Speaking the Truth
Elders Learn Importance of Wampum
The beads tell the story and strung together in wampum, the beads speak volumes.
Recently participants in the Oneida Nation Elders Program were reintroduced to wampumand its cultural significance thanks to Ron Patterson (Wolf Clan), cultural program coordinator.
Beads used in the wampum originate from shells; the deep purple color coming from the quahog clam shell, the white color originates from whelk shell. Such belts of wampum commemorated treaties — historical events — were exchanged between Nations. Strung together wampum communicated a message centuries before the smart phones, the internet, television and newspapers became the record of choice.
“In order to go into another village, if we had Oneida chiefs wanting to visit People of the Flint, the Mohawk, what we would do is go there with all of our warriors and our chiefs,” Ron explained. “Before we could enter into the village, they would send their warriors out and we would give them wampum. They would take the wampum with them, as a request, to go and meet with their chiefs. Everything was done this way.”
Ron focused specifically on the Two Row Wampum, the George Washington Belt, the Hiawatha Belt, and touched upon the significance of the Dust Fan Belt.
Two Row Wampum: The Two Row Wampum Treaty — the Guswhenta — is the 1613 agreement made between the Five Nations of the Haudenosaunee and the representatives of the Dutch government. The Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois) Confederacy consider this treaty to be the basis of all their subsequent treaties with European and American governments, including the 1794 Canandaigua Treaty.
The two rows of purple beads on a background of white signify two vessels traveling down the river of life together. The two shall travel side-by-side, but never touch the other side. Though customs are different on each side, the two sides are equal. Friendship, peace and respect are symbolized by the three rows of white.
George Washington Belt: This was the Great Chain or Covenant belt that Washington had made and presented to the Haudenosaunee in 1794 at the Canandaigua Treaty. The 6-foot-long belt features human figures and a longhouse. The 13 figures symbolize the newly formed United States of America. Two additional figures and a house symbolize the Haudenosaunee. The figures are linked by a wampum belt, forming a chain of friendship representing the alliance between the United States and the Haudenosaunee.
Hiawatha Belt: This is known as the national belt of the Haudenosaunee. It records the five original nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and their agreement to live in peace. This belt forms the basis of the flag of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
Dust Fan Belt: This belt symbolizes the Tree of Peace and is used to explain the Great Law brought by the Peacemaker to the Haudenosaunee.
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