2006-06-02 / Columnists

Historical Views

They Wrote It Like They Heard It, Or, How The Native Americans Said It!
From The Rockaway Museum by Emil Lucev, Curator Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke

From The Rockaway Museum by Emil Lucev, Curator
Dedicated To The Memory Of Leon S. Locke

Some time ago in an old Historical View in The Wave , and again in the 100th Anniversary edition of The Wave , the various spellings of the Rockaway Native American name, by scribes who wrote deeds and documents in colonial times, was discussed. There were more than a dozen variations, which were eventually corrupted into- Rockaway!

Latecomers into the historical record were the Canarsee Tribe, which inhabited southeast Brooklyn and Jamaica Bay.

It has been said that local tribes on western Long Island took the name of their chief (which would make the Rockaways the "Pamans") but the scribes put down the Indians of a locality or the names of a group of chiefs to avoid legality problems, and the lawyers and politicians did the rest! In those old days, nobody really cared, except for the tribe that got screwed- in plain old English!

There was a Native American group in northern New Jersey referred to as the "Rockaweygh," who lived along a sand creek, and in modern times were the Sand Creek Indians.

It has been said that the Swedish settlers of old added "r" and the suffix "er" to their maps and writings, and a 1776 Delaware Language Dictionary stated that there was no "F" or "R" in the Delaware Language. This probably refers to sounds, since the Delaware had no written language. The Swedes did replace "L" sounds with their "R" sound, and the Dutch went along.

The Dutch referred to Rockaway as "Rechtkawacht," which translates to "Sand Hills." In the 1776 dictionary "wacht" is Delaware for "hill" and if you replace the "R" with an "L," we have the Delaware word "Le Kau" for "Sand"! This makes "Lekauwacht" the correct name by using a little back engineering, if you will. Simply, the Indians that live on the sand hills by the shore.

As the existing tribes on western Long Island were driven east and south to finally band their remnants together on a place called Rockaway Neck in the early 1680s, they were absorbed by any tribe they settled with (as brothers) until they too were forced out of their land. The most confusing things in contemporary times are all the linguistic and grammatical dictionaries that are being published for languages that were never put down on paper.

The closest things to the original Delaware tongue is the 1776 dictionary by David Zeisberger, and the surviving pages of a dictionary by Thomas Jefferson. Phonetics played a major part in both these books, and tapes of the great Norma Dean Thompson ("Touching Leaves") teach simple language lessons on the art of speaking "Delaware." Unfortunately, Miss Thompson died before she completed the taping. But what she finished is a treasure!

On the old Jamaica Bay #542 and 540A Nautical Charts, the west side of the Jamaica Bay shore was a shallow and muddy flat at low water. A report during the War of 1812 stated that at low water, Jamaica Bay was one big mud flat, and had only one navigable (beach) channel from Rockaway inlet east to Far Rockaway.

The name Canarsee first appeared in 1847, and like Rockaway, about 15 variations have been placed on record by the many scribes writing the old parchment documents of sale or deeds to property.

*Canaresing *Canaresse

*Canarise *Canarisse

*Canarissingh *Canarsie

*Canaryssea *Canause

*Cananarissea *Cannarse

*Conarsie *Kanarsingh

*Kanasinck *Kanarise


The west side of Jamaica Bay was called the Conarie Zee (the Brooklyn half) and the east side was called Jameco Bay or Jamaica Bay, after the town of Jamaica on the northeast shore.

So now, dear followers of Historical Views , try this on for size, and think outside the box of Native American history!

*1776- Ga Han - Shallow.. Asiiskuw-Mud...Pakii- Flat... Sing- Place.

*1996- Kahan -Shallow... Asiiskuw- Mud... Pakii- Flat... Sing- Place.

Now pretend that you are the scribe who is writing the document for the sale of Canarsie (that you know) and listening to Native Americans say it to you in their individual dialect. What would you come up with? Logically speaking, they would be the Indians of the bay mud flats of the Conarie Zee, right? The destruction of the local Native Americans was very swift, and when their last outpost (Rockaway Neck) was sold out from under them in 1685, the document was signed by Great Chief Tackapousha, Rockaway Chief Paman, and four others who prior jurisdiction is not known, but their marks were all indicative of authority over a territory. They were Oppassum, Mahone, Rappapeaneck, and Pottas. After about 1703, they were not long in existence in the European invader's world. A new tribal alliance is now forming nationwide here in America, and I sincerely believe that the "casinos" will have to be reckoned with, because it seems the chickens have come home to roost! And before I forget, my Native American name is Wunalacht'kow, or "he who goes to the wave"!

How about that?

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