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Misnames and Myths

The Names of Beads

People like to give names to things, and it is especially useful when trying to communicate with someone else about the object. No argument there. The quarrel is with names that are misleading and/or inappropriate. Among those in the American (and African) trade are:

Russian Bead The Russians hardly had anything to do with these beads. They did not make them. Catherine the Great did not order them to be produced. They are products of Bohemia, in the Czech Republic.

Nor did the Russians initially bring them to Alaska; they bought them from the Americans and English very late in their occupation. They do not show up in Alaska until right at the end of Russian occupation. They are scarce and even later in Siberia. Most bought in Alaskan shops are strung on Raphia palm leaf (that is, they were recently imported from Africa). Call them "cut blues." Here are some pictures.

Lewis and Clark Beads Neither Lewis nor Clark ever saw these beads (second from the top). They were made long after both men were both dead. We know what beads they had with them. They did not have these.

French Ambassador Bead The story is that an (unidentified) group of Native Americans gave these beads to an (unnamed) ambassador from France to some (unspecified) country. Or that an (unnamed) ambassador from France to some (unspecified) country gave them to some (unidentified) Native Americans. No evidence for this story has ever come to light.

Hubble Bead Said to have been commissioned by the Hubble Trading post from Bohemia to imitate turquoise. There is no record of such a commission in the Hubble archives and the bead is still in production. There is no need to pay a lot of money for it. You're buying the story, not the bead.

The Uses of Beads

Wampum. Even Mirriam-Webster dictionaries say it was "Indian money." It never was.
It was white man's money. See

Dreamcatchers. Most stories are pure fiction. They have them in use from the American Southwest through the Northern Plains to the Northeast. They catch bad dreams and don't let them reach you. They allow bad dreams to escape. They catch good dreams and let them reach you. They catch good dreams so you can hold on to them. This is nonsense. The original can be seen here.


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