in neighboring tribes, far-flung countries, underground lairs, hiding in our hall closet. Herein find inspiring history on a CLAMSHELL-BASED ECONOMY as well as the latest doings of  THE HANDSOME FAMILY...

Wampum are tube-shaped beads that native Americans carve from the shells of channeled welk and quahog clam— shells found along the beaches of the Long Island Sound and north along Cape Cod. The beads were once strung into jewelry or sewn into clothing and traded between people and tribes. Wampum beads have been found as far west as Oklahoma and there are beads found that may be a thousand years old. It's hard for those of us born into a money-based world of shopping to understand how a wampum-based society functioned. Giving wampum was not meant as ‘payment’. It was given to calm arguments, to add meaning to exchanges and to mark a moment as important. More aggressive tribes received tributes of wampum from their neighbors to prevent war. Wampum was used to ransom prisoners and make reparations for crimes. It was awarded to winners and offered with marriage proposals. It was also exchanged in remembrance of the dead and used as a pictorial language. Long wampum belts with thousands of beads were woven to memorialize important events. Darker beads (purples and blacks) were associated with war and grief. White beads were associated with life and light. For hundreds of years the wampum system was used by natives all along the northeastern coast of North America.

In the 17th-century Europeans arrived on the shores of what became New England. These colonists had no context to understand wampum, but they were happy to pay natives a handful of carved shells in exchange for fur pelts which they then sold at great profit across the ocean. The colonists began to make their own wampum using metal tools instead of the native’s stone drills. The colonists built wampum factories that turned out enormous quantities of wampum at far greater speed and with greater delicacy than the natives could have ever imagined. The glut of wampum now available caused it to rapidly lose meaning and value.

We’re still trying to organize some shows for Europe in late September/early October. Details to come.
Desperate native wampum-makers now had to spend all their time making enough wampum to appease aggressive neighbors. Children were kidnapped and ransomed for huge amounts of wampum. Ancestral burial sites were robbed of memorial wampum. Still wampum continued to lose value until it was worth nothing. Hunting tribes no longer accepted wampum for pelts. Instead they wanted food, clothing and tools from the colonists, but the colonists did not pay well (there was, at the same time, a decline in European demand for fur). Desperate tribes hunted the fur-bearing animals of New England almost to extinction in attempts to trade for food and clothing. There were so few deer that some natives were forced to beg duffel cloth from the colonists. Eventually these hunting tribes were forced to pay for cloth, food and tools with parcels of land. Aggressive tribes began to steal territory from less-aggressive neighbors. War began between the tribes and with the colonists.

In America we sometimes refer to dollars as ‘clams’. This is a forgotten reference to the days of wampum.

You can now buy 20 Quahog purple wampum beads for $11.59 (plus shipping) on You can also buy a water bottle that says, “Got Wampum?” There was musical entertainment in Wampum, PA on March 26th at Ferrante Upholstering from 7-8pm.

I know that we can’t easily return to an age of shell-trading. Can we move forward to something else— a kind of commerce where the goal is a peaceful balance not the accumulation of riches? Can we only find abundance at the expense of another’s poverty? I continue to collect fallen cat whiskers in the vain hope of garnering a new kind of wealth. The black whiskers are worth far more than the white at my trading post. My white cat drops too many.


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