Teaching Students About Wampum
Wampum is a fascinating and historically significant aspect of Native American culture that often goes unexplored in classrooms. This article aims to provide educators with valuable information and ideas for teaching students about the importance and significance of wampum in Native American history, culture, and communication.
What is Wampum?
Wampum refers to the traditional shell beads made by the Indigenous peoples of the Eastern Woodlands, particularly along the shores of New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions. The beads were crafted from the shells of quahog clams and whelks, with quahog shells producing purple beads and whelk shells creating white beads.
Significance of Wampum
Wampum played multiple roles within Native American societies. It was not only a form of currency but also held deep cultural and spiritual significance. Wampum beads were often strung together to create belts or adornments used during ceremonies, rituals, or as symbols of tribal identity.
Perhaps most importantly, wampum was used as a significant means of communication. The intricately designed wampum belts were used to record historical events, treaties, political agreements, or stories, providing a physical representation of Native American traditions and histories passed down through generations.
Teaching Ideas for Incorporating Wampum into Lesson Plans
Begin by introducing students to the history of wampum in Native American societies. Explain its various uses – as a form of currency, adornment, and communication tool. You might explore specific examples such as wampum’s use in treaties between indigenous nations or its influence on European settlers upon their arrival in North America.
2. Cultural Importance
Emphasize the deep cultural significance that wampum holds for many Native American tribes. Have students research the various tribes that created and used wampum belts within their communities. This can open up discussions on the diversity of tribal beliefs, customs, and the unique importance of wampum within each tribe’s cultural practices.
3. Art and Symbolism
Invite students to examine images or examples of wampum belts and discuss the patterns, colors, and symbols used in their designs. This may include comparing and contrasting various belts to encourage a deeper understanding of their meanings.
4. Hands-On Activity
Incorporate a hands-on activity for students by inviting them to create their own wampum-inspired art. Using materials like clay or beads, students can explore the craft of creating wampum while expressing their creativity.
5. Reflection and Discussion
Conclude your lesson by having students reflect on what they learned about Native American history, culture, and the significance of wampum. Encourage them to consider how this knowledge connects to their own lives or other subjects they are studying.
Teaching students about wampum provides an enriching opportunity to explore Native American history and culture while also incorporating art, communication, and symbolism into lessons. By engaging in these discussions and activities, students will gain a deeper appreciation for the various roles that wampum played in indigenous societies throughout history.