The Mahican had three clans: Bear, Wolf, and
Turtle. However, warfare required a higher degree of organisation.
In times of war, the Mahican council passed its authority to a war
chief who was chosen for his proven ability (in much the same way
as ancient Rome would elect a dictator for the duration of an
emergency). For the duration of the conflict, the war leader
exercised almost dictatorial power.
The sachem was the representative head for
each band. The sachem also had various counsellors (elected
representatives who were also known as chiefs) with whom he would
consult in all public decisions involving the welfare of the
members. These counsellors were called woh-weet-quau-pe-chee.
In addition, the chief would consult with one mo-quau-pauw,
The sachem was allowed to keep a bag of
wampum or mno-ti (decorative items of wampum were signs of
wealth). This bag contained wampum belts and strings of wampum that
were presented to the sachem from different nations. In
addition to the mno-ti, each sachem was the keeper
of the peace pipe. Sachems were responsible for the overall
peace between members of the community as well as peace among the
communities and other nations. In this respect, the sachems
were the Mahican version of the colonials' justices of the peace.
The use of the traditional forms of decision-making
changed dramatically during this time. A general council of
sachems met regularly at their capital of Shodac (east of
present-day Albany) to decide upon important matters that affected
the entire confederacy.
The Mahican were allied to the Munsee and
Principal dwelling type
Rectangular barrel-roofed longhouses.
Principal subsistence type
Agriculture - usually maize - provided most of
their diet but was supplemented by game, fish, and wild foods. The
Mahican were also hunters and gatherers and, for reasons of safety,
they moved to scattered hunting camps during the winter, like other
Algonquin, and usually spent the colder months inside their
'castles' (fortified villages).
They were also traders. Copper, obtained from the
Great Lakes through trade, was used extensively for ornaments and
some of their arrowheads. Valuable wampum beads for trade were
obtained from the Delaware and Naragansett.
Once they began trade with the Dutch, the Mahican
abandoned many of their traditional weapons and quickly became very
expert with their new firearms. Contrary to the usual stereotype,
most Mahican warriors were deadly marksmen. The mother of the famous
Miami chief, Little Turtle, was a Mahican.
This Algonquin village scene would have been very familiar
to the Mahican people, but early contacts with the European
settlers along the coast quickly destroyed the traditional
Mahican way of life