Background

"Wampum was first introduced to the Haudenosaunee by Hayo'wetha (Hiawatha), who used the beads to console himself from the loss of his family. This was the first Condolence Ceremony, which is still practiced today among the Haudenosaunee.

The word wampum means "white shell beads" in the languages of the Narragansett of Rhode Island and Wampanoag of Massachusetts. Wampum are purple and white beans made from quahog (KWA-hog) clam and whelk shells. Native nations that lived along the Atlantic coast collected the shells from their shorelines and produced beads from them. Long before Europeans came to America, the Haudenosaunee traded with their Algonquian speaking neighbors, who lived along the Atlantic coast, to obtain the highly valued shell beads. In exchange for wampum beads, the Haudenosaunee provided furs, corn, beans and squash. The mostly white quahog shells contain a small amount of purple. The rareness of the purple beads makes them much more valuable than white beads. The process of making the beads is very difficult and time consuming."

Source: Haudenosaunee Guide for Educators, National Museum of the American Indian, 2015