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Wampum Belts of the Iroquois

by Tehanetorens

I am excited about this book for several reasons:

1.) I know the author and the illustrator.
2.) It is a great improvement over its predecessor.
3.) It is the best, certainly most accessible, book on this important subject.

Wampum is the most important bead in American history. It was sacred to Native Americans, the Iroquois and their allies, and used in all public events. Europeans turned it into money.

Wampum was commonly made into belts, not for wearing but for keeping records. No other publication shows the designs of over 40 of these belts and about a dozen strings, discussing their meaning. In my studies of wampum, I have often referred to the first edition (Wampum Belts, no date). This edition is even better.

A few words of explanation. The author, Tehanetorens a.k.a. Ray Fadden, is not attempting a scholarly tome here. Rather, he is telling the story from the standpoint of the Iroquois, who are, after all, the makers of the belts (though not the beads).

It is told in a lively, easily accessible style. In fact, the Library of Congress information lists it as "Juvenile literature." While young people can certainly understand it, I think this is a disservice. Historically accurate, it corrects many misperceptions about these beads.

Secondly, with few exceptions, the illustrations are not the original wampum belts. They are reconstructions made at the Indian Way School at the Akwesasne Mohawk Nation (in New York) through funding provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council of the Arts and the America the Beautiful Fund of New York.

The belts are displayed by people involved
in the project (using glass beads of the right size) or their children.

The Wing or Dust Fan Belt, the widest belt known. 

This edition is a considerable improvement over the first. It has some additional information, especially about wampum strings. It is better bound and more attractive.

It is enlarged from 71 to 121 pages and is more heavily illustrated. Kahionhes, a.k.a. John Fadden, Ray's son, did the illustrations, including the painting for the front cover.

Both men are well-known locally, John for his art and Ray as curator of the Six Nations Indian Museum in Onchiota, a short drive from Lake Placid in upstate New York. I have spent several fascinating and educational sessions at the museum and have been amused by Ray's tales of all the wild animals (from bears on down) that he regularly feeds.


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