The Wampum Chronicles

Historical Narratives by Darren Bonaparte

No Iroquois chief would listen to a messenger or pay attention to a report until he received official information through a runner who carried the proper wampum string or belt. Wampum guaranteed a message or a promise. Treaties meant nothing unless they were accompanied by wampum.”


Wampum Belts of the Iroquois

I started giving talks about wampum belts in 1999, the same year that I created this website. This is my contribution to the “living history” phenomenon and the cultural revival taking place throughout the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. I have given these talks at schools, universities, museums, historic sites, festivals, and other events in the United States and Canada.

I charge a fee for presentations which will vary based on the amount of travel involved. I will require an hour of set-up and tear-down time and a reasonably accessible location.

I also offer classroom programming, such as the series of classes I have been teaching at the Encore Education Centre in Cornwall, Ontario, for the last two years. Contact me at the email address at the bottom of this page if you are interested in hosting a presentation or classroom sessions.

The following is an overview of what I cover in my talks.

Wampum—the Language of Creation

The story of wampum begins, like all things, with the story of Creation. A woman from Sky World descends to a water-covered earth. Birds catch her on their wings and gently lower her the back of a turtle. Her dancing causes it to grow into an island and then a continent. She gives birth to a daughter who grows up and conceives twin boys, each with a different nature. They go about making new creatures, including human beings, all of which exhibit the positive and negative influences of the Twins. Purple and white wampum beads are a reflection of this duality.

Wampum and the Great Law

This confederation epic of the Haudenosaunee takes several days to tell in it’s true form. My version focuses on the story of Aionwatha, the Onondaga chief who invented the condolence strings and the ritual that goes with them. I also discuss the condolence cane, the Circle wampum, the Aionwatha belt, and other wampums associated with the teachings of Kaianerekowa, or the Great Law of Peace.

Wampum in the Age of Contact

The coastal peoples of Turtle Island ornamented themselves with shells long before Europeans came ashore, but the classic tubular bead found in wampum belts was a phenomenon of contact. Colonists saw the value shell beads had among the natives and brought metal tools into their manufacture. Wampum was a commodity traded with natives but quickly became the interface between cultures. Native and colonist alike wove wampum belts and delivered them at the council fire as they forged alliances. For the Haudenosaunee, this relationship came to be known as the Silver Covenant Chain of Peace and Friendship.

Wampum in the Land of the Cross

A number of wampum belts are woven with Christian imagery. These belts emanate from the Roman Catholic missions established in and around New France in the 17th and 18th centuries. In this presentation I tell the story of Kateri Tekakwitha, the Lily of the Mohawks. She survived smallpox and the destruction of her villages by a French army when she was a child, and was one of the early Mohawk converts who joined the mission village of Kahnawake in 1677. In addition to her reputation for holiness, she is the first person identified in the colonial record as a wampum belt weaver.

Dark Wampum—War Comes to Turtle Island

There is no better way to learn about history than to follow the lives of those who lived it. Colonel Louis Cook, also known as Atiatonharongwen, was a chief of Akwesasne and the patriarch of one of our biggest families. He experienced four major wars in his lifetime: King George’s War, the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812. Colonel Louis lived during the “Golden Age” of wampum diplomacy and gave many speeches at the Great Council Fire.

Above photo taken at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

© 2014 by Jennifer Thompson

To book a presentation, contact me at the following email address: