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April 24, 2009

Swapping Knowledge About Wampum

Wampum shows its continuing power to draw people together with the program "Waters That Are Never Still: The Way of the Wampum."

By Kara Briggs
American Indian News Service

Wampum beads made by Indian nations of the Northeastern United States will be the featured in a program at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in New York. "Waters That Are Never Still: The Way of the Wampum" will open to the public on April 25.

Wampum—tiny, beautiful ground-down shell beads—for centuries wielded an intrinsic power far beyond its size and scale. Sacred to the Native peoples of the Northeastern United States, wampum was essential in many of life's most profound exchanges, such as negotiating marriages and paying tribute to other powerful nations.

Created from the purple growth ring of quahog clam shells and the inner whirl of whelk shells, these beads—less than an inch long and about an eighth of an inch thick—traveled along the Hudson River trade routes from the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of miles west to the Great Lakes and beyond with the beaver trade.

The fascinating subject of the wampum trade will be explored in a program at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in New York on Saturday, April 25. "Waters That Are Never Still: The Way of the Wampum" is a hands-on program in recognition of the 2009 Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial, the 400th anniversary of Hudson and Champlain's voyages along the river and lake now bearing their names.

The museum program will feature artists and historians from Indian nations, which continue to use wampum in their art and sacred practices. Among the participants are Perry Ground, Onondaga; David Martine, Shinnecock and Apache; Yvonne Thomas, Seneca; Ken Maracle, Cayuga; Allen Hazard, Narragansett; and Jonathan and Elizabeth Perry, Aquinnah Wampanoag.

Wampum has been made for centuries by the Indian nations in New England and New York using quartz drills. Production increased exponentially with the introduction of European tools such as metal drill bits, said Martine, director of the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum in Southampton, N.Y. The value of the beads to Indian nations even prompted the Europeans to get involved in their production.

"The Dutch realized there is a natural resource that the Native people desire, so why ship things across the ocean," said Ground, who teaches in the Native American Resource Center of the Rochester (N.Y.) City School District. "Why not set up a factory, pick them up off the beach and trade for beaver furs?"

It's hard to imagine the economic muscle of trade goods such as wampum or beaver pelts in 1700s New York. "We look at lists, like you could trade 100 beaver pelts for cows or a house," Ground said. "The beaver pelt wasn't as valuable to a Native person as wampum beads, which they could get by the hundreds and hundreds for beaver pelts."

Wampum continued to be used by the nations even after the beaver were depleted and the large-scale production of wampum ended. Many people from wampum-making cultures found themselves in need of other kinds of work by the 1800s, said Martine. The Shinnecock, for example, who had been whalers, joined the commercial whaling industry.

Although the practice of wampum-making diminished, its use continues today. In contrast to the more modern rainbow of glass beads used by Indian nations in other parts of North America, Native people from the Northeast use white and black or purple wampum almost as a signature design.

"It has warmth to it because the shell work has a rich quality to it," Martine said. "The color is rich and the feeling is rich. Real wampum is still rare and valuable." Each bead is worth $5 to $6.

Ground believes it is important for Native Americans to continue to use wampum. Among the Haudenosaunee, each of the 50 chiefs in the Grand Council has a string of wampum that shows their position. "As one chief passes away and another is put in that position, that wampum is passed to that person," Ground said. "It is still an emblem of their authority."

Comments (4)

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Hello,NMAI this is a very nice blog to read. Thank you so much for the priceless information about Wampum from Indian nations by belajar bisnis

Wow this is amazing, thank you for this article.

Thanks for the very informative blog - I am into beads, and whenever I travel, I always look for these kinds of home made authentic bead makers. I would like to post some of my pictures soon.

Hello,
Thank you for the information. It is very interesting.

April 23, 2009

Way of the Wampum Preview

Lucky schoolgroups got a preview of our upcoming "Way of the Wampum" Family Day today, which will take place this coming Saturday, April 25 from 1 to 4 pm.

Perry Ground

Perry Ground (Onondaga), one of several invited guests, spoke about the trade of wampum up what is now known as the Hudson River throughout different communities. Other guests included David Martine (Shinnecock), Allen Hazard (Narragansett), Ken Maracle (Cayuga), Yvonne Thomas (Seneca), Elizabeth James-Perry (Aquinnah Wampanoag/Eastern Band Cherokee) and Jonathan Perry (Aquinnah Wampanoag).

Our Resource Center staff was also hosting hands-on activities in the Rotunda. Students were invited to try weaving a wampum belt themselves. Justin is demonstrating how holes were drilled into the shells.

For more info on Saturday's program, click here

Drill

Weave



This program is funded by a grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, with the support and encouragement of Andrew Lee and with the support of the Hudson River Improvement Fund. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation provided funding for this project from the Environmental Protection Fund through the Hudson River Estuary Program.

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I'm glad that I happened across this site. I work with many youth in Scouting and these types of crafts will work great for our studies of Indian Lore. Often I buy beads for our crafts but these ideas will help me to round out our program.

Thanks!

April 03, 2009

Welcome to Yáapee

Yáapee is a Lenape (Delaware) word for "down by the river." And that's where we are, at the start of Broadway, steps away from waterside. This is the blog of the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, the George Gustav Heye Center.

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