Wampum and the Cherokee people

by Nov 18, 2013OPINIONS0 comments

No matter if you are a Christian or Traditionalist, the Wampum is anciently connected to Cherokee culture. The Christian Bible states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”                                                              

In the traditional Cherokee way of life, the Word was kept by the Wampum. The first Wampum was given to the Cherokees by the peacemaker.  Historical Wampum is white and purple cylindrical shell-beads, either strung or woven into belts.  Before any written language was introduced, Cherokees and other Tribes used Wampum (belts) in diplomatic communication to ‘load’ it with a message.

Each belt represented (and still represents) a certain event – a single talk or a council or treaty. The message was ‘read into’ the belt(s) in an elaborate speech act. A chosen carrier was drilled to memorize what the chiefs/parties had agreed upon, but it was the Wampum that was actually holding the information.

In towns of the Cherokee confederacy, people gathered annually to hear the tribal orator, a priest who was sometimes called “the beloved man” recite the common law of the confederacy. Literature tells, “When the orator spoke the law, he was reading the meaning of history and tradition contained in the tribal Wampum. He held the ancient and sacred Wampum belts in his hand” (Strickland, R. (1975))

This part of oral tradition was lost with the introduction of the written word.  Today, the beautiful Wampum-pieces and -beads speak for themselves, and it is up to you, how to govern yourself.


 General and Ute Grant