Wampum - Iroquois Native Americans in Olden Times for Kids and Teachers Illustration

Daily Life in Olden Times
for Kids

Northeast Iroquois Nations

Wampum was a system of recording important things.

Wampum was never used as money by the Iroquois Nations. It was used to write things down, and used as a symbol of position and title. The great circle wampum, for example, was a belt worn only by a chief as a symbol of his position. Wampum was also given to seal a promise.

The colonists used wampum as money. But then, they used everything as money, including coins from many different European nations, all at the same time. To the Iroquois People, wampum was a written record.

Wampum was made from dyed beads or shells, arranged in a certain way. To make wampum:

  1. First, you needed to collect the right sized shells or make certain sized beads.

  2. Then, you needed to dye your materials. Individual beads and shells were dyed various shades of solid purple, solid cream, or a mix of purples and cream. No other colors were used in making wampum.

  3. Next, you had to string your beads on a thread in a certain order, depending upon what you wanted to say. The designs made out of certain combinations of colors had both symbolic and actual meaning. Long messages were made by sewing the strings of beads together to make a wampum belt.

Obviously, you had to know what you were doing, or who knows what message you might be sending.

Wampum makers were skilled artists and trained in the messages of the wampum. They were the tribal historians. All the big events of the League of Nations were recorded in wampum.

Weave a Virtual Wampum Belt - It's much harder than you might think, interactive

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