[wom-puh m, wawm-]


Also called peag, seawan, sewan. cylindrical beads made from shells, pierced and strung, used by North American Indians as a medium of exchange, for ornaments, and for ceremonial and sometimes spiritual purposes, especially such beads when white but also including the more valuable black or dark-purple varieties.
Informal. money.

Origin of wampum

First recorded in 1630–40; short for wampumpeag
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for wampum

Contemporary Examples of wampum

Historical Examples of wampum

  • This was beautifully decorated with belts of wampum from the waist upward.

    King Philip

    John S. C. (John Stevens Cabot) Abbott

  • The young man saw that it was of the same stuff as the wampum which he had in his bosom.

    The Indian Fairy Book

    Cornelius Mathews

  • Wampum was used for ornament and in treaty-making, but not as currency.

  • They give my Injun, pipe, wampum, and powder horn with carving on it for you.'

    Ben Comee

    M. J. (Michael Joseph) Canavan

  • If you love your women and children, receive the belt of wampum I present you.

    Daniel Boone

    John S. C. Abbott

British Dictionary definitions for wampum



(formerly) money used by North American Indians, made of cylindrical shells strung or woven together, esp white shells rather than the more valuable black or purple ones
US and Canadian informal money or wealth
Also called: peag, peage

Word Origin for wampum

C17: short for wampumpeag, from Narraganset wampompeag, from wampan light + api string + -ag plural suffix
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for wampum

1630s, shortened from wampumpeag (1620s), from Algonquian (probably Narragansett) wanpanpiak "string of white (shell beads)," from wab "white" + ompe "string" + plural suffix -ag.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

wampum in Culture



Beads made from polished shells that some Native Americans once used as money and jewelry.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.