Seven Wise Sachems

Seven Wise Sachems

A Lenape Indian Story

By George Clever

5 March 2013


Many moons ago, (we used to talk like this), there were Lenape people living in what is now called Delaware Valley in Pennsylvania.  These were gifted people, some gifted more than others, living together in turtle village.  They were blessed with Seven Wise Sachems or Chiefs who were able to provide counsel to all who asked for it at a time when things were rapidly changing and not for the better.  Their way of life was changing as the illegal immigrants pressed into their territory with a land hunger not understood by the Lenape.  It was as if one could sell the air or give it away for only some to use.  Whenever there was a question no matter how important or trivial the Lenape would go to the Seven Wise Sachems and ask for their counsel and an answer to the question asked. 

“Who should lead us in the fall hunt?”  “When should be begin planting the three sisters?”  “Who will marry my ugly sister?”  “How can I stop my brother’s teasing?”  “Will the sun come up tomorrow?”  “Where is my lost moccasin?” “Will it rain tomorrow?”  “How many children will I have?”  “What is making me hungry?”  “Why does my nose run?” “Will fire ever burn water?” “Can you make my feet smaller?” “Do I have to weed the garden today?” 

`The questions from the Lenape never seemed to end and the next question asked was less important than the one before.  All these trivial non-stop questions were exhausting to the Sachems who had much more serious questions to discuss together, question like these.  “How do we hold on to our hunting and fishing territories when more and more illegal immigrants seem to show up on our land?”  “Who do we support in the war between the Father King in France and the Father King in England?”  “Do we have to support either King?”  “The traders along our big water coast give our women and children strong drink when we are away hunting.  On our return our village families are in chaos.”  “How do we stop this from happening?”  With all the trivial questions they were asked to answer no time was left for important council talk.  Everywhere they went the tribe was sure to follow.  There was no hiding place where the Sachems could find quiet and peace for their own needs.  It was time for them to seek counsel from the Magician their own Contrary. 

The Magician was a medicine person of extra ordinary powers.  Even as a small boy he could hide where his Uma (mother) could not find him.  He was a changeling.  Everything he did was backward from all other Lenape.  He bathed in dirt, walked backward and threw away the meat

Pg.2  The Seven Wise Sachems

from a cooking rabbit only to eat the bones.  The Magician spoke a strange language of opposites.

You might hear him say, “It is so very cold I think I will not wear any clothes today.  I am not at all hungry.   That stew makes me want to vomit.”

Then he would wrap himself in his heaviest blanket and fill his bowl with stew, emptying it several times in a hunger hurry.  Even the Seven Wise Sachems sought his counsel when problems were too complicated for them to answer or the future safety of the entire tribe was at stake.  This was one of those times.   

“Magician, we are tired of the endless and trivial questions all the Lenape ask us.  We have no time for our own concerns and discussions.  If we hide anywhere in the village, along the hunting trails or in the deepest forest some curious person discovers us and soon all of the village people surround us again with their unending questions.  What shall we do?” 

The Lenape Contrary placed his fingers on his butt in deep thought.  He smiled an upside frown.  He pretended to pop out his eyes so he could see their dilemma more clearly. 

Then he said, “For a bowl of mud I shall turn you into wooden bees.”  In translation, I shall turn you into trees. 

The deal was made for a bowl of maple syrup the Contrary skipped around the Sachems in a dance of the bees to turn them into trees. 

“Now we are trees and in a quiet place near the edge of the never ending swamp where no Lenape go.  Surely the village will not find us here and we can discuss our serious business.” The Oak tree said.

The birch, willow, hemlock, maple, ash and walnut trees were content in their circle grove to discuss the issues of the day without interference from the Lenape men and women with endless questions.  Their private contemplation did not last very long.  Among the Lenape there was an especially bright star, a young man with leadership potential seen in his first vision quest.  His name was Teedyuscung.  His name means (As far as the wood edge).  He was a talented tracker who could read messages from the wind as he stalked his quarry.  Teedyuscung knew the Seven Wise Sachems were somewhere near the village.  He began a long search for them with some questions of his own to ask if he found them.  Perhaps the birds would show him the way. 

“Whose idea was this making us into trees?  I am shedding my skin.” said the birch tree.  “And I am home to some very messy pooping crows.” said the hemlock.  “Magician, come and speak with us.  We find being trees distasteful.”  

Pg.3  Seven  Wise Sachems

Teedyuscung had followed the circle of the hawk as it looked for a fine squirrel dinner in some walnut tree.  He overheard the trees discussing their displeasure with being trees and calling for the Magician.  Hurrying back to the village he shouted the news about his find.  It had been weeks since the Sachems disappeared.  Those gathered to hear Teedyuscung’s news had a store house of questions just waiting for the return of the Sachems. 

“Hurry, I will show you where they Sachems are hiding.  The Magician Contrary has changed them into trees.”

And so the Seven Wise Sachems were once again discovered and soon overcome with questions from the gifted and not so gifted Lenape people.  As the sun began to settle behind the western sky mountains, the people returned to their village longhouses and quiet returned to the forest again.  Out of the creeping shadows of night, the Contrary appeared and said. 

“Well, what is your problem now?  I heard you call.”  “Magician, we are rooted in one spot and cannot avoid the boring and useless questions of those who have found us.  We must be moved to a better hiding place and right now!” the oak tree said.  “All right, I can do that but it will cost you.”  “What can we give to you?  We have no wampum.   We have no furs or trade goods.  What is it you want?”  “ “I want the birch to make me a canoe.” The Contrary said. 

And so the trade was made and the Sachems who once were Lenape and then became trees were now changed again into rocks, huge boulders heaped in a pile at the edge of the forest.

“Oooh!  You’re crushing me.”  “Get off of me!” “I have never weighed this much before.  Do I look fat?”  “I never did like the color gray.”  “Well at least we are alone again.  With luck the people of turtle village will not find us and we can get back to our more serious thoughts.”

And so it was for several moons.   

No one knew where the Seven Wise Sachems were until the day Teedyuscung followed a deer trail to the farthest edge of the forest.  He was a shadow in woods full of shadows, moving with the stealth that made him one of the most successful hunters among all the warriors in his village.  Moving from tree to tree hidden from the deer he was stalking, Teedyuscung heard voices at the edge of the forest where the trail opened to a small sunny field.  The voices were coming from a pile of rocks he had never seen before, rocks not there the last time he had hunted this trail.  Who was it talking behind those boulders?  Crawling on his belly to get a better view and not be seen, he was witness to magic.  There were no people speaking behind the rocks.  The rocks were speaking to each other.  He had discovered the secret hiding place of the Sachems.  It was news he must share with everyone in camp still asking questions.

Pg. 4  Seven Wise Sachems

Soon the boulders were surrounded by the whole village with everyone asking their own personal questions at once.  Not one single question could be heard over the clamor of everyone shouting for answers from the Seven Wise Sachems who had been changed to rocks.

 “Magician, Help us!”  The boulders cried out.  “How can we answer all these questions?  Some are of importance like, “Where does the sun go at night?”   Some are not as important.  We are asked by many of the young girls, “Am I really pretty?”  The boys ask, “Am I really handsome?”  Save us from this crowd so we may discuss more important things like how to keep our people from becoming dependent on foreign manufactured goods that is ruining our hunting economy?”  

As in the past, a bargain was a bargain and the Contrary was not about to help the Sachems unless he was adequately paid for his trouble.  The Magician waited until it was dark and all the Lenape had returned to their lodges for the night.  When the moon was brighter than the sun he appeared and did a strange backward dance around the Sachem rocks. 

“This is the first time I will ever help you.  Your decision to return to your village is not granted so all the people will be able to ask you important questions at any time.  I shall return you to the dullness only you deserve so you will never show the way for the people when they are lost far from the shore.  You may ask what it will cost, only that you bother me forever more.”

With a stomp and a twist the Contrary removed hurtful stones from his moccasins and threw them toward the moon with is bright face filling the sky.  The Seven Wise Sachems felt their rock forms break away as they lifted into the sky on night moon beams.  Each became a star none more bright than the other.  Clustered together they formed a group known by the Greek immigrants as the Seven Sisters or Pleiades, known by the Lenape as the Seven Wise Sachems.  No longer were they bothered by the trivial questions of the gifted and not so gifted Lenape.  No longer were they able to walk among the humans.  Theirs was an eternity to contemplate the mysteries of the heavens and to discuss serious things at least for another two hundred fifty million years before their star group would explode.  True to the opposite of his words, the Lenape would use the star group nearest to earth for navigating the ocean when they were far from the shore.  And that is how it happened.      

Jennifer Clever 10.03.2013 02:45

This is my favorite so far. It is hard to pick they are both so good.

Latest comments

14.04 | 15:16

George, Idealism killed by shot of fact. Clark

14.04 | 14:51

George, This is a fascinating article. Clark

03.06 | 00:41

Hello Frank, Unfortunately, the turtle head has to come off and the insid...

02.06 | 21:22

my turtle just died and I want to create a rattle. How do I prepare him to do this.