What is Wampum?
Wampum are tubular purple and white beads made from shells. Wampum are used primarily by Indigenous peoples of the Eastern Woodlands for ornamental, ceremonial and commercial uses. Belts made of wampum marked agreements between communities.
Originally made by the Wampanoag in what is now known as the New England area of the United States, Wampum was made in the form of beads carved from the purple sections of the quahog shell. The quahog is a type of large clam found in numerous bays along the shores of the Atlantic ocean, from as far north as Canada to as far south as areas of Florida.
In the 1600s and 1700s the value of the beads carved by the natives was tied to the various hues of colouring in the quahog shells – the darker the purple, the more the beads were worth. In trade, the Indigenous would use the beads just as we use paper bills and metal coins today, trading them for such things as furs. At one point in those years a string of Wampum beads was worth five British shillings. Wampum beads were so respected that they were viewed as legal currency in many respects. In fact, until as late as the 1780s the respected Harvard University accepted Wampum beads as payment for tuition there.
Another primary use for the beads was in the form of "belts." The beads were woven into patterns which spelled out such things as tribal history or inter-tribal treaties. They were also used to sanctify wedding vows.
Today, while it is no longer accepted as currency, Wampum is said to bring the owner good luck in financial matters - - - making it both beautiful and valuable.
Centuries ago the natives used sticks and sand to create their beads, a process which would have taken both great concentration and great amounts of time. Today, each Wildabout Wampum “objet d'art” is a unique, one-of-a-kind piece, hand-crafted through the use of special diamond tools. Just as in the days gone by, however, each piece is created by meticulously sculpting the rare purple sections of the quahog shell.
While these shells can be found along the entirety of the Atlantic coast of North America, only about 1 in 25 contains the striking purple colouring coveted for Marcia’s shell sculptures. Those rare finds from the waters of the Atlantic are carved, then repeatedly sanded to perfect the mirror-smooth finish. Some of the pieces are also accented with hand-crafted sterling silver highlighting, or through the time-consuming process of inlaying other materials such as paua shell into the quahog shell.
All of these creations, from the most basic to the most intricate, can be found, and ordered, through our selections on this website.