Government of New Brunswick

Extracts from Maliseet &Mi’kmaq:
First Nations of the Maritimes by Robert Leavitt


Wampum was used by many Indian peoples in the northeastern part of North America as a way of recording and sending messages. It consisted of purple and white beads made from the shells of quahog clams.

The beads were strung in single strands or woven into "belts", much like those made on bead-looms today. The design on each string or belt indicated the type of message being sent and helped the messenger remember the specific contents.

Wampum was considered sacred and was treated with great respect because the messages it carried were of great importance.

People used wampum

  • to establish, maintain and terminate political relations among Indian nations and within nations- alliances, peace agreements and decisions about mutual interests
  • to establish and maintain family relationships and make marriage proposals
  • to show that people had positions of importance within a nation or local group
  • to perform spiritual ceremonies
  • to form alliances or make treaties and agreements with Europeans (George Washington sent wampum belts to Indian peoples he wanted as allies).

The word wampum comes from the eastern Algonquian languages. In Maliseet, it is known as wapap (WAHB-ahb); literally "white string", referring to the white beads. The Mi'kmaqs have a similar name, and also call it waiopsgug (wye-OHB-skoog), "beads", or lnapsgug ('l-NAHP-skoog), "Indian beads."