Before the arrival of the Europeans in North America in the 16th century, the Native Americans lived in what corresponded to the Stone Age in the Old World, and they had never seen iron objects. When America was conquered by the Europeans, “trade axes” played a major role in trade with the natives. Small steel axes that could easily be carried on the belt were common amongst the Europeans, and they quickly also gained favour with the native population for hunting, domestic work and fighting.
The axes, part of an old European craft tradition, came to be one of the leading symbols of the Native Americans, largely due to a false image of the natives created by the European colonists and later Hollywood films. The axes were given the collective name of tomahawks.
The word tomahawk may stem from the Lenape tribe and their word tamahak, which roughly translates as “cutting tool”. Other sources, however, suggest that it comes from the Native American language of Powhatan or Algonquian.