When Was a String of Beads Used as a History Book?

Even though the Indians in the eastern part of North America used the white, purple, and black beads made from shells mainly as money, or wampum, they also used them to record important happenings in the tribe. Wampum beads were strung on belts to record each event in a story, and served as a reminder of these events when the story was retold.

These Indian stories couldn’t be “read” from the wampum by just anybody, as you would read a story in a book. Only one man in the tribe, the Keeper of the Wampum, was allowed to recite the historical events recorded on the belts in his care, and then, only on special occasions.

Each bead’s color stood for special things. White stood for riches, health, and peace, while the purple and black beads meant sadness or sympathy.

Just as we have counterfeit money today, false wampum was circulated in colonial days and led to the government’s stopping its use in trading!