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The Wampum Bird
- according to the oral traditions of the Iroquois people

See Also: Tales of the Iroquois


Long ago, a war party of Mohawks captured a young man of the Wampanoag Nation. For some years, the Mohawks had been at war with these people. The captive boy was allowed to live, and was given permission to move freely about the Mohawk Village. He was closely watched so that he might not escape back to the Wampanoag Country.

One day, a young Mohawk hunter came running into the village. He was filled with excitement, for he had seen a strange bird in the forest. This bird was covered with wampum beads. Immediately, a hunting party was organized, and the hunters set out to try and capture this wonderful bird. The bird was as the hunter had described it - covered with white and purple feathers. As soon as the chief saw the bird, he offered his beautiful daughter to anyone who could get the bird, dead or alive. All the hunters tried to hit the bird with their arrows. They filled the air with their arrows. Occasionally, the bird was hit by an arrow, and off would fly a shower of wampum. New wampum appeared on the bird to take the place of the fallen wampum. Finally, after trying to hit the bird for some time, the best hunters began to get discouraged, and one by one, they gave up trying to get the bird.

The young Wampanoag captive, from the unfriendly nation, asked the chief if he could try his luck. The Mohawk warriors did not want this to happen, and even threatened the boy's life. The chief interfered, and told the boy that he could try. "If warriors have tried and failed, surely a mere boy cannot bring down the bird," said the chief.

The warriors finally agreed, and the boy lifted his bow and fitted an arrow. The swift arrow pierced the heart of the bird, and it fell to the earth. Its wampum plumage enriched the people. The boy married the Chief's daughter, and with the marriage came peace between the two nations. The boy said, "Wampum shall bring and bind peace and it shall take the place of blood."

(Wampum are small beads made from quahog clam shells. The beads are strung into belts with designs to commemorate special events or treaties.)

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