Original Document
Original Document
John Heckwelder on Delaware Indians' Use of Paint for Bodily Decoration, 1819.

Heckewelder was a Moravian missionary who spent much of his life among the Delaware Indians in western Pennsylvania in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In the passage below, he describes the Indians" fondness for decorating themselves with paint.

"I was once resting in my travels at the house of a trader who lived at some distance from an Indian town, I went in the morning to visit an Indian acquaintance and friend of mine. I found him engaged in plucking out his beard, preparatory to painting himself for a dance which was to take place the ensuing evening. Having finished his head dress, about an hour before sunset, he came up, as he said, to see me, but I and my companions judged that he came to be seen. To my utter astonishment, I saw three different paintings or figures on one and the same face. He had, by his great ingenuity and judgment in laying on and shading the different colours, made his nose appear, when we stood directly in front of him, as if it were very long and narrow, with a round knob at the end, much like the upper part of a pair of tongs. On one cheek there was a red round spot, about the size of an apple, and the other was done in the same manner with black. The eye-lids, both upper and lower ones, were reversed in colouring. When we viewed him in profile on one side, his nose represented the beak of an eagle, with the bill rounded and brought to a point, precisely as those birds have it, though the mouth was somewhat open. . . .

When we turned around to the other side, the same nose now resembled the snout of a pike, with the mouth so open that the teeth could be seen. He seemed much pleased with his execution, and having his looking-glass with him, he contemplated his work, seemingly with great pride and exultation. . . .

Thus, for a single night's frolic, a whole day is spent in what they call dressing, in which each strives to outdo the other."

Credit: From Rev. John Heckewelder, History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations Who Once Inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighbouring Provinces. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1819.
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