Native American Money

Published on October 31, 2011 by Amy

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Native American Indian Nickel & Penny Money
Native American Indian Nickel & Penny Money

The history of Native American money is a fascinating one. Many American Indians had quite sophisticated forms of trade and currency, whereas other tribes, such as the Inca in Peru, managed to develop a complex and advanced civilization without money. Native American money could involve something that has value in all cultures, such as the Aztec’s gold dust, or something that is valued in by a particular civilization, such as Mayan coffee beans.

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One interesting feature of Native American money is how something which seems to have relatively little value beyond the context of Native American life and culture can in the end become quite valuable. For instance, many Indians in North America used wampum for Native American money. Wampum consists of clam shells and was initially used by coastal tribes, until the use of wampum spread throughout the continent and was store by the Iroquois, which was one of the most prosperous and powerful tribes.

Although many settlers scoffed at Native American currency in the beginning, wampum was later used by many colonists as a form of currency. For instance, Peter Stuyvesant paid his workers in wampum when they constructed the New York citadel. The island of Manhattan was purchased for wampum. Wampum was used as the main form of Native American Money because it had value as a decorative item, and many Native Americans pierced holes at the top of their wampum and wore them in a belt rather than carrying wampum in a bag.

Wampum, the Native American money that became the most famous form of currency developed by American Indians eventually fell into disuse, initially among the colonists, because of inflation. Wampum was not difficult to “harvest” from the oceans and was worth less and less as time went by. Nowadays, genuine wampum is valuable as an artifact, but is not used for purchases.

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Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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