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Borderlands and Migration: Manahatta

December, 2016

Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma City Theatre Company/
Graphic Design by Rachel Morgan

Manahatta

Manahatta is a migrating story of time, place and cultures. The characters and action simultaneously converge and flow between the 1600’s Dutch fur trade and the present day stock trade in New York City.  The play converges the stories of Jane Snake, a contemporary Lenape woman, her family in Delaware Country, Oklahoma and the Lenape people living in Manahatta, during the 1600’s Dutch occupation when Peter Minuit purchased the island for $24.  Jane Snake is a gifted mathematician with an MBA from Stanford.  She migrates from the borders of the Delaware Nation for her education and lands a career in the stock trade at a prestigious investment bank on Wall Street on the eve of the 2008 financial crisis.  By returning to the Lenape ancestral homeland of Manahatta, Jane Snake metaphorically migrates to reconcile the borders of the past and present day Manahatta. The tragic history of her Lenape people who once thrived for centuries in Manahatta and the present day implications of her career path as a successful investment banker gives rise to her conflict. Jane navigates the borders of conflicting cultures, financial excess and the notion of “never enough” that displaced her ancestral people amidst the borders of responsibility to her Oklahoma family and the Lenape way. The action seamlessly flows between generations simultaneously intersecting her present day family in Oklahoma facing the loss of their homestead and her Lenape ancestors in the 1600’s navigating the impact and exploits of the Dutch fur trade in their original homelands.  Manahatta is the story of the historic land grab of Manahatta by the Dutch and the meaning of family, home and identity.

Production History Borders and Migrations
Photo courtesy of Mary Kathryn Nagle

Manahatta was developed during Nagle’s 2012-2013 residency with the Public Theater's Emerging Writers Group in New York City.

The play migrated from New York City and was presented as a staged reading during the Oklahoma City Theatre Company’s 4th annual Native American New Play Festival April 20, 2013. It migrated back to NYC to be presented as a reading on May 22, 2013 during the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous People. It also received a reading later that year as a part of the Public’s NEW WORK NOW series co-presented by The Eagle Project on September 14, 2013. The Oklahoma City Theatre Company’s 5th annual Native American New Play Festival selected Manahatta as the featured festival production and performances ran May 8-17, 2014. The Public Theater workshopped Manahatta in its inaugural Public Studio series and it opened May 15, 2014. The production at The Public Theatre opened with a prayer in Lenape from the Delaware Tribe's Tribal Operations Manager and former Chief, Curtis Zunigha.

In December 2014, Manahatta was named a top-three finalist for the 2014 William Saroyan Prize for Playwriting, and was named the Runner Up for the 2015 Jane Chambers Playwriting Award. Manahatta is also on the 2015 Kilroy’s List and has migrated among numerous curriculums in college and university classes around the country. 

Staging/Structural Borders and Migrations
Photo courtesy of the Oklahoma City Theatre Company

Of Manahatta, Nagle explains that her research included interviews with Lenape elders who specifically requested the names of two historical leaders from Lenape be assigned to two of the male characters in the play. Beginning early in the development phase of this work, the construct of time migrated and the borders of Lenape history expanded as embodied characters in Nagle’s play. 

She writes, “Although Manahatta is based on real events that took place, and was written following interviews with Lenape elders whose ancestors lived on Manahatta hundreds of years ago- Manahatta is a work of fiction and the playwright is not to be mistaken as an expert in Lenape history or culture. For instance, although Tamanend and Se-ket-tu-may-qua are both significant historical Lenape leaders, neither were present during the 1626 “land sale” to Peter Minuit and the Dutch. Tamanend was a leader of the Lenape when the Lenape signed their famous treaty with William Penn in 1683. Se-ket-tu-may-qua (Black Beaver) was a legendary leader of the Lenape in the mid- Nineteenth Century when the Delaware Nation was removed from their reservation in Texas and placed where they are today in Anadarko, Oklahoma. Thus although neither of these two men were present when some of the events of this play took place, the playwright found it appropriate to name the two male Lenape characters after these legendary leaders since an elder of the Delaware Nation specifically requested that they be named for these two men. To the Delaware Lenape today, both Tamanend and Black Beaver continue to serve as examples of the sort of intelligence, integrity and bravery that comprise the character of the Lenape people.”

To learn more about the Lenape, their history and their culture, please visit:

Delaware Nation in Anadarko, Oklahoma

Delaware Tribe in Bartlesville, Oklahoma

In her staging notes of the play, Nagle states, “The cast consists of 7 actors total. Each actor must play the characters as they are outlined. The double/triple casting is not optional.”

Le-le-wa’-you / Jane

Toosh-ki-pa-kwis-i / Debra

Tamanend / Robert

Se-ket-tu-may-qua

Peter Minuit / Peter Stuyvesant / Dick

Jakob / Joe

Jonas Michaelius / Michael

Photo provided courtesy of The Oklahoma City Theatre Company

Photo provided courtesy of the Oklahoma City Theatre Company 

Nagle also states, “Manahatta takes place in two time periods, simultaneously. One half of the play takes place in Manahatta, in both the 17th and 21st centuries. The other half of the play takes place in modern day Anadarko, Oklahoma. It is important that the two worlds begin separately but immediately commence on a course that ultimately results in a collision. Transformations from one character to another should take place in the moment and on stage as much as possible, to make clear to the audience that past and present overlap and co-exist. Indeed, they are one and the same. The separate locations should not be conceived of as segregated space on stage. Beyond this proscription, anything is possible. In some instances, a character’s exit or entrance is written into the script. Where it is not, anything is possible.”

Nagle’s stated casting and staging requirements of overlapping settings convey the fluidity of temporal and spatial realms frequently expressed in Native Theatre. However, Nagle’s concept extends this notion further. The double and triple casting is not optional according to Nagle’s instructions. This reinforces the characters transforming inter-generationally from one time period to another in full audience view. The world of the play is realized through the compression of the characters into embodied enactments of ancestral co-existence, the borderless-ness of place and the cyclical nature of time migration.  Manahatta is written without the typical borders of western theatrical playwriting structure. Instead, the story is told within two acts with no assigned breaks between scenes

Temporal/Spatial Borders and Migrations

The scenes are performed with settings and characters overlapping and nearly uninterrupted to express and convey the fluidity between temporal and spatial realms. In moments, the characters generationally intersect in real time on stage migrating across the centuries through numerous spatial and temporal borders. The characters Jane/ Le-le-wa’-you, Debra/ Toosh-ki-pa-kwis-i and Robert/ Tamanend are borderless as they move through and between their ancestral characters. The nature of this staging enacts and extends the Native understanding of ancestral co-existence and blood memory.

Act 1

JANE leaves the building and walks onto the streets of modern day Manhattan. TOOSH-KI-PA-KWISI enters and calls to her:

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: Le-le-wa’-you. . . .Le-le-wa’-you!

JANE tries to ignore what must be an illusion.

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: She left us. Just this morning, before the sunrise.

Beat.

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: We couldn’t find you. Where did you go?

JANE stares at TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I.

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: Please, come home. Now. We need you.

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I exits.

Act 2

A few days after Christmas 2007. DEBRA enters with two cups of coffee. She approaches LE-LE-WA’-YOU.

DEBRA: I made coffee.

DEBRA looks to see if her sister is paying attention. Her sister appears lost.

DEBRA: (nods) We’re up to ten now. Two are in high school. Three are in their twenties. So we’re really pullin’ in the younger generation.

It’s as though JANE/LE-LE-WA’-YOU is caught between the two worlds, unsure of where she should go.

DEBRA: We’ve got two passive speakers to help, you know, with pronunciation. They can’t speak full sentences, but they grew up listening to their parents, so at least know how the language is supposed to sound.

DEBRA looks at her sister again.

DEBRA: Are you listening?

JANE/LE-LE-WA’-YOU commits.

JANE: Yeah, sorry. You have speakers.

 

Act 2

ROBERT calls JANE as SE-KET-TU-MAY QUA and LE-LE-WA’-YOU/JANE turn and run. SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA runs all the way off stage, but LE-LE-WA’-YOU/JANE stops, out of breath, and answers her phone.

ROBERT: Jane, it’s your dad.

JANE: Hey.

ROBERT: Ya sound out of breath.

JANE: I was out running, you know, exercising in the helape chen kwaelas--

 

Act 1

17th century Manahatta. SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA and LELE- WA’-YOU stand in the Lenape encampment just north of present day City Hall in Manhattan- where in 1626 there was a 60 foot deep pond fed by an underground spring, next to an adjacent meadow and marsh lands that almost bisected the entire island. They scrape fur.

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: No. Like . . . when they walk down a street.

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: Oh.

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: Or when they visit someone. You know, to eat.

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: Eat what?

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: Something special.

LE-LE-WA’-YOU stops scraping and places the fur on her shoulders, imitating what she imagines to be a white woman in a beaver fur while Robert enters the stage in present day Anadarko.

ROBERT enters and sits in his living room in Anadarko, Oklahoma.

ROBERT: This was all water, ya know.

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: Hello.

ROBERT: At first, the whole earth was water.

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: Do you see my fur?

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: I do.

ROBERT: But there was a turtle. The turtle came up outta the water and raised its back up high. And when it raised its round back up high, the water ran off.

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: I put it on so that we could have a special occasion.

Photo courtesy of Mary Kathryn Nagle
Cultural Borders and Migrations

As Jane navigates the borders of the business world in a non-native investment bank, she encounters cultural challenges and rhetorical aggressions from her non-native superiors and colleagues.  

Act 1

JOE: I know these sellers are the worst, they’ve definitely gone off the reservation, but you’ve got to figure out a way to close your deals on time.

JANE: Off the reservation?

JOE: I’m agreeing with you. They’re crazy, they don’t follow the rules, and let’s face it, they’re just stupid. You know, slower than the rest.

JANE: And that means they’re off the reservation?

JOE: Oh God, I forgot, you were born on a reservation.

JANE: Actually, I wasn’t.

JOE: I thought you said you’re Native American?

JANE: The federal government took away our reservation away and never gave it back.

JOE: Oh. Well, it’s just a saying. You know I didn’t mean any offense by it. But I am serious about your performance. I like you Snake. And I’ve been here long enough to see what happens to our Senior Transaction Managers when they don’t close deals on time. I don’t want to see that happen to you. So get your act together. Don’t wanna have to send you back to Oklahoma.

At the Lenape encampment in the 17th century Manahatta, TOOSH-KI-PAKWIS-I, SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA and LE-LE-WA’-YOU attempt to prepare a meal for a council meeting for 50 people. TAMANEND returns home from a seasonal hunt empty handed and his daughter reports their crops have been destroyed by the free-roaming hogs brought by the Dutch.  The cultural borders within the family collide when it is suggested trading fur with the Dutch for money will solve their food crisis.

Act 1

At the Lenape encampment, TOOSH-KI-PAKWIS-I prepares what little food she has been able to harvest in the fields, nothing more than two ears of corn.

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA enters carrying venison.

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: I brought a deer.

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: For fifty people?

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: It’s all I could find.

TAMANEND enters, followed by LE-LE-WA’-YOU.

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: (points to food) This is all we have.

TAMANEND: Perhaps if you spent more time harvesting crops and less time scraping fur-

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: It’s the hogs.

TAMANEND: The little animals the Dutch brought over?

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: They’ve trampled all of our crops.

TAMANEND: (to his daughters) You didn’t tell me.

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: I tried-

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: You don’t listen-

TAMANEND: I’m listening now. Anything else you care to tell me before fifty people show up expecting

us to feed them?

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: The herds are gone. The Dutch have killed all of our deer.

TAMANEND: So there’s nothing left to hunt?

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: Very little.

TAMANEND: I leave for one season and I return to this.

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: What about our relatives up north? They’ve always been willing to trade-

TAMANEND: They face the same problems as us. That’s why I returned home with nothing.

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: That’s why we’re trading fur.

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: We can trade for all the food we need.

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: We don’t need to hunt anymore. We can buy our food.

TAMANEND: The Lenape do not buy food.

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: But we have nothing to eat.

 

The Lenape migrate into the borders of Dutch culture when Peter Minuit introduces alcohol to them as a prequel to “buying” Manahatta. The Dutch migrate into the borders of Lenape culture by presenting a wampum belt.  The borders of understanding “ownership” and “home” collide between the Lenape and Minuit as he presses forward with the land grab.

 

Act 1

PETER MINUIT: Tell me, Black Beaver, have you ever had brandy?

PETER MINUIT gestures to JAKOB, who pulls out glasses and a bottle of brandy.

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: I’m not sure that I have.

PETER MINUIT: Well you absolutely must give it a try. This bottle is a fine, or rather, a great, indeed I think the greatest, spirit ever made.

 

JAKOB pours a glass for TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I and LE-LE-WA’-YOU as well.

 

TAMANEND: (to SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA) What is he pouring?

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: I’m not sure.

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: Something made from their Great Spirit.

 

PETER MINUIT lifts his glass.

 

PETER MINUIT: To the New World!

 

PETER MINUIT leads them in an awkward toast, that SEKET-TU-MAY-QUA and TAMANEND do their best to emulate.

 

PETER MINUIT: Well? What do you think?

 

They wince.

 

PETER MINUIT: Now, gentlemen, tell me. Do you own all of Manahatta?

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: Own?

PETER MINUIT: Does this land belong to you?

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: We live here yes.

PETER MINUIT: But does Manahatta belong to you?

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: Manahatta?

PETER MINUIT: Isn’t that what you call this island?

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: Yes.

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: Manahatta is the word our ancestors used to describe their home.

PETER MINUIT: This place?

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: This island.

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: Manahatta.

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: Our home.

PETER MINUIT: So you own Manahatta.

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: If you say so.

PETER MINUIT: Not me, you. You just said it’s your home.

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: I don’t understand your word “own.”

PETER MINUIT: Look, let’s not overly complicate things. This is all very simple. The Dutch, my people,

would like to trade with you and your people for Manahatta. You own Manahatta because

it is your home.

TAMANEND: What is he saying?

 

PETER MINUIT snaps his fingers, and JAKOB pulls out a large piece of paper.

 

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: What’s this?

PETER MINUIT: A deed. You sign here.

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: I have to sign?

PETER MINUIT: Yes. This is a permanent deal, so it is necessary that you sign.

 

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA signs. He hands the pen to TAMANEND, who does the same.

 

TAMANEND: (to PETER MINUIT) To the Lenape, when we exchange wampum, that makes us brothers.

Now, we share the same home. We’re relatives. But anyone who calls Manahatta home

must know this: the Creator gave us Manahatta. Here in the helape chen kwaelas,

Manahatta is sacred.

 

Jakob, a Dutch fur trader migrates into the borders of Lenape culture when he accepts a traditional remedy offered to him by Le-le-wa’-you for his sick wife.

 

Act 2

 

JAKOB: It’s wretched. My family, we left Amsterdam on the 24th of January. We were supposed to reach Manahatta by the first of March. But we encountered a tempest in the Bahamas and were trapped on that god-forsaken boat for seventy-five days. We ran out of food, there was no fresh water, and my wife, I'm surprised she made it. Now she's very, very sick.

LE-LE-WA’-YOU hands JAKOB a pouch of cedar.

 

JAKOB: ?

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: So you can smoke your wife.

JAKOB: Smoke my wife?

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: My family, we prayed over this cedar. Burn it by her bedside when you pray. The smoke

will carry your prayers up to the Creator.

JAKOB: Thank you.

 

Le-le-wa’-you migrates into the borders of Dutch commerce when she accepts guilders during a fur trade:

 

JAKOB: They’re beautiful.

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: I scraped them myself.

JAKOB: Forty guilders, for your whole load.

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: Deal.

 

JAKOB hands her the guilders and she extends the furs.

 

ECONOMIC BORDERS AND MIGRATIONS

 

Later in this same scene, Le-le-wa’-you learns the economic borders of Dutch fur trading have quickly migrated when she counts the guilders exchanged in the trade and comes up short.

 

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: We agreed on forty, so I’m missing five.

JAKOB: That’s the tax.

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: What is tax?

JAKOB: The price we pay to trade on the Company’s land.

 

 

LANGUAGE BORDERS AND MIGRATIONS

 

Se-ket-tu-may-qua explains in English the Lenape’s unfamiliarity with shaking hands when Peter Minuit meets Tamanend for the first time.

 

ACT 1

 

PETER MINUIT extends his hand to TAMANEND.

 

TAMANEND: (to SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA) What does he want from me?

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: He wants to touch your hand.

TAMANEND: I don’t want to touch his.

SE-KET-TU-MAY-QUA: (to PETER MINUIT) You’ll have to excuse us. Some of us aren’t accustomed to touching hands.

PETER MINUIT: (to JAKOB) Oh marvelous, you found one that can speak. We’re so thankful you can speak.

Traditional language borders divide Jane and her older sister Debra who dreams of establishing a Delaware language program in the Anadarko community. During a visit home, Jane and Debra prepare a meal together.

 

JANE: Can I help?

 

DEBRA hands her a potato peeler.

 

DEBRA: Pxa kho nek hopenisak (peel the potatoes).

JANE: You know I don’t speak Delaware.

DEBRA: Peel the potatoes.

 

Traditional language borders divide Debra and Robert when he shames her inability to speak correctly.

 

DEBRA: (mispronounces it) Nkaski alenixsi (I can speak Lenape).

JANE: What does that mean?

DEBRA: I can speak Lenape. (mispronounces it) Nkaski alenixsi.

ROBERT: (is 100% accurate, corrects his daughters) Nkaski alenixsi.

DEBRA: (tries to correct her sister but mispronounces it) Nkaski alenixsi.

ROBERT: How the hell are you gonna teach Lenape when ya ain’t got a clue how to say it?

 

Jonas Michaelius is sent to Manahatta by the Dutch West India Company to start the first church. He migrates into the borders of the traditional language to facilitate the Lenape’s conversion to Christianity. Toosh-ki-pa-kwis-I,  helps Jonas Michaelius with his pronunciations and they share a Christian hymn sung in traditional language.  

 

Act 2

 

JONAS MICHAELIUS: (a bit nervously) I found a Lenape to help me translate some of our hymns into your language, so that I could share them with you. I have one here with me, it’s a simple hymn,

really. But one of my favorites. (he pulls out a piece of paper)

(singing) No-wa-tone, No-wa-tone,

 

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I laughs at his pronunciation.

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: (she corrects his pronunciation) No-wa-tone.

JONAS MICHAELIUS: (tries to imitate Toosh-ki-pa-kwis-i) No-wa-tone?

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: (nods with approval) No-wa-tone.

JONAS MICHAELIUS: Hay-lay-loiema, gee-shay-loiema.

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: (correcting his pronunication) loeima.

JONAS MICHAELIUS: (correctly) loeima?

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: Gee-shay loiema.

Together, they sing.

JONAS MICHAELIUS AND TOOSHKI-PA-KWIS-I: (singing) No-wa-tone, No-wa-tone, Hay-lay-loiema, gee-shay-loiema. No-wa-tone, No-wa-tone, Hay-lay-loiema, gee-shay-loiema.

 

INVOLUNTARY MIGRATION

After the “sale” of Manahatta, the Dutch are unable to contain the Lenape. A campaign of killing on sight is launched by the Dutch.  Le-le-wa’you and others make a plan to involuntarily migrate in order to survive. By the play’s end, Toosh-ki-pa-kwis-i and Tamanend also involuntarily migrate. 

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I notices the pile of belongings her sister has collected.

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: You’re packing.

Her sister doesn’t respond.

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: Tell me you’re not leaving. Because we agreed. We promised each other, we would always stay.

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: There’s a group of us, tomorrow morning.

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: Going where?

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: I don’t know. North. Maybe west. We decided last night.

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: And you weren’t going to tell me?

LE-LE-WA’-YOU: Every day they kill more of us.

TOOSH-KI-PA-KWIS-I: So you’re just going to leave.