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Introduction

Wampum. Beads of Diplomacy in New France

Paz Núñez-Regueiro et Nikolaus Stolle
Traduction de Susan Pickford
p. 6-21
Cet article est une traduction de :
Wampum. Perles de diplomatie en Nouvelle-France [fr]

Texte intégral

  • 1 The Algonquin term originally referred to a white bead in the singular and a string of white beads (...)
  • 2 As demonstrated by the archaeological record (Ceci 1989) and linguistic data (Michelson 1991).

1Early-17th-century North America saw small cylindrical seashell beads, known as wampum,1 come into use as tokens of exchange between Native Americans and European incomers. Wampum, used by Indigenous nations for social and political purposes as well as for adornment, embodied considerable exchange value well before the first contact with Europeans.2 The beads used in this early period were made from white shells found along the Atlantic coast, as far south as the Gulf of Mexico; they remained a rare luxury item, reserved for high-status individuals.

  • 3 These were described by Lescarbot as “small tubes of glass mixed with tin or lead” (1609: 740). Arc (...)
  • 4 For a glossary of terms associated with wampum in France’s North American colonies, see the Lexicon (...)

2Among the earliest objects traded by Europeans in North America were round and tube-shaped glass beads of various colors (“rassades” as they were named in French), similar in size and shape to wampum (Turgeon 2001: 72). Local peoples could combine their own traditional white beads with the new glass beads,3 mainly black and red, in strings (“ficelles” or “branches”) and belts (what the French called “colliers” or, more rarely, “ceintures”) [Vachon 1970],4 weaving in a range of motifs. When metal tools arrived in North America, one early use was to produce beads from the purple lips of Mercenaria mercenaria (quahog) shells, which were particularly thick and hard to pierce. Such innovations dated back to the early days of French colonial history in the region, driven in large part by the French themselves.

  • 5 Now known as the Innu. This introduction will use the historical European names to match written hi (...)

3Early-17th-century French settlers learned to live “in accordance with local tradition” (Champlain 1603: 3R) and developed a policy of alliances rooted in friendship with Indigenous nations. François Gravé du Pont and Samuel de Champlain set out to establish one such alliance on May 27, 1603, at La Pointe des Alouettes, where the Saguenay flows into the St. Lawrence River, with a group the French called the Montagnais.5 The French took part in the speeches and smoked petun (tobacco) at chief Anadabijou’s lodge (ibid.: 3R-4R). Champlain, appointed the first commander of New France (1612-1629), described the symbolic significance of gift-giving when Indigenous nations came together, specifically mentioning wampum, which the French then called porcelain. Wampum was in use throughout the St. Lawrence Valley for personal adornment as well as for social, religious and diplomatic purposes and in trade.

Fig. 1. Clam valves used to make purple wampum beads, first half of the 18th century. Quahog clam (Mercenaria mercenaria), 11.2 x 9.1 x 3 cm.

Fig. 1. Clam valves used to make purple wampum beads, first half of the 18th century. Quahog clam (Mercenaria mercenaria), 11.2 x 9.1 x 3 cm.

Paris, Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, 71.1881.17.4. Formerly in the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, Paris © musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, photo Pauline Guyon.

The role of wampum in building relationships

  • 6 Now the Lenni Lenape.
  • 7 Now the Haudenosaunee and Huron-Wendat respectively.
  • 8 Foster 1996: 98-100, 105-109. Nations in the Muskogean and Siouan language families lived in the sa (...)

4Wampum was a feature of everyday life, worn as finery or presented as a token of friendship and alliance or even as a declaration of war. This understanding of wampum, shared by nations in the Algonquian and Iroquoian language families of northeast North America, extended from the Atlantic coast as far inland as the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi and from the St. Lawrence Valley in the north to south of the Appalachians (see Map 1). Coastal Algonquin such as the Pequot, Delaware,6 and Susquehannock, and the Iroquois and Huron7 of what are now Ontario and New York State lived in fortified villages consisting of several longhouses that were home to several families. Kinship groups were made up of clans with a common ancestor. They lived by hunting, fishing, and farming staples such as corn, beans, and squash. Most northern and western Algonquian (Abenaki, Montagnais, Ottawa, and Ojibwa) did not farm the land, but lived in smaller groups, with each family circle in their own cone-shaped or dome-shaped wigwam. In the summer season, the families gathered in larger groups to hunt, hold community ceremonies, and lead military campaigns.8

  • 9 Hewitt 1902: 33-46; Black 1977: 141-151; Isaac 1977: 167-184; Feest 1998: 76 ff.
  • 10 Hale 1881: 10 ff. For further details on the founding of the Iroquois League, see Hewitt 1892: 135, (...)

5Men from both language groups earned status from their prowess in hunting and warfare. Exploits such as taking trophies and capturing prisoners to replace deceased family members were frequently rewarded with wampum war belts, that a warrior or leader of a military expedition might accept — or choose to turn down.9 Gift-giving was a fundamental political act for Indigenous nations and gifts of wampum played a central role in the Iroquois Confederacy. According to the Iroquois League foundation myth, the great peacemaker Dekanawidah came to peaceful terms with the despotic Onondaga chief Tadodahoh by gifting him a white wampum string. White shell beads featured prominently at political events marking the lives of the Five, and later Six, Iroquois Nations — the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca, joined after 1722 by the Tuscarora.10 No such link between shell beads and political structure can be confirmed in 17th-century Algonquian culture.

  • 11 For example, early-19th-century Penobscot chief naming ceremonies are well documented (Stolle 2016: (...)
  • 12 For the Iroquois, 17th-century wampum funeral artifacts are found in the graves of high- status ind (...)

6The northern Iroquoians (Iroquois and Huron) and the eastern Algonquians (Abenaki and Delaware) all incorporated wampum presentations and gifts into rituals such as name-giving ceremonies, in which wampum strings symbolizing the name owned by a clan were given to the individual being named,11 and funerals, when the deceased was given wampum belts and strings for the journey to the afterlife, probably as prestige markers.12

7The value of wampum, shared widely across North America, was due largely to the sheer amount of time and effort that went into making the beads. European powers in the region chose wampum (strings of beads) as a substitute for currency. New France did have silver coinage, but New England and New Holland did not; they used wampum and tobacco instead, exchanging them at fixed rates as early as the 17th century. Wampum beads were produced by Algonquian nations living on the Atlantic coast, then traded for furs with Iroquoian and Algonquian nations settled further inland. This was a leading factor in their conquest of the coastal Algonquians by the Five Iroquois Nations, and later the British and Dutch, since controlling wampum production opened the door to the fur trade and Indigenous trading networks (Ceci 1993: 58 ff.).

Fig. 2. Émile Gallois. United States, plate 28 [illustrations of three wampum belts], c. 1945-1956. Watercolor on paper, 41 x 33 cm.

Fig. 2. Émile Gallois. United States, plate 28 [illustrations of three wampum belts], c. 1945-1956. Watercolor on paper, 41 x 33 cm.

Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, acquisition pending. The plate was probably part of an incomplete editorial project that aimed at presenting the oldest and most prestigious holdings in the American collection at the Musée de l’Homme, dating from 1945-1956.

© photo Thierry Ollivier.

  • 13 As recorded in various English sources at the time, including the Colonial official Sir William Joh (...)

8The French, who had grasped Indigenous protocols at a very early stage, made use of diplomatic language and the practice of presenting wampum,13 considering it vital to their exchanges and alliances with Indigenous nations:

The Indians of North America have always had the custom of using belts both as ornaments and in handling the affairs of their nations: these belts are so necessary to those who speak of affairs on behalf of the nations that no faith would be placed in their words if they did not beforehand present the other party with a belt that they spread out before him; once the speech is over, the Indian being addressed picks up the belt and puts another down in its place to make his answer.
(BNF, NAF 2550, n. d. [c. 1725]: fol. 24)

9Belts sealed agreements, accompanying and materializing discourse. They were exchanged between individuals as well as representatives of sovereign nations to promise sincerity and bear witness to pledges undertaken. This European perspective is doubtless overly narrow, overlooking wampum’s performative role as a means of socialization in the relationships in which it featured. When gifted, belts “unblocked ears”, “wiped away tears”, and “cleared throats”, reifying listening, attention, and speech; they “cleared the path to the heart” of the listener and “shed light”, helping build the “Tree of Peace” between parties and keeping it “tall as the sky”, “unshakable and able to withstand all storms, so deep do its roots reach into the earth” (BNF, NAF 2550, n. d. [1726]). This highly metaphorical language, used in national councils and in inter-nation gatherings, evokes wampum’s capacity to lay the groundwork for listening and dialog by acting on the senses and transforming the individuals taking part in the exchange.

  • 14 In 1763, Onondaga delegates informed Sir William Johnson “that the French had been among the Sevrl. (...)
  • 15 Said to make peace with peace pipes and belts: see Cruzat 1909 [1777].
  • 16 See Nuñez-Regueiro and Stolle in this issue; Keagle 2013: 222-225; Stolle 2016: 36, 242, 249.

10France’s understanding of Native American cultures was crucial in extending its influence across vast swathes of territory. As colonization reached further west and into the Mississippi Valley, the use of wampum spread along the Missouri River as far as the Gulf of Mexico.14 Wampum iconography grew more complex, while many Central and Southern Plains nations began using white shell bead strings for diplomatic purposes. The topic remains under-researched, though sources suggest that from the 18th century on, the Osage,15 Otoe, Missouri and Iowa all used wampum strings in diplomacy, particularly attaching them to peace pipes, as recorded among the Iowa as late as 1845.16

Fig. 3. Figurative map of the prompt assistance sent by the order of Monseigneur the Marquis de Beauharnois... His Majesty’s governor and lieutenant-general for all of New France, to the king’s vessel the Elephant on September 2, 1729.

Fig. 3. Figurative map of the prompt assistance sent by the order of Monseigneur the Marquis de Beauharnois... His Majesty’s governor and lieutenant-general for all of New France, to the king’s vessel the Elephant on September 2, 1729.

Drawn by Mahier in Quebec, October 15, 1729. Paper, ink and watercolor, 56 x 39 cm.

Paris, BnF, Cartes et Plans, GED-7825 (RES).

French “porcelain”

  • 17 Now the Mi’kmaq/Micmac.
  • 18 The Kaskaskia were one of the four tribes of the Illinois Nation (Callender 1978: 673, 678-679).

11The French crown chose a strategy of alliance-building to develop a successful fur trade, approaching the Native American geopolitical sphere like a “new tribe” (Havard and Vidal 2019: 70 and 78) and progressively taking on a role as arbiters between allied Indigenous nations. The policy proved a success, leading to the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701, ending the century-long Iroquois Wars and bringing peace to a vast territory from the Miramichi and Souriquois17 of Acadia in the east to the Cree living along the northern and western reaches of Lake Superior in the west, and from the Ottawa living round the source of the Ottawa river in the north to the Kaskaskia “Illinois country”18 east of the point where the Missouri and Mississippi meet in the south. The Montreal agreement brought together thirty-nine nations from across the Iroquois and Huron territories, regions further east (particularly the Armouchiquois and Abenaki), and the Great Lakes, especially the Nipissing, Miami, Meskwaki, Sauk, and Illinois. They all came to sign a peace treaty with representatives of New France at the behest of the colony’s fourteenth governor, Louis-Hector de Callière, who occupied the position from 1698 to 1703 (Beaulieu and Viau 2001). Wampum belts and strings were presented alongside speeches by representatives from each nation, forming a prominent part of the ceremonial process. Bacqueville de La Potherie’s four-volume history of North America reproduces the speeches given with the “porcelain belts” in great detail (Bacqueville de La Potherie 1722).

12The Memorandum on porcelain belts, their use among the Indians, and the material they are made from (for the full text, see the Archival Sources appendix in this issue) gives a detailed description of how wampum beads were produced, drawing on a study commissioned in New York in 1725. The white shells were placed on a stone and pierced with a flint tool — a labor-intensive process that produced no more than twenty to twenty-five beads a day. “The sharpest files and awls only pierce the shell [Mercenaria mercenaria] with great difficulty [...] It [...] took great patience to work on the “porcelain” beads, both white and blue” (BNF NAF 2550 n. d. [c. 1725]: fol. 25-27). The report further stated that the Iroquois, “without contest, the most skilled of all the peoples in North America [...] make piles of belts for the nation, which has enabled them to succeed in their affairs, while other nations with less foresight are often unable to negotiate with anyone for a lack of belts “ (ibid.: fol. 24).

  • 19 Also known as the Second Intercolonial War and Queen Anne’s War (Laramie 2021).
  • 20 The clams whose shells were used for wampum only grew along the northern Atlantic coast near Cape C (...)

13The memorandum, written in about 1725, reflects both the importance of wampum in European-Indigenous American relations and the vital necessity of obtaining wampum artifacts. The French achievement in bringing about peace in Montreal in 1701 was followed by conflict with the English colonies in the War of Spanish Succession from 1702 to 1713.19 The supply of wampum, which the French obtained from the British through trade, was disrupted and it became harder to obtain beads and belts.20 Though the memorandum was written a decade later, it — and various projects launched around the same time by two successive governors, the Marquis de Vaudreuil (1703-1725) and the Marquis de Beauharnois (1726-1747) — indicate that the French colony urgently needed to find new alternative sources to ensure its own survival. Beauharnois sounded a warning in 1728:

The lack of Porcelain belts used in this country to discuss business with the Indians has become so pressing for them and for us that there are none left in the royal store; we are forced to rework the belts they bring to disguise them when we are obliged to talk to them with belts.
(LAC, MG1-C11A, 1728)

  • 21 Europeans introduced cowries to the northeastern coast of North America in the 16th century, probab (...)

14The French experimented with cowrie snails, making a failed attempt to introduce the species to North America,21 and also tried using glass beads of various kinds (Desjardins and Duguay 1992: 54 ff.). Beauharnois commissioned the Manufacture de Saint-Cloud, the royal porcelain factory just outside Paris, to produce imitation wampum beads made from porcelain (LAC, MG1-C11A, 1728), and later wrote of his skepticism over plans to experiment with marble (LAC, MG8-A1, 1729).

  • 22 Also known as the French and Indian War (1754-1760).
  • 23 The figures were doubtless inflated by corruption in New France, as pointed out by the posthumous m (...)

15During the Seven Years’ War,22 Louis XV saw the need to build up stocks of wampum to ensure an ongoing dialog and alliances with Indigenous nations. He ordered four million wampum beads from the Canadian traders Varin and Martel between 1755 and 1757, at a cost of ten livres per thousand beads — a massive total of forty million livres (Estèbe 1763).23

Fig. 4. “Porcelain” imitation wampum strings, France (Saint-Cloud Manufacture?), first half of the 18th century. Enameled terracotta, plant fibers, length 92 cm.

Fig. 4. “Porcelain” imitation wampum strings, France (Saint-Cloud Manufacture?), first half of the 18th century. Enameled terracotta, plant fibers, length 92 cm.

Paris, Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, 71.1878.32.267. Formerly in the Cabinet des médailles [Coin Cabinet], Bibliothèque nationale de France © musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, photo Pauline Guyon.

Fig. 5. Wampum belt Illinois (attributed), North American Great Lakes, before 1725. Quahog clam (Mercenaria mercenaria), sea snail, hide, plant fibers, length 83 cm. Paris, Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, 71.1878.32.61.

Fig. 5. Wampum belt Illinois (attributed), North American Great Lakes, before 1725. Quahog clam (Mercenaria mercenaria), sea snail, hide, plant fibers, length 83 cm. Paris, Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, 71.1878.32.61.

This belt may be the one sent by the Kaskaskia chief Mamantouensa to Louis XV via a delegation of four chiefs from the Illinois, Missouri, Osage and Otoe nations who traveled to France in 1725 with Father Beaubois, the Jesuit superior in Louisiana. The Kaskaskia nation was part of the Illinois Confederacy of four “villages”, which may be represented by the four armed men woven into the belt.

Formerly in the Cabinet des médailles [Coin Cabinet], Bibliothèque nationale de France © musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, photo Patrick Gries.

Weaving beads and words: a lasting French legacy in North America

  • 24 The various approaches to colonization were more complex and protean than is often described. The F (...)

16France took a different tack to England in North America. Where the English in New England formed settlements and farmed the land intensively, leading to tensions and conflict with the local Indigenous population, French policy was to build trading relations with the Indigenous nations, focusing energy on extending trade networks (Havard 2007).24 There were also religious differences in colonial policy between France and England. Catholic and Protestant orders alike were aware of the importance of language in evangelizing and recorded Indigenous languages to facilitate communication and conversion. Reading and writing were central to Protestant practice, allowing worshipers to understand the word of God as expressed in the Bible (Silverman 2007); Catholicism focused on rites, sacraments, and repetition, placing greater emphasis on visual representations of the ecclesiastical and non-human spheres. Catholicism therefore proved particularly well suited to the North American context, offering parallels with local spiritual practices such as making offerings, relationships with “supernatural” entities, ritual language, ceremonial regalia, and remuneration for ritualists (Feest 1998). Missionaries sought to make Catholicism a readily understandable, attractive proposition for the Indigenous population (Havard 2003: 681-695).

17From the 17th century on, Roman Catholic orders, particularly the Jesuits and the France-based Recollects, began to establish missions along the St. Lawrence Valley. The villages were home to communities displaced from their ancestral territories by war who sought refuge near the developing French settlements (Lozier 2018). Missionaries were particularly active among the Abenaki, Huron, Mohawk and Nipissing (Jaenen 1985: 9 ff.). Wampum use, well established in these nations, adapted to the new context. Indigenous communities who converted to Christianity used wampum as devotional offerings to seek blessings and protection from the most powerful saints and from the French clergy. So-called “Latinized” votive wampum came into use in the French colony (Clair 2009: 169). Such artifacts, produced locally at the behest of missionaries, were woven with Latin inscriptions, literally bearing the words they embodied. The new votive wampum circulated in Jesuit spiritual and economic networks, reflecting the permanence and vitality of Indigenous understandings of orality, kinship, and alliance (Clair 2009).

  • 25 Now Kahnawake.
  • 26 Now Wôlinak and Odanak respectively.

18In the Colonial period, particularly King Philip’s War (1675-1676) when the Wampanoag and Narragansett fought the English colonists and their New England Indigenous allies, several Indigenous nations, like the Abenaki, were forced from their lands. A number of missionary establishments sprang up in New France in the latter half of the 17th century as a result of the mass flight of former adoptive members of the Iroquois Five Nations to France’s Canadian colonies. The refugees left the Confederacy in search of freedom to practice their beliefs, away from Iroquois domination. The largest missions, such as the Mohawk village at Sault-Saint-Louis25 and the Abenaki villages at Bécancour and St. Francis,26 were built along the St. Lawrence and the Champlain rivers, both key routes for communication (and invasion) between territories under French and English control. Such fortified villages acted as ramparts against English incursions, which were a real threat for French establishments, as demonstrated by the town of Quebec: the English occupied French Canada’s administrative center on several occasions (Delâge and Sawaya 2001).

  • 27 Short, close-fitting jackets worn by women, fashionable in the 18th century (Chambaud and Robinet 1 (...)

19The men living in such communities did more than just support the French in their struggle against the English. They were also active in the lucrative fur trade. Their nations copied French fashions, taking up tailored garments such as women’s “casaquins”27 and wearing crucifixes. They were known as “domiciliated Indians” (Brodhead 1855: 607, 609; Phillips 1998: 83 ff.), reflecting their conversion to Christianity. Missionaries counted on them to convert other Indigenous communities. The women acted as the guardians of tradition, bringing up children, teaching them their own language and passing craft skills on to their daughters. They decorated their crafts with their own traditional iconography and brought in new designs based on both their own individual preferences and the tastes of the wider group. Mohawk wampum belts from Sault-Saint-Louis, for instance, featured Catholic crosses as a form of self-reference after France lost its colonies (Lainey 2004: 65; Stolle 2016: 168 and 200). Catholicism and the use of the French language were the main legacies of French colonization in Indigenous North America (see the interview with Nicole O’Bomsawin in this issue).

20By the end of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) France lost all its North American possessions. The 1763 Treaty of Paris reconciled France, Britain and Spain after three years of negotiations, handing Acadia and Canada to Britain, while the vast territory of Louisiana went to Spain to counter British hegemony. Despite these losses, the French settlers maintained friendly relations with their former Indigenous allies through family links and trade. In Montreal, the economic center of former French Canada, French-Canadian traders still dominated the lucrative fur trade, whose golden age was yet to come in the 19th century. They kept up the former networks that extended far inland along navigable waterways such as the Missouri and the Mississippi (Havard 2019).

21French influence in North America grew to some extent in the 1770s as a result of the War of Indepen-dence, when the French crown supported the thirteen colonies against the British. This support made its way into wampum belts in the form of the cross with flaring ends and stand, symbolizing the French monarch’s central duty to defend the Roman Catholic Church. Here, however, the cross embodying French involvement in North America was placed not centrally, but at the ends of the belts, signifying the loss of the North American colonies (Stolle 2016: 201).

Fig. 4. “Porcelain” imitation wampum strings, France (Saint-Cloud Manufacture?), first half of the 18th century. Enameled terracotta, plant fibers, length 92 cm.

Fig. 4. “Porcelain” imitation wampum strings, France (Saint-Cloud Manufacture?), first half of the 18th century. Enameled terracotta, plant fibers, length 92 cm.

Paris, Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, 71.1878.32.267. Formerly in the Cabinet des médailles [Coin Cabinet], Bibliothèque nationale de France © musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, photo Pauline Guyon.

Fig. 5. Wampum belt Illinois (attributed), North American Great Lakes, before 1725. Quahog clam (Mercenaria mercenaria), sea snail, hide, plant fibers, length 83 cm. Paris, Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, 71.1878.32.61.

Fig. 5. Wampum belt Illinois (attributed), North American Great Lakes, before 1725. Quahog clam (Mercenaria mercenaria), sea snail, hide, plant fibers, length 83 cm. Paris, Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, 71.1878.32.61.

This belt may be the one sent by the Kaskaskia chief Mamantouensa to Louis XV via a delegation of four chiefs from the Illinois, Missouri, Osage and Otoe nations who traveled to France in 1725 with Father Beaubois, the Jesuit superior in Louisiana. The Kaskaskia nation was part of the Illinois Confederacy of four “villages”, which may be represented by the four armed men woven into the belt.

Formerly in the Cabinet des médailles [Coin Cabinet], Bibliothèque nationale de France © musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, photo Patrick Gries.

Weaving links today

22At several points during the French presence in North America, delegations from several allied Indigenous nations were sent to the French court. The delegates were usually one or more chiefs with their entourage, sent to meet the French king. One of the earliest was the renowned Mi’kmaq war chief Iwanchou, who laid his wampum headband at the feet of Louis XIV (JR 1897 [1642-1644]: 223). In return, the king gave him and his retinue garments embroidered with gold thread, swords, and other insignia honoring their status. The last delegation to the French court included members of the Iowa nation who were received Louis-Philippe in 1845 (Anonymous 1845: 2), marking the final exchange of wampum between France and a Native American nation.

  • 28 Other significant collections are held at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, the McC (...)

23Wampum was a constant presence in the relationship between France and Indigenous nations, following the fortunes of French colonial history in North America. When the white shell beads made and used in the region for thousands of years came into contact with Europeans in the 17th century, they took on a standard shape and size and began to embody new functions. The French played a key role in trading the beads and in the emergence of wampum belts in the early days of contact in New France (see Laurier Turgeon in this issue). Representatives of the French monarchy established lasting diplomatic and trading relationships with Native American nations of Canada (see Gilles Havard in this issue), as evidenced by the significant corpus of French and Native American speeches transcribed and preserved in the colonial archives and by the set of wampum belts, strings, and artifacts in French collections today. Such pieces dating back to the period of the Ancient Regime bear witness to the lasting alliances between Native Americans and France. These objects were brought to France and integrated into the royal, aristocratic, ecclesiastic, and scholarly collections, before their confiscation during the French Revolution and their subsequent transfer into public collections. With the exception of the Haudenosaunee Council (The Council of the Six Iroquois Nations), which took back some forty wampum between 1988 and 1997, few collections worldwide offer such an early collection of specimens covering such a range of types (see Paz Núñez-Regueiro and Nikolaus Stolle’s article in this issue).28 In their travels from institution to institution, wampum artifacts bear witness not only to Native American cultures, but also their contacts with Europe. They can now be seen in European museums and Native American ceremonies, in history books and in the hands of Indigenous artists, and even in courtrooms as evidence (Borrows 2016: 7, 10, 27; Nichols 2016: 10 ff., 119 ff.; Schulte-Tenckhoff 1998: 247, 270; Dickson-Gilmore 1995: 150, 226, 252-261, 330, 432-444).

24Wampum are embodiments of memory that bear witness to the period of their creation. They reify the relationships arising from encounters between two worlds and, as such, spark questions and research on Indigenous diplomatic traditions, how Europeans adapted to them, Iroquois mythology, and Native American culture in the 17th and 18th centuries. Indigenous nations used wampum as mnemonic tools, weaving geometric and figurative motifs into the belts to record aspects of their meaning (Druke 1995: 89, 93; Fenton 1998: 180, 185, 333, 512; Murray 2000: 125, 130, 134). Such motifs are closely associated with warfare pictography, recorded in North American context in other media prior to the development of woven belts (see Nikolaus Stolle’s article in this issue). Sources on wampum have generally been used without sufficient reference to the highly diverse nature and history of the Algonquian or Iroquoian cultures they came from. Huron and Iroquois wampum are often studied without any distinction even though their culture is not identical. Similarly, Algonquin culture has often been sidelined in modern wampum studies, though it was in fact the first to produce white shell beads in its original Atlantic coast territory.

25The erosion of Native American autonomy led to the loss of general wampum use in North America; the practice became restricted to the Indigenous sphere and internal and inter-tribal exchanges until the latter half of the 19th century. Indigenous archives, of which wampum form part, were broken up, and their belts, strings or branches were sold to public museums and private collections (see Jonathan Lainey in this issue). The campaigns for self-determination led by First Nations have turned wampum belts into symbols of Indigenous autonomy. Some have been given pride of place on national flags. Today, wampum once again plays a vital role in Native American communities (see Michael Galban, Jamie Jacobs and Peter Jemison in this issue).

26The universal value of wampum and its key role in facilitating exchanges and relationships between nations and individuals were the guiding thread for the exhibition Wampum. Beads of diplomacy in New France (Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, February 8 — May 15, 2022). The exhibition was part of the museum’s CRoyAN (Royal Collections from North America) research project in collaboration with partners across France and North America, studying a large set of objects collected between 1650 and 1850 in what are now Canada and the United States. The study of the wampum preserved in France within the framework of this exhibition involves researchers and cultural bearers with varied disciplinary profiles, from European and Native American Nations involved in the political spectrum of northeastern North America at the time of New France. The research team based in France was joined by Indigenous partners and scientific advisers of the exhibition project who are members of the Haudenosaunee, Huron-Wendat and Abenaki nations.

27The dialog surrounding such objects reflects the mixed emotions stirred by wampum in French collections. While the artifacts held in museum collections generally come from archaeological excavations and burials or acquisitions tainted by a sense of historical dispossession, the wampum that came to France via exchanges and agreements with Indigenous partners reflect the sovereignty of Native American nations, their conversion to Catholicism, and the long-standing relationship between France and the Indigenous nations of North America. They are objects with multiple values that are ambivalent and profoundly cross-cultural to contemporary eyes. As one of our partners recently said, studying a votive wampum belt that reflects the influence of missionaries in the region:

  • 29 Michael Galban, member of the exhibition scientific committee, during a virtual consultation of the (...)

The belt is really interesting to me because, from an Indigenous perspective, it is in the format of the highest, most, you might say, sacred, powerful material and format. And then because it’s a votive, devotional belt in the hands of the Jesuits, it probably was blessed by the Jesuits as well, consecrated, and it becomes an emblem of sacredness for both peoples. It’s like doubly powerful in way.29

  • 30 Jonathan Lainey, member of the exhibition scientific committee, in a discussion on June 2, 2021.

28The discussions held on these objects also reflect the “imbalance of authority” inherent in the dominance of academic knowledge, often constructed at arm’s length from the field on the basis of biased and incomplete sources, over knowledge borne by Indigenous cultural bearers. The same is true in the priority given to written sources over oral sources gathered in the course of ethnographic fieldwork or from an oral tradition handed down over the generations. The research articles on wampum in this issue demonstrate that the entire body of Indigenous thought and knowledge accumulated over centuries cannot be located in time and space. We need to grasp and accept that that knowledge is rooted in the Indigenous understanding of past events, as another of our collaborators recently pointed out.30 European collection building — a unique historical practice — comes with a responsibility to share the wealth of human knowledge. The collections from the Ancient Regime now in French museums offer an opportunity to build on longstanding relations and forge new ones, as wampum has always done.

Our thanks go to Benjamin Balloy, Jonathan Lainey, Maïra Muchnik, and Leandro Varison for their generosity in sharing their expertise and their precious support in producing this issue.

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Notes

1 The Algonquin term originally referred to a white bead in the singular and a string of white beads in the plural (Ceci 1989: 73).

2 As demonstrated by the archaeological record (Ceci 1989) and linguistic data (Michelson 1991).

3 These were described by Lescarbot as “small tubes of glass mixed with tin or lead” (1609: 740). Archaeologists have indeed found tubes of black or red glass, sometimes with parallel bands in further colors (Wray 2003: 44; Stolle 2016: 265, table 5, 1 and 2).

4 For a glossary of terms associated with wampum in France’s North American colonies, see the Lexicon of Historic Terms in this issue.

5 Now known as the Innu. This introduction will use the historical European names to match written historical sources.

6 Now the Lenni Lenape.

7 Now the Haudenosaunee and Huron-Wendat respectively.

8 Foster 1996: 98-100, 105-109. Nations in the Muskogean and Siouan language families lived in the same region. They did make occasional use of wampum in the Colonial period but it never had the same universal value in their cultures as it did for Algonquian and Iroquoian nations (Foster 1996: 98-106, 109-110; Silverstein 1996: 124-126).

9 Hewitt 1902: 33-46; Black 1977: 141-151; Isaac 1977: 167-184; Feest 1998: 76 ff.

10 Hale 1881: 10 ff. For further details on the founding of the Iroquois League, see Hewitt 1892: 135, 138-139 and Fenton 1998: 76 ff.

11 For example, early-19th-century Penobscot chief naming ceremonies are well documented (Stolle 2016: 65, n. 104). In the 18th century, the Moravian Brothers recorded Delaware (Lenni Lenape) naming rituals (Stolle 2016: 66, n. 106).

12 For the Iroquois, 17th-century wampum funeral artifacts are found in the graves of high- status individuals (Wray 2003); for the Algonquin, they have been found at digs on Wampanoag sites in Rhode Island and the Ottawa site at Lasanen, Michigan. See Stolle 2016: 44.

13 As recorded in various English sources at the time, including the Colonial official Sir William Johnson, diplomat tasked with negotiating on behalf of the British crown during the Seven Years’ War, who wrote that the British were unfamiliar with appropriate wampum belt use while the French “in their time, always gave them [i.e. Indigenous nations] belts, rum and money, presents by which they renewed their peace annually” (Johnson 1951: 698).

14 In 1763, Onondaga delegates informed Sir William Johnson “that the French had been among the Sevrl. Nats. of Inds. to the Southward [refers to the Cherokee and Choctaw] & Westwd. [Miami, Illinois, and Kickapoo] giving them belts of wampum as war hatchets & exciting them all in their power to dispossess ye. English of all ye. Posts they had taken possession of as far as Oswego” (Johnson 1951, 10: 724). The phenomenon was heightened by the forced displacement of nations towards “Mexican territory” (now Texas) from the early 19th century. The use of “white beads” by the Cherokee, Delaware, Kickapoo and Cutchatas is attested in the region (Mier y Terán 2000 [1828]: 77-78).

15 Said to make peace with peace pipes and belts: see Cruzat 1909 [1777].

16 See Nuñez-Regueiro and Stolle in this issue; Keagle 2013: 222-225; Stolle 2016: 36, 242, 249.

17 Now the Mi’kmaq/Micmac.

18 The Kaskaskia were one of the four tribes of the Illinois Nation (Callender 1978: 673, 678-679).

19 Also known as the Second Intercolonial War and Queen Anne’s War (Laramie 2021).

20 The clams whose shells were used for wampum only grew along the northern Atlantic coast near Cape Cod, a region colonized by the English, who enjoyed a de facto monopoly on wampum bead manufacture once the coastal nations had submitted to English rule in the latter half of the 17th century (Ceci 1989).

21 Europeans introduced cowries to the northeastern coast of North America in the 16th century, probably with a view to establishing a currency similar to that used in Africa. However, the snails were not accepted by the Native Americans (Ceci 1989: 71 and 73; Stolle 2016: 19).

22 Also known as the French and Indian War (1754-1760).

23 The figures were doubtless inflated by corruption in New France, as pointed out by the posthumous memoirs of Pierre Pouchot, a French naval officer posted to Canada from 1754 to 1761 (Pouchot 1781: 60-66). Either way, the figures are staggeringly high. Contemporary sources recorded that on average, a single belt used two thousand beads, woven in eleven rows by two feet in length: the French stock of beads was enough for around a thousand belts (Stolle 2016: 103 ff.).

24 The various approaches to colonization were more complex and protean than is often described. The French colonies were not monolithic: Canada and Acadia differed considerably from Louisiana in terms of the extent of slavery and relations with Indigenous nations (Jaenen 2001; Delâge 2006).

25 Now Kahnawake.

26 Now Wôlinak and Odanak respectively.

27 Short, close-fitting jackets worn by women, fashionable in the 18th century (Chambaud and Robinet 1776: 126).

28 Other significant collections are held at the American Museum of Natural History, New York, the McCord Museum, Montreal, and the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D. C.

29 Michael Galban, member of the exhibition scientific committee, during a virtual consultation of the wampum held at the wampum at the Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, December 3, 2020.

30 Jonathan Lainey, member of the exhibition scientific committee, in a discussion on June 2, 2021.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1. Clam valves used to make purple wampum beads, first half of the 18th century. Quahog clam (Mercenaria mercenaria), 11.2 x 9.1 x 3 cm.
Crédits Paris, Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, 71.1881.17.4. Formerly in the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, Paris © musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, photo Pauline Guyon.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6173/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 336k
Titre Fig. 2. Émile Gallois. United States, plate 28 [illustrations of three wampum belts], c. 1945-1956. Watercolor on paper, 41 x 33 cm.
Légende Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, acquisition pending. The plate was probably part of an incomplete editorial project that aimed at presenting the oldest and most prestigious holdings in the American collection at the Musée de l’Homme, dating from 1945-1956.
Crédits © photo Thierry Ollivier.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6173/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,4M
Titre Fig. 3. Figurative map of the prompt assistance sent by the order of Monseigneur the Marquis de Beauharnois... His Majesty’s governor and lieutenant-general for all of New France, to the king’s vessel the Elephant on September 2, 1729.
Légende Drawn by Mahier in Quebec, October 15, 1729. Paper, ink and watercolor, 56 x 39 cm.
Crédits Paris, BnF, Cartes et Plans, GED-7825 (RES).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6173/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 864k
Titre Fig. 4. “Porcelain” imitation wampum strings, France (Saint-Cloud Manufacture?), first half of the 18th century. Enameled terracotta, plant fibers, length 92 cm.
Légende Paris, Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, 71.1878.32.267. Formerly in the Cabinet des médailles [Coin Cabinet], Bibliothèque nationale de France © musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, photo Pauline Guyon.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6173/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 516k
Titre Fig. 5. Wampum belt Illinois (attributed), North American Great Lakes, before 1725. Quahog clam (Mercenaria mercenaria), sea snail, hide, plant fibers, length 83 cm. Paris, Musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, 71.1878.32.61.
Légende This belt may be the one sent by the Kaskaskia chief Mamantouensa to Louis XV via a delegation of four chiefs from the Illinois, Missouri, Osage and Otoe nations who traveled to France in 1725 with Father Beaubois, the Jesuit superior in Louisiana. The Kaskaskia nation was part of the Illinois Confederacy of four “villages”, which may be represented by the four armed men woven into the belt.
Crédits Formerly in the Cabinet des médailles [Coin Cabinet], Bibliothèque nationale de France © musée du quai Branly–Jacques Chirac, photo Patrick Gries.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/docannexe/image/6173/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 428k
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Paz Núñez-Regueiro et Nikolaus Stolle, « Wampum. Beads of Diplomacy in New France »Gradhiva [En ligne], 33 | 2022, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2022, consulté le 26 juin 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/gradhiva/6173 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/gradhiva.6173

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Paz Núñez-Regueiro

Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac
Paz.NUNEZ-REGUEIRO[at]quaibranly.fr

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Nikolaus Stolle

Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac
Nikolaus.STOLLE[at]quaibranly.fr

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