The Tomahawk

Native Indian Tribe


Description and Definition of the Tomahawk: The tomahawk is an axe-like weapon with a wooden handle which, when first developed by Native Americans, had a head made of stone.


The ancient stone headed tomahawk weapon was further developed in the 1600's using European technology when the stone head was replaced by iron, steel, copper or brass metals, also refer to the Hatchet Axe.

The new style tomahawk was basically a lightweight axe that had a metal edge on a solid wooden handle. The tomahawk was used in hand-to-hand combat, or as a throwing weapon. The tomahawk was just one of many different types of club-type weapons used by Native Americans. The word "tomahawk" is derived from the Algonquian words Tomahak or  Tamahakan meaning "used for cutting".

History of the Tomahawk
Captain John Smith was the first European to mention the tomahawk in 1612 using the term 'tomahack' and described the weapons as "a long stone sharpened at both ends". Tomahawks were later described as hatchets or pickaxe style weapons and tools. The versatility of the tomahawk was so appreciated by the European settlers and traders that this weapon was adopted as an essential item and widely used in the New World. The tomahawk was carried by American soldiers during the Revolutionary War. The Continental Congress required militiamen to carry either a tomahawk or a cutting sword. The tomahawk was generally used as a striking weapon by the Iroquoian and Algonquian tribes of eastern North America. The tomahawk blade was extremely thin and from 7-9 inches long

History of the Tomahawk - Symbolism
The tomahawk was the Native American emblem of warfare - symbolized two sides of a coin: war and peace. A council ritual was associated with the tomahawk. When a war council started a tomahawk, painted red, was placed on the ground in front of the chief. If, after deliberation, it was decided to raise a war party the war chief would raise the red tomahawk and rouse the warriors with war songs and dances. To bury a tomahawk meant peace - to dig it up, meant to declare the most deadly warfare. Hence the phrase "to bury the hatchet" in reference to the settlement of disputes. Tomahawks were used in important ceremonies, such as signing a peace treaty. Ceremonial tomahawks were elaborately decorated with paint and feathers, and often had a hollow stem fixed at the end with a pipe bowl for smoking.

The Pipe Tomahawk - Symbol of War and Peace
The Pipe tomahawk, or 'smoak tomahawk' combined both the hatchet and the pipe in one single item - symbols of both war and peace. The Pipe tomahawk was known to be adopted by the Cherokee tribe as early as the 1750's and was also in common use by the tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Use of the Tomahawk
The Tomahawk was therefore used for a variety of purposes:

  • A cutting tool
  • A close combat weapon
  • A throwing weapon
  • A ceremonial device
  • A symbol of warfare

The materials required to make a Tomahawk include the following:

  • Dry, hard wood was selected for the handle of the tomahawk about 12-15 inches in length
  • Axe head made from stone, antler, bone or metal
  • The head was hafted to handle with from sinew or plant fibers

Making weapons, such as the Tomahawk, was an essential role of all American Indian men. Making a Tomahawk was a time consuming task requiring both patience and skill.

Native Indian Tomahawk - Stone Age Culture
The Stone Age life style of Native Americans ranged from nomadic, semi-nomadic to static across the vast continent of North America and despite this many of them shared similar culture and weapons such as the Tomahawk. The basic component of the majority of their their weapons was stone, bone, horn and wood.


Native Indian Weapons and Tools
Native Indian Tribes Index

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Updated 2018-01-01

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