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Beads In Newspaper Columns

Apart from Anthony Lewis' reply to Newt Gingrich on the Counterculture page, this is not a fertile area. There was, however, an outstanding column in "Observer," the wry musings of Russell Baker in TheNew York Times.

In "Sorry, Wampum Full Up" Baker reports on the plans at historic old Wampum Island to build four-level parking lots over each cemetery. To retain some of the rustic charm of the place, gray shingles and cobblestone access roads will be required.

Baker said it is widely known that at the start of the tourist season the Wampumburg merchants crowd at the ferry slip to greet the first cars that arrive. Incoming tourists throw wampum at the merchants.

However, ace historian Baker has revealed the reason for this behavior. He reports: The roots of this historic ceremony go back to the arrival of the first Europeans, who, according to island lore, threw two pounds of glass beads at the welcoming delegation of Indians, then slapped them in chains on charges of impertinence after their chief said, 'White man too cheap to throw money!'

Baker is funny. But, what is the fuss over wampum? Even the best dictionaries tell you it's "Indian money." But, the opposite is true. These small tubular beads made from shell were sacred to many northeastern Native Americans before the coming of Europeans. It was the colonists who used it for money. Wampum was legal tender in all thirteen original colonies. Read the full story here and see pictures of it here.


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