The Red Score: Every Picture Tells A Story


If you encounter an inscribed rock whilst wandering along a river bank [looking for a place to fish] you might simply dismiss the inscriptions as unsightly graffiti.


Alternatively, you might take a closer look and discover you’ve stumbled upon some “rock art”.

Petroglyphs are images created by removing part of a rock surface by incising, picking, carving, or abrading, as a form of rock art.

Outside North America, scholars often use terms such as “carving”, “engraving”, or other descriptions of the technique to refer to such images.


An even closer inspection might reveal some pictograms and/or ideograms and/or logograms.


A pictogram, also called a pictogramme, pictograph, or simply picto, and in computer usage an icon, is an ideogram that conveys its meaning through its pictorial resemblance to a physical object.

An ideogram or ideograph is a graphic symbol that represents an idea or concept, independent of any particular language, and specific words or phrases.

In written language, a logogram or logograph is a written character that represents a word or phrase.

There is also a more complex form of the pictogram that’s used to encapsulate an entire sentence, paragraph, verse, stanza or scene from the associated story, poem, chant, song…


A storyboard is a graphic organizer in the form of illustrations or images displayed in sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing a motion picture, animation, motion graphic or interactive media sequence.

If you know the story/poem/chant/song then these storyboard pictograms act as an aide-memoir – just like a writer’s crib sheet or an orator’s bullet points.


However, if you don’t know the story/poem/chant/song that is associated with the storyboard pictogram then you have a big problem.


The Walam Olum or Walum Olum, usually translated as “Red Record” or “Red Score,” is purportedly a historical narrative of the Lenape (Delaware) Native American tribe.

Rafinesque claimed the original narrative was recorded in pictographs on birch bark, or cedar wood tablets or sticks (Rafinesque explained that “Olum… implies a record, a notched stick, an engraved piece of wood or bark.”)

According to Rafinesque, while roving about Kentucky botanizing and examining Indian mounds, he befriended a “Dr. Ward of Indiana” who presented him with wooden sticks or tablets (possibly birch bark) upon which were drawn pictographs made by Delaware Indians.

Each pictograph applied to a verse to be chanted, so that the drawing was a summary of many words and served as a mnemonic device to assist the chanter.

Such representations were not unknown among the Indian nations, but none were written by northeastern tribes, although the Delawares were known to keep genealogical records.

Rafinesque stated that Dr. Ward had obtained the document as a gift in 1820 from Delaware Indians living on the White River in Indiana who were grateful for his medical care.

Two years later, Rafinesque obtained, from an unknown source, another document that contained written song verses in the Delaware language associated with the pictographs on the painted sticks.

Chapter 12 – Walam Olum
Constantine Samuel Rafinesque: A Voice in the American Wilderness
Leonard Warren – 2015


Birch bark manuscripts are documents written on pieces of the inner layer of birch bark, which was commonly used for writing before the advent of mass production of paper. Evidence of birch bark for writing goes back many centuries and in various cultures.

The oldest dated birch bark manuscripts are numerous Gandhāran Buddhist texts from approximately the 1st century CE, believed to have originated in Afghanistan, likely by the Dharmaguptaka sect.

Russian texts discovered in Veliky Novgorod have been dated to approximately the 9th to 15th century CE.

When you find somebody who does know the associated story/poem/chant/song then you’ll have an even bigger problem if you don’t understand the language.

In the days before audio/video recording the first step towards resolving your bigger problem was to make a Phonetic Transcription of the recited story/poem/chant/song [as best you could].

But Phonetic Transcriptions are fraught with dangers [even when you know the language].

Phonetic transcription (also known as phonetic script or phonetic notation) is the visual representation of speech sounds (or phones).

The most common type of phonetic transcription uses a phonetic alphabet, such as the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Verifying this foreign language Phonetic Transcription as correct, comprehensible and complete is an inelegant art form that [usually] involves a lot of editing, a lot of good will and some good luck.

Rafinesque claimed that at the time he did not know the language, either written or drawn, nor could he find anyone to translate them so that he was ignorant of their meaning and of their relationship to one another.

It was only after his return to Philadelphia in 1826, where he had access to the work on the Delaware language by Moravian missionaries, David Zeisberger and John Heckewelder, that he was able to translate the material he had gathered in Kentucky.

Besides documents on the Lenape language, he made extensive use of a manuscript dictionary in the library of the American Philosophical Society , written by Zeisberger, so that by 1833 the translation was completed.

The Delaware words were associated with each pictograph accompanied by an English translation, all contained in two, forty-page notebooks.

The original work was in five books, or songs, containing 183 verses in all.

Chapter 12 – Walam Olum
Constantine Samuel Rafinesque: A Voice in the American Wilderness
Leonard Warren – 2015


As I failed in my efforts to substantiate them by local researches in Kentucky and Indiana, I saw that the evidence must come from the text itself.

Nor would it be sufficient to prove that the words of the text were in the Lenape dialect.

With Zeisberger and Heckewelder at hand, both of whose works had been years in print, it were easy to string together Lenape words.

But what Rafinesque certainly had not the ability to do, was to write a sentence in Lenape, to compose lines which an educated native would recognize as in the syntax of his own speech, though perhaps dialectically different.

This was the test that I determined to apply.

I therefore communicated my doubts to my friend, the distinguished linguist, Mr. Horatio Hale, and asked him to state them to the Rev. Albert Anthony, a well educated native Delaware, equally conversant with his own tongue and with English.

Mr. Anthony considered the subject fully, and concluded by expressing the positive opinion that the text as given was a genuine oral composition of a Delaware Indian.

In many lines the etymology and syntax are correct ; in others there are grammatical defects, which consist chiefly in the omission of terminal inflections.

The suggestion he offered to explain these defects is extremely natural.

The person who wrote down this oral explanation of the signs, or, to speak more accurately, these chants which the signs were intended to keep in memory, was imperfectly acquainted with the native tongue, and did not always catch terminal sounds.

The speaker also may have used here and there parts of that clipped language, or “white man’s Indian,” which I have before referred to as serving for the trading tongue between the two races.

This was also the opinion of the Moravian natives who examined the text.

They all agreed that it impressed them as being of aboriginal origin, though the difference of the forms of words left them often in the dark as to the meaning.

This very obscurity is in fact a proof that Rafinesque did not manufacture it.

Had he done so, he would have used the ” Mission Delaware ” words which he found in Zeisberger.

But the text has quite a number not in that dialect, nor in any of the mission dictionaries.

Moreover, had he taken the words from such sources, he would in his translation have given their correct meanings ; but in many instances he is absurdly far from their sense.

Thus he writes: “The word for angels, angelatawiivak, is not borrowed, but real Linapi, and is the same as the Greek word angelos ; ” whereas it is a verbal with a future sense from the very common Delaware verb angeln, to die.

Many such examples will be noted in the vocabulary on a later page.

In several cases the figures or symbols appear to me to bear out the corrected translations which I have given of the lines, and not that of Rafinesque.

This, it will be observed, is an evidence, not merely that he must have received this text from other hands, but the figures also, and weighs heavily in favor of the authentic character of both.

That it is a copy is also evident from some manifest mistakes in transcription, which Rafinesque preserves in his printed version, and endeavored to translate, not perceiving their erroneous form.

Thus, in the fourth line of the first chant, he wrote owak, translating it “much air or clouds,” when it is clearly a mere transposition for woak, the Unami form of the conjunction “and,” as the sense requires.

No such blunder would appear if he had forged the document.

It is true that a goodly share of the words in the earlier chants occur in Zeisberger.

Thus it seems, at first sight, suspicious to find the three or four superlatives in III, 5, all given under examples of the superlatives, in Zeisberger’s Grammar, p. 105.

It looks as if they had been bodily transferred into the song.

So I thought ; but afterwards I found these same superlatives in Heckewelder, who added specifically that ” the Delawares had formed them to address or designate the Supreme being.”

If we assume that this song is genuine, then Zeisberger was undoubtedly familiar with some version of it; had learned it probably, and placed most of its words in his vocabulary.

Some other collateral evidences of authenticity I have referred to on previous pages (pp. 67, 89, 136).

The Lenâpé and their Legends – Daniel Garrison Brinton – 1885

Finally, translating the corrected foreign language Phonetic Transcription into English is not always a simple task – especially when foreign cultural concepts are involved.

The translation was first published in The American Nations (1836), along with twenty verses that extended the history of the Delaware Indians from about A.D. 1600, when the Walam alum closes, to A.D. 1800, a time when the Delaware Indians were residing in Indiana.

These later verses, which had been translated by a John Burns, were found on a”fragment” of unknown provenance and were undoubtedly authentic, according to the archaeologist C. A. Weslager.

Chapter 12 – Walam Olum
Constantine Samuel Rafinesque: A Voice in the American Wilderness
Leonard Warren – 2015

Ephraim G. Squier, widely regarded as an influential figure of American 19th-century archaeology, republished the text in 1849.

He accepted it as genuine, partially on internal evidence but also because the educated Indian chief (Kah-ge-ga-gah-bowh) (George Copway), to whom he showed the manuscript, “unhesitatingly pronounced it authentic, in respect not only to the original signs and accompanying explanations in the Delaware dialect, but also in the general ideas and conceptions which it embodies. He also bore testimony to the fidelity of the translation.”

From these considerations, and from a study of the text, the opinion I have formed of the Walam Olum is as follows: —

It is a genuine native production, which was repeated orally to some one indifferently conversant with the Delaware language, who wrote it down to the best of his ability.

In its present form it can, as a whole, lay no claim either to antiquity, or to purity of linguistic form.

Yet, as an authentic modern version, slightly colored by European teachings, of the ancient tribal traditions, it is well worth preservation, and will repay more study in the future than is given it in this volume.

The narrator was probably one of the native chiefs or priests, who had spent his life in the Ohio and Indiana towns of the Lenape, and who, though with some knowledge of Christian instruction, preferred the pagan rites, legends and myths of his ancestors.

Probably certain lines and passages were repeated in the archaic form in which they had been handed down for generations.

The Lenâpé and their Legends – Daniel Garrison Brinton – 1885


Then the fun really begins…

After his translation was published, Rafinesque said he lost the actual plaques.

Gallery | This entry was posted in Books, Catastrophism, Epigraphy - Inscriptions, History, Red Score - Walam Olum. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Red Score: Every Picture Tells A Story

  1. Pingback: The Red Score: Shooting the Messenger | MalagaBay

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