Wampum is created from the shell of a clam. The bead is cut from the white and purple parts of the shell. The shell is thought of as a living record. The speaker puts the words of the agreement into the wampum. Each speaker thereafter uses the wampum to remember the initial agreement and the history that has happened to date.
Wampum has many uses. One of the uses is to invite the other nations to meetings. These wampum strings are given the topic that all of the nations are to meet and discuss about. At the end of the wampum string is a wooden stick. The wooden stick tells the people of the nation when the meeting is to take place. As each day passes, a notch is cut off the stick and when the notches are all gone, the meeting will take place.
Wampum also symbolizes titles within the Haudenosaunee. Each position of a Clan Mother of a Chief has their own wampum string. When a person holds this title for the Nation, they carry the wampum to show their place in the community. When a leader falls, the wampum is passed on to the new leader.
When a string of wampum that is held in a person’s hand, they are said to be speaking truthfully. During ceremonies, the wampum strings are used to convey that the speaker’s words are true. People listening to a speaker holding the wampum also know this and are very attentive and respectful of the speaker’s message.
Wampum is very important to the Onondaga and the Haudenosaunee. Therefore when the wampum left the community through the efforts of anthropologists, the Onondaga Nation worked diligently to have the wampum return. In 1989, some belts returned after the determined efforts of the chiefs to bring these belts back to the people.
Read Chief Irving Powless Jr.’s account of The Day that 12 Wampum Belts Returned to Onondaga.
This belt is a national belt of the Haudenosaunee. The belt is named after Hiawatha, the Peacemaker’s helper. In this belt, it records when 5 nations; the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and Mohawk, buried their weapons of war to live in peace. Each square represents a nation and the line connects each nation in […]
The longest wampum belt is the 1794 Canandaigua Treaty belt. This belt is 6 feet long and composed of thirteen figures holding hands connected to two figures and a house. The 13 figures represent the 13 States of the newly formed United States of America. The two figures and the house symbolize the Haudenosaunee. The […]
Two Row Wampum – Gusweñta In 1613, the Mohawks noticed people coming into their territory unannounced. The visitors had begun to cut trees and clear land for their homes and farms. They had entered the lands of the Haudenosaunee and were now occupying some of their empty rooms (land). The newcomers dressed oddly and […]
This belt recalls the time when the Peacemaker combed the snakes from Tadadaho’s hair. Changing the evil-minded Tadadaho into the pure-thinking leader. This belt also reminds the Haudenosaunee that once all of the chiefs accepted the Great Law, they became the guardians of this great peace for all of the generations to come. The diamonds […]
The Peacemaker’s message told of the white roots of peace spreading out in the four directions. That people who follow this message to the source will find the Haudenosaunee. When the new allies were accepted into the Haudenosaunee, it was said that the Haudenosaunee was expanding by adding new “rafters” and extending the union of […]
This belt recalls the relationship the Onondagas had with the first Pale Faces (colonists) who entered the territory. The record recalls how life was very difficult for the colonists. That life for them was very hard as they weren’t healthy, didn’t know the medicines, where the hunting and fishing grounds were, and had difficulty with […]
This belt symbolizes the Tree of Peace and is used to explain the Great Law. The Great Law includes the roles and responsibilities of the chiefs, clan mothers, faithkeepers, and the people. The tree on the belt is everlasting as it continues beyond the end of the belt foretelling the strength and longevity of the […]
The circle wampum is a very important belt for the Haudenosaunee. The equal strands of wampum represent the 50 chiefs. Each chief being equal and united. The one longer strand represents the people. When we are born our heart is in the middle of the circle. As we grow, the chiefs and the people work […]
This belt uses the symbolism commonly used in Haudenosaunee belt making. Nations are usually symbolized with squares. Here in this belt, there are two squares at the end of the belt representing two nations. A vertical line running the length of the belt represents an agreement of peace. This wampum belt was often used when […]