David Zeisberger: A Life among the Indians

By Earl P. Olmstead; David Zeisberger | Go to book overview
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APPENDIX C
Zeisberger's Comments on the Use of Wampum

DURING THIS meeting with Packanke and his council, wampum was given to confirm each of the various points made by the speaker. Being illiterate people with no knowledge of the written word, they needed physical evidence of the conversation. Wampum was used frequently in native diplomacy. Zeisberger has left one of the most succinct yet descriptive explanations of this practice. It was written shortly after a conference with Packanke on July 11, 1770, just before Jacob Gendaskund, a convert and former captain, conferred with Packanke. It also explains why the native chiefs were so opposed to the Christianizing of their people.

It is common usage among the Indians to support the chiefs and to enable them to negotiate with one another as well as with other nations. For this they need wampum, because in a speech they accompany and confirm each one of their sentences with a string of wampum. Without these, their words do not carry any weight and are not taken any notice of. Now, if for instance they have to send off an important message or to "hold" a treaty with the white people the Indians in all the towns are notified that they will have to contribute Wampum, and sometimes, or rather very seldom, they are asked for furs. There is no law or regulation as to how many they have to give, but

____________________
Tilda Marx, trans., "Lagundo Utenunk Diary", July 11, 1770, 116-17.

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