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Curt G. | all galleries >> Galleries >> Quahog Country > Wampum
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These beads are made from quahog shells. Shells with more purple in them produce beads with more purple. However, large shells with a lot of purple are relatively rare, so back in the early days of America, the purple beads were worth more than the white. Native Americans spent hours making the beads by hand. Wampum is usually associated with its use as money, and at one time you could pay your tuition at Harvard with wampum—but not today! Also, wampum bailed the Pilgrims out of debt; they would get the beads from the Dutch down the coast in New Amsterdam, and trade it for furs, which they sold back in Europe. For Native People, wampum was much more than currency. It had symbolic and cultural values, and they wove it into fabrics in a pictorial way that told a story—if you knew how to read it. Many people think that the shell itself is wampum, but it's not.

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