In 20th century slang, the word wampum was commonly used to denote money along with such terms as loot, moolah, and even clams, a far cry from what it meant to Native Americans who used wampum to foster spiritual and social bonds among the Native communities. The fascinating story of wampum will be told at a special Wampum Demonstration & Talk with Annawon Weeden, from the Mashpee/ Wampanoag tribe on Saturday, May 19, at the
Institute for American Indian Studies.
Wampum is composed of white and purple beads and discs fashioned from two different shells. The white beads are made from the whelk, a sea snail and the purple beads are made from a quahog. These shells are found in the ocean water south of Cape Cod to New York, with an abundance of them in Long Island Sound.
The shells were harvested in the warm summer months. After the meat was eaten, the shells were drilled and polished. A hole was pierced through the shell so they could be strung on strings made from plant fibers or animal tendons. Typically tubular in shape, the beads were then woven into belts, necklaces, headpieces, bracelets, earrings and other adornments. The beads were even used at day-long games with the winners taking the wampum bounty.
The color of the beads had meaning for the Algonquians. The white beads represented purity and light and were used as gifts to mark important events like births and marriages. The purple beads represented serious events like war or death. The combination of these beads represented the duality of the world, light, and darkness, man, and woman, life, and death.
Wampum Today & The Workshop
Today, Native artists and culture bearers continue to craft wampum jewelry and use wampum belts to record tribal history. At this workshop on May 19 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington participants will learn about the significance of wampum and how it continues to provide a social and spiritual bong among Native communities. A highlight of this workshop will be to watch the remarkable process of how wampum is made while listening to the stories the beads tell as they are strung.
The Institute for American Indian Studies
Located on 15 woodland acres the IAIS has an outdoor Three Sisters and Healing Plants Gardens as well as a replicated 16th c. Algonkian Village. Inside the museum, authentic artifacts are displayed in permanent, semi-permanent and temporary exhibits from prehistory to the present that allows visitors a walk through time. The Institute for American Indian Studies is located on 38 Curtis Road in Washington Connecticut and can be reached online or by calling 860-868-0518.
The Institute for American Indian Studies preserves and educates through discovery and creativity the diverse traditions, vitality, and knowledge of Native American cultures. Through archaeology, the IAIS is able to build new understandings of the world and history of Native Americans; the focus is on stewardship and preservation. This is achieved through workshops, special events, and education for students of all ages.