Definition of wampum in English:



  • [mass noun] Small cylindrical beads made by North American Indians from shells, strung together and worn as decoration or used as money:

    ‘strings of wampum’
    ‘a belt consisting of thousands of wampum’
    • ‘From the early 1620s, coastal Indians supplied wampum (sacred shell beads, polished and strung in strands, belts, or sashes) to Dutch traders who exchanged it with inland natives for beaver pelts.’
    • ‘Wampum was American Indian bead money, and the purple interior of the quahog shell was used for high-denomination wampum.’
    • ‘Federal negotiators, in turn, received wampum, pipes, and sometimes weapons.’
    • ‘A wampum of dark color signaled a serious purpose, sadness, or perhaps great political importance.’
    • ‘Three beads of wampum separating the two purple rows symbolize peace, friendship and respect.’


From Algonquian wampumpeag, from wap white + umpe string + the plural suffix -ag.