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[from an Algonquian dialect of Virginia], hatchet generally used by Native North Americans as a hand weapon and as a missile. The earliest tomahawks were made of stone, with one edge or two edges sharpened (sometimes the stone was globe shaped). The stone was fastened to a wooden handle in various ways, such as by putting the stone into a hole through the wood, tying the stone to a handle with thongs, or splitting the handle and tying it about the stone with thongs. After the arrival of the European traders the stone implements were rapidly replaced by European-manufactured tomahawks of steel (trade tomahawks). Some tomahawks were also equipped with a pipe bowl and a hollow stem, which were used for smoking. The ceremonial tomahawk usually was richly decorated with feathers and paint. Some Native Americans had the custom of ceremonially burying a tomahawk after peace had been reached with an enemy. This custom is supposedly the origin of the colloquial phrase, "to bury the hatchet."


See H. L. Peterson, American Indian Tomahawks (1965).



(Algonquian), a striking and throwing weapon used by the Indians of northeastern North America; a polished stone hatchet with a wooden handle or a globe-headed club. In the 16th to 18th centuries, tomahawks in the form of hatchets or poleaxes made of copper and iron, which were supplied to the Indians by the British colonists, were widely used. The handles of tomahawks were often decorated with feathers and designs or pictographic symbols. The tomahawk held symbolic meaning for the Indians in war rituals: painted red, it served as a sign of declaration of war or an invitation to join a military alliance. The expression “to bury the tomahawk (hatchet)” meant “to make peace.”

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