Photographs (left to right): Cedar Breaks National Park, Utah; Cedar Breaks National Park, Utah; Rush, New York

Wampum Belt Archive


Ransom Belt

New York State Museum (Clarke, 1931, Fig. 32)

Note in Tehanetorens reproduction the white diagonal bar is reversed compared to the original belt.

Photograph from Tehanetorens (1999)

Reproduction (Hamell: 10/02/2017) after NYSM Clarke, 1931)

Original Size:

Estimated to be about 3 feet in length. Clarke suggest about 1/2 of its length has been removed.


Beaded length: 31.5 inches. Width: 3.0 inches. 54 inches with fringe.


Rows: 198 by 6 wide: 1,188 beads


Warp: deer leather. Weft: artificial sinew.



Description (from Tehanetorens (1999):

This belt was used by the women of the nation to symbolize their authority for adopting a prisoner of war. The belt removed the cloud of the women's mourning and made a son of the captive. It could save a life if presented by a woman.

It is provided thus: Any member of the Five Nations, who through esteem or other feelings, wishes to adopt an individual, a family, or a number of families, may offer adoption to him or them, and if accepted, the matter shall be brought to the attention of the Chiefs for confirmation and the Chiefs must confirm the adoption.

It is provided thus: When the adoption of anyone shall have been confirmed by the Chiefs of the Nation, the Chiefs shall address the people of the Nation and say, "Now you of our nation be informed that those adopted have ceased forever to bear their birth nation's name and have buried it in the depth of the earth. Henceforth, let no one of our nation ever mention the original name or nation of their birth. To do so will hasten the end of our peace."

Personal Communications (G. R. Hamell, 2017)

The Seneca / Iroquois have an expression "to hang a name around the neck" of a captive and potential adoptee.  Often this was done upon capture to identify a captive to others of the war party that this captive was spoken for as a potential adoptee and wasn't to be badly mistreated on the road home or during the running of the gantlet...The string or wampum belt was given to the warrior by one of his female mothers or aunts with the responsibility of returning with a captive in good condition and potentially adoptable.  The female clan member had the choice of accepting and adopting the captive or putting the captive to death.  If a live prisoner could not be had, a head or a scalp was presented along with a wampum belt [string} to the grieving female clan member "in lieu of" a captive".  - instead being put to death

To hang a string or wampum belt around the next of someone was synonymous with to hang a name around a person.


Tehanetorens. 1999. Wampum Belts of the Iroquois. Book Publishing Company, Summertown, TN

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