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Native american Beadwork ~~ May 02, 2008 11:05 AM

NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art.

Beads and Pendants of the Eastern Forest

~Meaning in Native American Life~

Beauty aside, wearing or presenting jewelry had many social, economic, political and religious implications for the Native Americans of the 1600’s in southern New England. Jewelry was used to show connection with a particular group. Beads validated treaties and were used to remember oral tradition, as well as for exchange and currency. There were many ritual aspects of beads and pendants used in ceremonies of dance, curing and sacrifice. Jewelry was also used in many ‘rites of passage’ which individuals passed through in their lives.

Personal Aesthetics: Native Americans in New England, especially young women, enhanced their dress with beads and pendants. Wampum beads were treasured possessions and elaborate types and large amounts of jewelry were worn. Native American women, however, were considered less vain than European women. Besides jewelry, beads decorated clothing or were inlaid into objects of wood for aesthetic beauty. Wampum inlaid wooden items included tomahawk handles, pendants, and native bread mixing bowls.

Group Identity:

Among many northeastern tribes, individuals acquired a spiritual totem at adolescence, often a mammal, snake, bird, claw, tooth or other animal part which was henceforth carried with that individual. Personal totems often coincided with those of a person’s family, clan or society. Jewelry was a means for Native Americans to show they belonged to that group. A male cat’s head wrapped in trade cloth was one such totem. Totems were used in divination and to ensure opportunity. Native Americans wore beads and pendants to show ingredients in their social lives, economic and political concerns, and in beliefs of cosmology and religion.

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 May 02, 2008 11:06 AM

Exchange and Currency: In New England, wampum beads were part of an economy of reciprocity and gift exchange. Reciprocal gift giving cemented ties between Native Americans. Wampum beads and pendants adorned high status men and young women of a tribe. The similarity in design, and abundance of shell pendants, at both coastal and inland areas attests to Native American networks of regional trade.

With the volume of trade after European contact, eastern Native Americans traded wampum inland to Wisconsin and the Dakotas, and as far south as Virginia. Using shell, glass and metal beads, early colonists and Native Americans could barter for the products of the other. European traders and politicians, using beads and trinkets, often exploited gift exchange to gain Native American favor or lands. Wampum quickly evolved into a formal currency. A fathom of white beads was worth 10 shillings and double that for purple beads. The wampum embroidered clothing of King Philip was valued at twenty pounds. Metal coins were scarce and wampum became currency for both colonists and Native Americans. Wampum was even mass-produced by the Dutch, and remained in use until the American Revolution.


Native Americans in New England integrated beads and pendants into many of their ceremonies. Beads and pendants of natural materials were often used in ritual expression because of Native American esteem placed upon minerals and metals of the earth, and the association of shells with water. Dance ceremonies celebrated the change in seasons, harvest, births, marriages, or commemorated less fortunate events, and were often accompanied by chanting. Native Americans took great pains in the preparation of their appearance and accessories. Dances were often accompanied by throwing out wampum to onlookers. Beads were often distributed and redistributed during Native American dance ceremonies.

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 May 02, 2008 11:06 AM

Ceremonies of healing and curing often required the use of specific types of jewelry or ornamentation. Shells of many animals, including turtles, were utilized in healing ceremonies. Some New England Native American necklaces provided protection from particular disorders. Face-painting using red, and hair ornaments of that color are also associated with curing ceremonies. Jewelry worn and other personal objects used in southern New England dance ritual were often relinquished or destroyed in sacrifice.

Rites of Passage:

Jewelry was worn or exchanged by Native Americans to indicate that individual had passed through an important physical or social change. These transformations are called rites of passage. Such a change was after a Native American woman had her first menses, when she wore a garment which covers head and body for several months. After this time the women may remove the veil and dress themselves with necklaces, belts, and wampum headbands. Beads were also used in marriage rituals. Bridal presents, including wampum, Dutch glass and other beads were given to a woman for bridal present, which if she accepts, conceded to marry the man. Some bridal presents consisted of five to ten fathoms of wampum. Beads were also incorporated into Native American funeral and mortuary customs in southern New England. The deceased often wore necklaces, bracelets, rings, headband, and other ornaments provided by relatives.

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 May 02, 2008 11:07 AM

~Types of Jewelry and Ornaments in the Eastern Forests~

Neck Ornaments Prehistoric Native American necklaces were made of shell, bone, teeth, claws, pottery and other natural materials. A traditional Penobscot necklace consists of deer antler prongs and deer hoofs bored and strung on leather. Pendants or bags, some containing tobacco, were suspended from necklaces. One curative necklace had a pouch containing tree frogs said to 'stop women’s overflowing courses.' Another necklace of fawns teeth helped teething children. Native Americans often hung bunches of deer’s hair dyed red from their neck. Shell necklaces were made of wampum and various ornaments which were highly esteemed by Native American women. Wampanoag wore strands of tubular and discoidal purple and white shell beads. Narragansett wore strings of long and short whelk shell beads hung around the neck, while women wore shell beads both white and purple, long and short, strung alternately in a double rope. Shell necklaces worn by Seneca include effigy pendants separated by smaller tubular and other shaped shell beads, similar in arrangement to necklaces from southern New England. Symmetry in the arrangement of pendants was not essential and possibly not even desired.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 May 02, 2008 11:08 AM

After Europeans contact, beads, pendants and brooches of metal and glass were used for neck ornaments. Penobscot girls wore necklaces of glass beads fastened to ribbons. Wampanoag wore necklaces of European round copper beads, or strands of glass chevron beads. Narragansett had necklaces of blue and white glass beads with bells and thimbles.

Woven Bands

Woven beadwork is distinguished from strands in necklaces and bracelets. Woven beads are oriented in rows of beads placed side by side, not end to end; the result being a wide strip of beads with a geometric design. The bow loom, (similar to an archers bow), was the only type of formal loom used by Natives of New England. The bow loom was used exclusively with wampum or small glass beads, needle and thread, commonly exchanged during the time of European contact. Before use of the bow loom, Native Americans probably secured only one end of a belt for weaving. Using a hand-held finger weaving technique, beads were interwoven one at a time using a doubled thread, into the loose end of the forming belt. Many of the existing use both leather thongs and vegetal fibers for cords and strings. Some fibers used were dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum), sometimes called armyroot or black Indian hemp; swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and the hairy milkweed (A. pulchra), also called white Indian hemp; toad flax (Linaria linaria), and Indian mallow (Abutilon abutilon) also known as velvet leaf. By the late 1500’s, wampum was being woven into strips and belts containing white beads. The first purple wampum was used in such weaving by the early 1600’s. An early engraving depicts a Delaware family dressed in belts, headbands, bracelets, strings, and medallions of black and white wampum beads. Glass and metal beads were eventually woven into strips that were at one time made only of wampum. Wampanoag woven beadwork from this time uses blue and white glass pony beads. Wampanoag leader, King Philip, wore a wampum belt or bandolier (over the shoulder sash) that was nine inches wide and five feet long, with designs of flowers, birds and animals.

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 May 02, 2008 11:09 AM

Headbands in southern New England were narrow strips of woven wampum five to seven rows wide. These smaller bands have geometric designs in two or three colors of diagonal lines, triangles, nested-squares, crosses or a central figure. King Philip’s headband was secured at the back of his head with two "flags" which hung down his back, perhaps long thong ties or decorations appended to them. Some beaded headbands were edged with red-dyed moose hair obtained from Mohawk territory. Northeastern Native Americans also wore bead collars, which used shorter beads than those in used in making bandoliers. Penobscot and Wampanoag collars used a diagonal weaving technique called the bias-weave in designs of thin diagonal lines and diamond shapes.

Ear Ornaments Earrings of all kinds were worn by both Native American men and women. Some ear ornaments were carved from bone, shells and stone in the form of birds, animals and fish, some obtained in trade from Europeans such as little bells and blue crystals. North Carolina Algonquian men wore in his ears two long bi-conical beads of rolled sheet brass decorated with etched lines. Native Americans in Massachusetts wore copper ear pendants. The earliest metallic earrings in use by Seneca were observed to be those of copper wire coiled and flattened. Brass and copper wire spirals and hoops were worn in the ears of Seneca. Onondaga also wore copper earrings, bent into a double-curve. Narragansett men wore two striped tubular glass beads in each ear. Narragansett woman wore whelk ear pendants.

Anklets and Garters

Native Americans, including the Narragansett and Wampanoag wore anklets of strung beads and pendants. Women often wore tiny flushloop bells, brass rattles, small sheet metal cones and even perforated thimbles on their anklets. Deer toes and dew claws were used as prehistoric pendants. The pendants jingled or made a tinkling noise when they walked or danced, intended to draw attention. Garters were also worn, just below the knee by men and above the knee by women, to secure their leggings, garters were often decorated with embroidery, beads, animal hair and tinkling cones.

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