"Penelope Kelsey's approach to wampum is a welcome and much-needed addition to scholarship on these instruments of Haudenosaunee diplomacy and broader questions of literacy and textuality in the Indigenous Americas. Those who, like me, are impressed by her first book will be delighted to find even more depth and erudition here."—Robert Warrior (Osage), author of The People and the Word: Reading Native Nonfiction
"Reading the Wampum engages a tradition of Indigenous visual code not simply as primary theme but as methodological apparatus for the analysis of Indigenous self-representation, across contemporary genre and media. This exciting, generative work propels us into the next phase of Indigenous literary and cultural studies: the full reactivation of Indigenous aesthetic and intellectual systems."—Chadwick Allen, author of Trans-Indigenous: Methodologies for Global Native Literary Studies
"Historians and anthropologists of Native America have long recognized—even if we have not always fully understood—the significance of wampum, especially in intercultural diplomacy. Reading the Wampum offers another approach, focusing on the works of contemporary Haudenosaunee authors, artists, and film makers to demonstrate the enduring relevance of wampum traditions and teachings."—Colin G. Calloway, John Kimball Jr. 1943 Professor of History and Professor of Native American Studies, Dartmouth College
"Reading the Wampum, and the work of Stevens, Gansworth, Niro and Deer, deserves the careful attention of literary, media, rhetoric, post-colonial and theory scholars around the world."—Transmotion
Since the fourteenth century, Eastern Woodlands tribes have used delicate purple and white shells called “wampum” to form intricately woven belts. These wampum belts depict significant moments in the lives of the people who make up the tribes, portraying everything from weddings to treaties. Wampum belts can be used as a form of currency, but they are primarily used as a means to record significant oral narratives for future generations. In Reading the Wampum, Kelsey provides the first academic consideration of the ways in which these sacred belts are reinterpreted into current Haudenosaunee tradition. While Kelsey explores the aesthetic appeal of the belts, she also provides insightful analysis of how readings of wampum belts can change our understanding of specific treaty rights and land exchanges. Kelsey shows how contemporary Iroquois intellectuals and artists adapt and reconsider these traditional belts in new and innovative ways. Reading the Wampum conveys the vitality and continuance of wampum traditions in Iroquois art, literature, and community, suggesting that wampum narratives pervade and reappear in new guises with each new generation.
Penelope Myrtle Kelsey is professor of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She is the author of Tribal Theory in Native American Literature: Dakota and Haudenosaunee Writing and Worldviews
Series: The Iroquois and Their Neighbors
6 x 9, 200 pages, 24 black and white illustrations