Wampum

The term "wampum" is a shortening of the earlier word "wampumpeag", which is derived from the Narragansett word meaning "white strings of shell beads.” Wampum are traditional shell beads of the Eastern Woodlands tribes of the indigenous people of North America. Wampum include the white shell beads fashioned from the North Atlantic channeled whelk shell and the white and purple beads made from the quahog, a North Atlantic hard-shelled clam. Wampum were used by the northeastern Native Americans as a form of gift exchange. Early historians and colonists mistook wampum as a form of money.



photo credit: Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

Craig Spears, wampum craftsman, describes how he gathers quahog shells to create wampum jewelry and artwork...

...how he selects which shells to use to create his wampum jewelry and artwork...

...and, how to shape shells into wampum beads and jewelry.