Discover your family's story.

Enter a grandparent's name to get started.

Start Now

Wampum Belts

The Iroquois League had its democratic and republican elements, but the separate national governments were essentially oligarchic. The only semblance of written law was the wampum. It was the duty of the “keeper of the wampums” to store all necessary facts in his memory and associate them with the successive lines and arrangements of the beads so that they could readily be called to mind. At general councils the wampums were produced and solemnly expounded. “Reading the wampums” became therefore a means by which to perpetuate treaties, and the exchange of wampums was an impressive occasion. Both the Canadian and New York divisions of the Six Nations retain as national heirlooms these evidences of the chief facts in their national life. The St. Regis Indians, living on both sides of the St. Lawrence river, have a small collection of wampums, fewer than the Onondagas at Onondaga castle, near Syracuse. The Onondagas retain the custody of the wampums of the Five Nations, and the “keeper of the wampums”, Thomas Webster, of the Snipe tribe, a consistent, thorough pagan, is their interpreter. The “reading of the wampums” to the representatives of the tribes gathered at St. Regis makes a suggestive picture. According to the Narrative of Indian Wars in New England, the original wampum belts of the Iroquois, in which the laws of the league were recorded, “was made of spiral water shells, strung on deerskin strings or sinew and braided into belts or simply united into strings”. Mr. Hubbard describes the wampum as “of two sorts, white and purple”. The white is worked out of the inside of the great...

Iroquois Ceremonies

Among the Iroquois, and, indeed, all the stationary tribes, there was an incredible number of mystic ceremonies, extravagant, puerile, and often disgusting, designed for the cure of the sick or for the general weal of the community. Most of their observances seem originally to have been dictated by dreams, and transmitted as a sacred heritage from generation to generation. They consisted in an endless variety of dances, masquerading, and nondescript orgies; and a scrupulous adherence to all the traditional forms was held to be of the last moment, as the slightest failure in this respect might entail serious calamities. Dreams were the great Indian oracles, and were implicitly obeyed. They believed them to be direct emanations from the Great Spirit, and as such were immutable laws to them. From this source arose many of their evils and miseries. In them were revealed their destiny and duty; war and peace, health and sickness, rain and drouth, were all revealed by a a class of professional dreamers and dream interpreters. Wizards and witches were the great bane of the Iroquois, and objects of utter detestation. Murder might be condoned, but witchcraft was punishable with death in all cases. Any one might kill a witch on sight with impunity. They believed that witches could transform themselves at will into any one of the wild animals or birds, or even assume the shape of logs, trees, rocks, &c., and, in forms invisible, visit public assemblies or private houses, and inflict all manner of evils. The delusion was at one time so prevalent and their destruction so great as to seriously lessen the population.1...

Pin It on Pinterest