Definition of wampum in English:



mass nounhistorical
  • Small cylindrical beads made by some North American Indian peoples from shells, strung together and worn as decoration or used as money.

    ‘strings of wampum’
    ‘a belt consisting of thousands of wampum’
    • ‘Wampum was American Indian bead money, and the purple interior of the quahog shell was used for high-denomination wampum.’
    • ‘Three beads of wampum separating the two purple rows symbolize peace, friendship and respect.’
    • ‘A wampum of dark color signaled a serious purpose, sadness, or perhaps great political importance.’
    • ‘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.’
    • ‘Federal negotiators, in turn, received wampum, pipes, and sometimes weapons.’


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