Oneida Tribal Belt

Made by the Oneidas, this belt records the territories of the Six Nations joined as one. Six rectangles represent the territories of the Six Nations: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Tuscarora and Seneca. Six diamonds represent the council fires of each nation. 
Wampum beads are made of seashells in two colors. White beads were fashioned from the central columnelia of the whelk and from sections of the outer shell which were thick enough to make a bead. Purple beads, also referred to in literature as black, were made from the small purple shells of the quahog clam. The Dutch colonists of New Amsterdam learned early that these beads, made by the Indians of the area, were in great demand by the Indian of the interior. The Dutch evidently shared this information with the English of the New England. The word wampum seems to derive from the Europeans' understanding of the names of the local Indian groups --the Wappinger in the area of the New Netherlands and the Wapenaug of New England. Other English colonists called the beads waumpumpeake or simple peace, apparently an Alogonquian word which meant "a string of white beads".

Although the Indians never adopted the practice of using wampum for money, the starved colonists used wampum in trading among themselves. As the American colonies expanded and formal political relations between whites and Indians increased, the exchange of wampum belts attesting to the nature of those relations became fixed in the protocol of the times. During Sir William Johnson's tenure as Indian Superintendent for the Northern Province representing the English King from 1755 - 1774, "wampum diplomacy" reached its apogee under Sir William's careful tutelage, and the structure of forest diplomacy developed. Wampum belts became the mnemonic vehicle for all important speeches worthly of record. Red, green and blue dyes became important attributes used to color the wampum beads. As diplomacy became more complex, a greater number of belts were needed to convey ideas to be presented at councils. As many as twenty were needed for one council meeting. After 1747, belts were even used in the condolence ceremony, where previous strings of beads had been considered sufficient. When the death of an important council member occurred, the condolence ceremony became the business at hand, and shell beads were exchanged to attest to the sincerity of the sympathy professed.