wampum

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WAMPUM

WAMPUM. The beads known as wampum were of great value to the American Indians of the eastern Great Lakes and New England regions. The word itself is from the Algonquian language, and the concept of wampum first appeared among the Algonquian-speakers of the eastern woodlands. The strings of wampum, smoothly polished tubular and disc beads of white, purple, and blue shells, placed on carefully woven threads, were manufactured by coastal New England Indians who traded them with Iroquois and other peoples of the interior. Wampum was valued by them as a sacred marker of prestige. Arrangements of beads served as mnemonic devices for the recounting of events, messages, treaties, or for the correct rendition of a ritual. Although Native Americans did not consider wampum a form of money, New England colonists introduced a material value by using it to pay for furs or to replace coinage that was scarce through the middle of the seventeenth century.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Martien, Jerry. Shell Game: A True Account of Beads and Money in North America. San Francisco: Mercury House, 1995.

Robert F.Spencer/j. h.

See alsoCurrency and Coinage ; Indian Economic Life ; Iroquois ; Money .

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WAMPUM


Wampum were beads or disks of polished mollusk shells that were used as money by the Native Americans. The word is a shortened form of wampumpeag, an Algonquin word meaning "white string of beads." Wampum was used primarily by the Eastern Woodlands Indians, who came into contact with the European settlers during the early 1600s. The colonists adopted wampum as money, and helped broaden its circulation. English fur traders, for example, sold their wares to coastal Indians in exchange for wampum; as the fur traders moved inland, they used wampum as exchange with other tribes, such as those of the Great Plains. Like gold or silver today, wampum was valued not only as a form of money but also as decoration. The white or purple shell beads were made into necklaces, woven into belts, and sewn to clothing. After treaties were signed, wampum belts were sometimes exchanged as a gesture of goodwill and continued peace. As foreign coinage and colonial coinage came into circulation, the use of wampum as money declined during the mid- to late-1600s.

See also: New Netherlands, Pieces of Eight

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wam·pum / ˈwämpəm/ • n. hist. a quantity of small cylindrical beads made by North American Indians from quahog shells, strung together and worn as a decorative belt or other decoration or used as money.

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wampum beads threaded on strings used by N. Amer. Indians as currency, etc. XVII. Shortening of somewhat earlier wampumpeag (which was falsely analysed as wampum + peag), of Algonquian orig.