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(wäm`pəm) [New England Algonquian,=white string of beads], beads or disks made by Native Americans from the shells of mollusks found on the eastern coast or along the larger rivers of North America, used as a medium of exchange and in jewelry. Considered sacred, it was also used in a variety of rituals. In general, wampum beads were cylindrical. They were highly prized by the Native Americans, particularly by those of the Eastern Woodlands and Plains cultural areas. On the Pacific coast, shell ornaments (especially gorgets) were also used, but wampum was principally important in trade in what is now the NE United States. Wampum was passed by trade to inland tribes. Used as a currency or shell moneyshell money,
medium of exchange consisting of shells, the most widely distributed type of ancient currency. Shells are particularly useful as money because they may be strung in long strips of proportionate value or they may be used to provide a single unit value in exchange.
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, there were two varieties—the white, which is the only sort properly called wampum, and the more valuable purple, which went by a variety of names. Wampum was used for the ornamentation of such things as necklaces and collars. Wampum belts were of particular ceremonial importance because they were typically exchanged when a treaty of peace was signed. Frequently the belts had pictograph designs on them. Wampum was also used by white fur traders in their trade with the Native Americans in the early part of the 17th cent.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a variety of so-called picture writing.

Wampum was widespread among the Indian tribes of North America (the Iroquois, Hurons, and so forth). It consists of shells or beads strung on cords. The cords were woven into a band that was usually worn as a belt. The different colored shells had a symbolic meaning: red meant war; black, threat or hostility; and white, peace, good luck, or prosperity. Colored shells were combined with symbolic designs. For example, a red ax against a black background announced a declaration of war, and crossed dark hands on a white background meant a peace treaty. Wampum is often found with an abstract design—a geometrical decoration that also has symbolic meaning. Wampum was used for the transmission of messages from tribe to tribe, ornamentation, and sometimes currency.


Diringer, D. Alfavit [Istoriia pis’mennosti]. Moscow, 1963. (Translated from English.)
Istrin, V. Razvitie pis’ma. Moscow, 1961.
Friedrich, J. Geschichte der Schrift. Heidelberg, 1966.
Jensen, H. Die Schrift in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart. Berlin, 1958.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


(formerly) money used by North American Indians, made of cylindrical shells strung or woven together, esp white shells rather than the more valuable black or purple ones
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
See also the description of wampum in this issue of MLL, p M4.
As Indigenous and non-indigenous people grapple with genuine attempts to forge a post-colonial relationship, they face a fundamental dilemma: Does the path to decolonization and self-government lie in making space within the existing institutions of Canadian government for Indigenous people (berths in the settlers' ship) or do such shared institutions fundamentally contradict the nation-to-nation relationship envisioned in the Two-Row Wampum and the inherent right to self-government?
Bernardin: Just as the interrelationship of the visual and verbal offers audiences multiple portals to access your stories, your stories offer readers varying levels of access depending on their knowledge of diverse references, ranging from wampum to Star Trek, Pink Floyd to commodity food.
Information on wampum belt history and usage can be found at the Friends of Ganondagan website, ganondagan.org/Learning/Wampum, hosted by the Seneca Peoples of the Six Nations Iroquois, New York State.
Within the cornerstone was placed two identical glass canning jars, one containing settler artifacts from Brantford (named after Chief Brant), and a second with strings of wampum and a copy of the 1784 Haldimand Land Grant from Six Nations.
We are off--a flotilla to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Two Row Wampum, an epic journey to reclaim, and spread, its message.
But the author's interest in these shells focuses on how colonists in the cash-poor economies of early America adopted and adapted wampum. Drawing on his expertise in literature and coinage--the book is published in association with the American Numismatic Society--and building on his valuable work on money and language, Shell shows that, like coins or paper money, wampum had agreed-upon meanings and values that facilitated exchange between individuals and societies; he considers how Americans utilized wampum, and he illustrates that Native Americans left an enduring impression on American banking and currency in the form of multiple Native American images on American coins and banknotes.
Then, Harrison presented his own belt of wampum, symbolizing his hopes for a new peace.
Identified by John Musick, Wellsville, Kansas; Joe Johnson, Parkersburg, West Virginia; Sam Schoen hats, Ridgecrest, California; Dennis Howard, Boyne Falls, Michigan; Marlin 0 Herbst, Merrill, Iowa; Relph Farnsworth, New Haven, Vermont; Tom Keys; Bill Paloutzian, Shaver Lake, California; Robert Baird, Wampum, Pennsylvania; Donald D.
The collaboration of Europeans, Africans and Indians can be gleaned from the "objects of interaction" like wampum beads, pottery, and stone tools recovered in excavations conducted by Andre Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Massachusetts between 1999 and 2006, the research upon which Hayes based her study.
The building's seller, Wampum LLC, had previously used the building for various commercial uses including retail, office, and warehouse space.
Cherokee is on an Indian reservation, and it's dotted with numberless gift shops with names like TeePee and TomTom and Wampum, gathered around the foot of a gigantic, eye-popping Harrah's Casino.