Smithsonian Highlights Wampum Bead Belt and More
Paula Peters and Linda Coombs gently untangle the community wampum belt they helped create, revealing 3,570 wampum beads, which link together to bring powerful totems like the whale, turtle, white pine and dancers to life traditional.
The belt, Coombs said, is an amalgamation of art and cultural significance that “helps tell the story of the Wampanoag people.”
“The dancers collect the belt. You can see at each end of the belt they are dancing towards the center, towards the tree, representing us going back to our ancestors,” said Coombs, a member of the Wampanoag Tribe from Gay Head (Aquinnah). “That is to say the life of our ancestors, the language they had and the knowledge they had. Meaning full circle.
The belt isn’t quite finished, but Coombs and Peters can now be found telling the story of its creation, its connection to King Philip, also known as Metacom, and its 2020 UK tour in episode three of “Wampanoag Celebration,” a virtual series launched by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.
The nine-part program will be available on request on the museum’s website until Monday, February 28.
Shawn Termin, acting manager of public programs at the National Museum of the American Indian, said “Wampanoag Celebration” launched on the museum’s website on February 1. The museum is physically located in Washington, DC and New York.
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“The series has come together in a way that shows the strength of the Wampanoag people as they carry on their traditions so strongly today,” she said. “With this exhibit, we wanted Indigenous voices to speak for themselves about their own history and culture.”
What does the “Wampanoag Celebration” include?
The program also includes President Cheryl Andrews-Maltese of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) as she talks about Wampanoag history; Marlene Lopez demonstrating finger weaving and Darius Coombs discussing Muhsh8n boat building.
Also featured are Tobias Vanderhoop, who tackles traditional storytelling; Jonathan Perry, a craftsman who focuses on traditional copperwork; Berta Welch, specializing in the manufacture of contemporary jewelry; and Sherry Pocknett, who gives a cooking demonstration at her Rhode Island-based restaurant Sly Fox Den Too, using native sea food, including quahogs, baby necks and lobster.
The series also includes a screening of the film “King Philip’s Belt – A Story of Wampum”, which was created and produced by Peters’ multimedia company, Smoke Sygnals.
Since 2018, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Peters and Coombs have frequently worked together, along with about 100 other Wampanoag Tribe members, to help weave delicate pieces of dark purple and white wampum onto the beaded belt. The wampum, which comes from the smooth, silky underside of a quahog shell, was carefully crafted by native craftsmen across New England.
From episode to episode, “Wampanoag Celebration” gives natives “an opportunity to show the world that the Wampanoag Nation and its communities are vibrant and integral to modern society,” said Jonathan Perry.
More information:Wampanoag weave their story through the Wampum Belt Project
“I think there are lessons throughout this series,” he said. “The love and heart that each person shares shows their ancestral spirit and connection – which surrounds their art, their teachings, and the belief systems we have as contemporary Indigenous artists.”
Coombs said the series can also show that indigenous tribal nations “did not disappear”.
“We’re still here, and we’re actually still a functioning indigenous tribal nation in this area. We have a council-type tribal government, but we also still have a traditional system with a chief, a healer and clan mothers,” she said. “We didn’t leave.”
Nor is the importance of the Eastern Woodland’s tribal visibility lost on Perry.
“It’s a good step for the museum in recognizing and representing an Indigenous nation in the Northeast — Indigenous entities that are often glaringly lacking,” Perry said. “Ideally there will be increased representation of their exhibits, online presence and activities going forward.”
How the project united Wampanoag groups
For Peters, it’s the show’s ability to bring Wampanoag’s many bands together that made her proud to be part of the production. Like the Wampum Belt, which also featured brain tanning work on deer hides by Andre Strong Bear Heart Gaines of the Nipmuc Nation, the series included contributions from all Wampanoag groups, including Mashpee, Herring Pond, Assonet, Gay Head (Aquinnah) and Namasket Bands of Wampanoag.
“I loved that they wanted to teach the story of the wampum belt because that story was so much about bringing our community together and that effort to include everyone stretched throughout every episode,” said Peters. “Having the Wampanoag themselves fed in this way by NMAI is really nice. It was an uplifting experience.
Termin said the series was originally conceived before the COVID-19 pandemic, as an on-site exhibit, created in response to “Mayflower 400”, a commemoration of the Mayflower’s sailing from England to America. produced in the UK.
“Mayflower 400,” which launched in 2020, explored the experiences of those affected by the Mayflower’s arrival and addressed truths about the colonization of Eastern Woodland Tribal Nations, Termin said.
But the museum, she said, wanted to go beyond what “Mayflower 400” offered to showcase the people of Wampanoag “telling their own stories in their own way.” The in-person event was canceled when the pandemic hit.
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Once the decision was made to go ahead with a virtual event, Termin began working with Indigenous historians. Along with the museum’s media staff, she traveled to each subject’s home or studio to record stories and artistic demonstrations.
As the video series came together, Perry said it was hard to “overlook the irony” of how an event, which was originally intended to celebrate the survival of Indigenous people while throughout the 17th century pandemics, including the smallpox and measles epidemics, was somehow stalled because of a pandemic.
“Maybe the lesson is for people to stop and think about the impact and outcome of the diseases brought here and the diseases that are raging across the country,” Perry said. “Because it wasn’t until disease swept the landscape here (in the 1600s) that there was talk of colonizing this area.”
Before those 17th century pandemics, Perry said most foreigners were “quite scared” to come to America from Europe because of the dense native populations.
“Suddenly, this colonization effort took over. Prior to this, the beaches and coves were teeming with Aboriginal people fishing and digging for shells. They (the settlers) speak of being surrounded by canoes, several kilometers offshore. There are records of huge ocean-going canoes sailing alongside them which were larger than their own ships with greater complements of men,” Perry said.
“Fast forward, and here we are in 2020, 2021 and 2022, and we are still grappling with disease – a pandemic that has changed the way we engage, the way we look at our communities, the way we do business and the way we to travel,” he said.
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Termin said there was a lot to learn from the series.
“Our country has always been inhabited by indigenous peoples who have remained attached to their cultures. They are always there and have a lot to say,” she said. “Their knowledge and work helps bring the real stories out there – helps people understand how some stories weren’t always told from the right perspective, but it’s a way to change that.”
Says Termin: “The people of Wampanoag are so much more than a Thanksgiving story.”
Find the series on https://nmai.brand.live/c/wampanoag-celebration.