibwa still remain unresolved. A final word, but one that is of paramount importance, must be voiced. How will the Ojibwa react to this book? Most likely, negatively, from the few comments received to date. The fact that "Sacred" information is being divulged will be resented." [Rogers, Edward S., "Ethnohistory", Vol. 22, No. 1, (Winter, 1975), pp. 81-85]

Kentucky-based writer Joe Napora wrote a modern translation of the text which was published in 1992. At the time he thought the Walam Olum was genuine, and stated in the preface to his poetic translation of the text "My belief is that the Walam Olum is closely related to the Mide Scrolls that Dewdney wrote so eloquently about in Sacred Scrolls of the Ojibway." [Napora, Joe. 1992. "The Walam olum / as translated by Joe Napora". Greenfield Center, N.Y. : Greenfield Review Press. ISBN 0912678828. p1] .

By the 1980s, however, ethnologists had collected enough independent information "to discount the "Walam olum" completely as a tradition". [Vansina, Jan [http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=J7wbS71dVbcC&pg=PA54&lpg=PA54&ots=ZnJuMn4Ahy&sig=bh-pGXnmI9djTuUF91Hbn0dZn-c&hl=en Oral Tradition as History] Oxford, James Currey (1985) ISBN 0852550073, pp54-55] Herbert C. Kraft, an expert on the Lenape, [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DEFDF1331F934A15752C1A96E948260 Lenape Expert Assails Phone Flier] New York Times online] [ [http://www.asnj.org/herbert_c.html "Archaeological Society of New Jersey Lifetime Achievement Award"] ] had also long suspected the document to be a fraud. He stated that it did not square with the archaeological record of migrations by the prehistoric ancestors of the Lenape, and cited a 1985 survey conducted among Lenape elders by ethnologists David M. Oestreicher and James Rementer revealing that traditional Lenape had never heard of the document. In 1991 Steven Williams summarized the history of the case and the evidence against the document, lumping it with many other famous archaeological frauds; the existence of genuine historic pictogram documents elsewhere does not in itself overcome the textual and ethnological problems of the "Walam Olum". [Williams, Steven. 1991. "Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Side of North American Prehistory". University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.]

The Walam Olum since 1994

Notwithstanding Witthoft's tentative steps, and the doubts of these authors, there was still insufficient evidence for a satisfactory textual debunking of the narrative. In 1994, and afterwards, textual evidence that the Walam Olum was a hoax was supplied by David M. Oestreicher in “Unmasking the Walam Olum: A 19th Century Hoax.” Oestreicher examined Rafinesque's original manuscript and "found it replete with crossed-out Lenape words that had been replaced with others that had been replaced with others that better matched his English 'translation.' In other words, Rafinesque had been translating from English to Lenape, rather than the other way round". In general, he found a variety of evidence that the Walam Olum is not an authentic historical record but was composed by someone having only a slight familiarity with the Lenape language. Oestreicher argued that Rafinesque crafted the linguistic text from specific sources on the Delaware Language published by the American Philosophical Society and elsewhere; that the supposedly “Lenape” pictographs were in fact truncated hybrids from published Egyptian, Chinese, and Mayan sources

Barnhart concurs, stating that "the pictographs are in no way comparable to the figures found on the stone carvings or petroglyphs found in Lenapehoking, the traditional homeland of the Lenape.(Barton:140) Oestreicher also asserted that the stories were a conglomerate assembled from numerous sources on different cultures that literally spanned the globe; and that the Walam Olum was produced in part to win the international Prix Volney contest hosted in Paris and to prove Rafinesque’s long held theories regarding the peopling of America. A summary of Oestreicher’s findings appears in Herbert Kraft’s definitive study, "The Lenape-Delaware Indian Heritage: 10,000 BC to AD 2000". Later, David Oestreicher wrote that he had received a direct communication from Joe Napora, saying "that he now recognises that the Walam Olum is indeed a hoax. Napora was dismayed that the sources upon whom he relied had been so negligent in their investigation of the document and that the hoax should have been continued as long as it has".Oestreicher, David M. 2005. "Tale of a Hoax", in "The Algonquian Spirit", edited by Brian Swann. University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 978-0803293380 - searchable at [http://www.amazon.com/Algonquian-Spirit-Contemporary-Translations-Literatures/dp/0803293380/ref=si3_rdr_bb_product Amazon] , pp23-24]

A recent biography expressed considerable anger at Rafinesque's actions: "There is now very good reason to believe that he fabricated important data and documents...The most egregious example is the Lenni Lenape migration saga, Walam Olum, which has perplexed scholars for one and a half centuries. Rafinesque wrote the Walam Olum believing it to be "authentic" because it accorded with his own belief--he was merely recording and giving substance to what must be true. It was a damaging, culpably dishonest act, which misled scholars in search of the real truth, far more damaging than his childish creations, which could be easily dismissed; this was more than mischief." [Warren, Leonard. 2005. "Constantine Samuel Rafinesque: A Voice in the American Wilderness". University Press of Kentucky, May 2005, ISBN 978-0813123165 searchable at [http://www.amazon.com/Constantine-Samuel-Rafinesque-American-Wilderness/dp/081312316X/ref=sr_11_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1213379605&sr=11-1 Amazon] ]

Many traditional Lenape believe they have lived in their homeland (that is, in the New Jersey/Pennsylvania/New York City area) forever. The Delaware Tribe of Eastern Oklahoma originally endorsed the document but withdrew their endorsement on February 11th 1997 after reviewing the evidence. The Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania make clear their belief that they have been in the area for 10,000 years [ [http://www.lenapenation.org/lenapeculture.html Lenape Nation - A Tribal Community ] ] . Whilst concluding that the burden of proof still lies on those who believe it to be authentic, Terry Barnhart states that "whatever one's position on the Walam Olum, its controversial place in the history of American anthropology is most definitively secured" ( p149).

ee also

* Birch bark document
* Midewiwin
* Writing System
* Ideogram
* Paleography
* Oxyrhynchus
* Papyrology
* Epigraphy


Further reading

: aut|Boewe, Charles. 1985.A Note on Rafinesque, the Walam Olum, the Book of Mormon, and the Mayan Glyphs, Numen, Vol. 32, Fasc. 1 pp. 101-113.: aut|Boewe, Charles. 2003. Profiles of Rafinesque. University of Tennessee Press. Knoxville, TN.: aut|Kidd, Kenneth E. 1965. Birch-bark Scrolls in Archaeological Contexts. American Antiquity. Vol 30. No 4. page 480.: aut|Kraft, Herbert C. 1990. The Lenape: Archaeology, History, and Ethnology. American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 14, pp. 421–22.: aut|Kraft, Herbert C. 2002. The Lenape/Delaware Heritage: 10,000 B.C.–2000 A.D. Lenape Books.: aut|Kraft, Herbert C. and David M Oestreicher. 1995. "The Red Record: The Walam Olum, Translated and Annotated by David McCutchen." Book Review, North American Archaeologist 16(3):281–85.: aut|Leopold, Joan (ed) 2000. The Prix Volney: Volume II: Early Nineteenth-Century Contributions to American Indian and General Linguistics: Du Ponceau and Rafinesque, Springer, ISBN 978-0792325062, searchable at [http://www.amazon.com/Prix-Volney-Nineteenth-Century-Contributions-Linguistics/dp/0792325060/ref=sr_11_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1213270139&sr=11-1] : aut|Mahr, August C. 1957. Walam Olum, 1, 17: A Proof of Rafinesque’s Integrity. American Anthropologist. New Series Vol. 59. No 4. Aug 1957. pp. 705-708. Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association: aut|Napora, Joe (illus. Lingen, Ruth). 1983. The Walam Olum / translation. Madison, Wis., Landlocked Press. (Liimited edition, 100 copies): aut|Oestreicher, David M. 1994. Unmasking the Walam Olum: A 19th Century Hoax. Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of New Jersey 49:1–44.: aut|Oestreicher, David M. 1995a. The Anatomy of the Walam Olum: A 19th Century Anthropological Hoax. Ph.D. dissertation, Rutgers University. New Brunswick, New Jersey. Reprint Edition, University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Michigan.: aut|Oestreicher, David M. 1995b. Text Out of Context: The Arguments that Created and Sustained the Walam Olum. Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of New Jersey 50:31–52.: aut|Oestreicher, David M. 1997. Reply to Harry Monesson Regarding the Walam Olum. Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of New Jersey 52:98–99.: aut|Oestreicher, David M. 2000. In Search of the Lenape: The Delaware Indians Past and Present. Catalogue of the exhibition at the Scarsdale Historical Society. Scarsdale Historical Society, Scarsdale New York. [First published by Scarsdale Historical Society, 1995] .: aut|Oestreicher, David M. 2002a. The European Roots of the Walam Olum: Constantine Samuel Rafinesque and the Intellectual Heritage of the early 19th Century. In New Perspectives on the Origins of American Archaeology. Edited by Stephen Williams and David Browman. The University of Alabama Press.: aut|Oestreicher, David M. 2002b. The Algonquian of New York. The Rosen Publishing Group’s Power Kid’s Press. New York, NY.: aut|Rafinesque, C.S. 1836. The American Nations; or, Outlines of a National History; of the Ancient and Modern Nations of North and South America. Philadelphia.: cite book |author=aut|Voegelin, Charles F. |coauthors=(trans.), with contributions by aut|Eli Lilly, Erminie Voegelin, Joe E. Pierce, Paul Weer, Glenn A. Black, and aut|Georg K. Neumann] |year=1954 |title=Walam Olum; or, Red Score, the Migration Legend of the Lenni Lenape or Delaware Indians. A new translation, interpreted by linguistic, historical, archaeological, ethnological, and physical anthropological studies |edition=Pictographs and Lenape text, after C. Rafinesque |location=Indianapolis |publisher=Indiana Historical Society |oclc=1633009

External links

*Oklahoma Lenape Homepage http://www.delawaretribeofindians.nsn.us
*Lenape Nation at http://www.lenapenation.org/main.html
*Sioux and Ojibwa Pictographs at http://www.inquiry.net/outdoor/native/sign/pictographs.htm
*Napora's Walam Olum Translation at http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://surledosdelatortue.free.fr/24WALAM.htm&sa=X&oi=translate&resnum=6&ct=result&prev=/search%3Fq%3DJoseph%2BNapora%2Bwalam%2Bolum%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG
* http://www.native-languages.org/lenape_culture.htm

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