Four-hundred and five years ago, Hendrik Hudson sailed into the harbor of the Muhheconnituck, the river that now bears his name. Three Hundred and eighty eight years ago, a brief mention of a so-called "purchase" of Manahatta was delivered by ship in a sailor's letter (1626). So begins the written history of the island, a place populated by Lenapes, Mohicans, Munsees and other indigenous inhabitants for perhaps 13,000 years before Hudson.
The word "Manhattan" comes from a Munsee description of the 'place where we get bows' for the collection of hickory trees on the south end of the island prized throughout the region for making bows (Ives Goddard, 2010). Soon the island became "New Netherland," "New Amsterdam" and "New York" following the path of supposed ownership transfer. During this time a Lenape diaspora began as the longtime resident citizenry was systematically driven out. The cultural swap was so complete that even the original meaning of the island has been lost to most modern Manhattan dwellers.
Where did the original people go? It was an overwhelming and traumatizing diaspora. By the 1800s, my indigenous nation, the Mohicans, found ourselves on a reservation in Wisconsin. Munsees ended up in Canada and other places. Lenapes now reside in Oklahoma, as do other Delawares (Lenni Lenape) in Pennsylvania and other northeastern states. The hearts and minds of the collective indigenous people, however, have never strayed from Manhattan.
We are still here.
The newly formed Lenape Center in New York is figuratively “singing for their supper” with the new concert opera “Purchase of Manhattan.” Their mission is “to continue the Lenape cultural presence by promoting Lenape language and the creation, development, distribution and exhibition of Lenape arts and culture.” I am honored and proud to be chosen to create this concert opera (with Joseph Bruchac) in the hope of advancing the important work of Lenape Center. Please join me on Thursday, November 20, 2014, for the premiere of “Purchase of Manhattan” — in Manhattan — the bow making place!
Please check out the one-sheet advertisement HERE, listen to the recent 1010 WINS radio spot HERE, and get your tickets today!