M13321 | Wampum string

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Wampum string
Anonyme - Anonymous
Eastern Woodlands
Aboriginal: Iroquois?
1765-1830, 18th century or 19th century
Shell beads
36 x 0.3 cm
Gift of M. Hale Esq.
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Wampum string (5)
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Keys to History

Like the people of every culture, the Native peoples expressed their values and status by marking their bodies, wearing distinctive clothing and carrying unique or beautiful objects. According to French explorer Jacques Cartier, who landed on Montreal Island and visited Hochelaga in 1535, the villagers were especially fond of white beads made from shells. Called esnoguy by the St. Lawrence Iroquois, these beads were "the most precious thing in the world to them," said Cartier.

Research: Marie-Ève Fiset. Validation: Alain Beaulieu, Chaire de recherche du Canada sur la question territoriale autochtone, UQÀM.

  • What

    The term wampum is a short form of wampumpeag, an Algonquian word from southern New England meaning "a string of shell beads." Cut into pieces, made into cylinders, and then polished and pierced with a hole, these beads were threaded to make simple necklaces or woven into broad belts.

  • Where

    The white and purple beads were made by Algonquins in southern New England from different types of seashells.

  • When

    In the 17th century, wampum became a component part of Aboriginal diplomacy in northeastern North America.

  • Who

    Exchanging wampum strings or belts commemorating the commitments made by both parties was an essential step in sealing treaties. Europeans soon adopted this practice in their negotiations with the First Nations.