“Wampum” buys a random best of anything…

Welcome back to “Best of Anything That Strikes Someone’s Fancy” series. This is from 2012. It’s a pleasure to welcome back author, storyteller, illustrator and poet Linda Boyden.  She does it all and she does it all so very well.

Excerpt From “Giveaways, An ABC Book of Loanwords from the Americas”

©Linda Boyden 2010

W w   Wampum

(WOM-puhm)

From Massachusett and Narragansett, wampumpeag

To English, wampum

The gift of wampumpeag, wampum, came from the Atlantic Ocean, from common seashells washed up on its shores.  For thousands of years, the Massachusetts, the Narragansetts, the Pequots and other coastal Native nations collected them, much the same way that modern beachcombers do, but used them in different ways.

From the white, spiraled shells of the whelks and the dark purple eyespot of the quahog (Q page) the People made wampum.  They broke, sanded, shaped and drilled the shells into beads, to be strung on twisted plant fibers or animal sinew. At first wampum was used for hair decorations or jewelry, and quickly became a popular trade item. Eventually, Native people near and far desired and depended on wampum.

By the 1600s when the first Europeans arrived, wampum was a well-established way for Native people to communicate and trade.  Messages woven into the wampum’s designs helped people speaking different languages to understand each other and conduct business. The European settlers observed this complicated system and because they had a shortage of coins from their mother countries, decided to use wampum as money.  However, they failed to understand that Native people considered wampum to be much more than currency.

The People of the Longhouse, the Haudenosaunee, (Iroquois) are six nations of the northeast woodlands: the Mohawk, the Cayuga, the Seneca, the Oneida, and the Onondaga, with the Tuscaroras joining later.  They say that wampum was first brought to them thousands of years ago by a holy man called the Peacemaker and his follower, Ayonwatha, (Hiawatha).  The Peacemaker asked the warring nations to consider peace and end the practice of cannibalism.  He proposed that they still keep their own council fires, their Council of Chiefs and Clan Mothers, but in matters that affect all the nations they should act with “one mind.”

This first of its kind message, that nations work best separately but together, was woven on a thirty-eight rowed purple and white wampum belt known as the Hiawatha Belt.  It is estimated to be at least 4,500 years old. The heart-shaped symbol in the center represents the Great Tree of Peace or the central nation, the Onondaga.  Surrounding it are four white squares to represent other member nations. The belt’s story, like hundreds of other wampum message belts, was read and still may be read by those trained to memorize the story within the beads.  The Hiawatha Belt’s opening words, “We the People…” influenced the founding fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, who penned those words into the Preamble of the United States Constitution.

(From the glossary/acknowledgements section at the back of the book)

Wampum According to the American Heritage Dictionary, one meaning of the word, book is, “something regarded as a source of knowledge or understanding.”  In this sense, wampum belts should be considered one of the world’s first kinds of books.  Besides the sacred meaning of wampum described on the W page, American Indians used wampum belts and strings primarily for diplomatic purposes, helping nations to come to collective agreements.  After Europeans settled in America, they were at a loss for currency, so for them wampum became a type of money.  Soon, factories were started to mass-produce it.   According to http://www.us-coin-values-advisor.com in its section on the history of U.S. coins, wampum in the Colonial Period could be used to pay your Commonwealth of Massachusetts taxes or attend Harvard University.

Linda Boyden has spent most of her adult life leading children to literacy.  From 1970-1997, she taught in primary grades, receiving her master’s in Gifted and Talented Education in 1992 from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. In 1997, Linda decided to change careers and abandoned full-time teaching for full-time writing.  Her first picture book, “The Blue Roses,” debuted in 2002.  It was the recipient of Lee and Low Books’ first New Voices Award, the 2003 Paterson Prize, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers’ Book of the Year, Children’s Literature, 2002-2003, and was included on the prestigious CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center) 2003 Choices list of recommended titles. In 2007 she wrote and illustrated her second picture book, “Powwow’s Coming” which was published by the University of New Mexico Press. She has also written and illustrated “Giveaways, an ABC of Loanwords from the Americas” published also by the University of New Mexico Press in 2010. In 2011, Giveaways was the recipient of three Finalist Awards from the International Book Awards, Finalist in the 2012 New Mexico Book of the Year Award and was included in the California Reading’s Association’s 2012 California Collections list of recommended titles. In her writing for adults, she has had poems included in a number of anthologies. In 2006, she won the Adult First Place and Third Place awards at the Pleasanton Poetry Festival. Linda is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers.  She enjoys doing author visits and storytelling at schools and libraries as well as presenting workshops at writing conferences around the country. Visit www.lindaboyden.com.
A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to writersforumwebmaster@gmail.com.  Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free.  Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links.  The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter.  Thank you!
 

One thought on ““Wampum” buys a random best of anything…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s