Monday, May 29, 2017
The Hiawatha Wampum Belt
This is a thing of real beauty and history. I read a number of journal articles about wampum in general and this wampum belt specifically because my son was writing a paper on this belt and I read to him. So here is the first cool thing. This is essentially a treaty in visual form. The five tribes that make up the Iroquois nation agreed to be allies rather than enemies, and this is the wampum belt that tells the tale. The Onondaga are represented by the White Pine tree in the center, which is also the tree of peace. The Mohawks are the guardians to the east, the Seneca are to the west, and the Oneida and the Cayuga in the middle. Second cool thing is that the value the Iroquois put on the wampum beads they bought from the Algonquins fueled the economy. They trapped furs, the Europeans wanted them, and the Algonquins wanted what the Europeans had. It was a trade triangle, and it worked for a long time. The final cool thing is that while wampum belts ended up in the hands of New York state through some not too nice things that happened, they were eventually returned to the Onondaga in the late 20th century.