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Nipmuc Indian Fact Sheet (Nipmuck)

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Nipmucs for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to look through our main Nipmuc page for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Nipmuc pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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  Nipmuc Tribe

How do you pronounce "Nipmuc?" What does it mean?
Nipmuc is pronounced "NIP-muck." It comes from a Nipmuc place name, which meant "by the freshwater lake."

Why is it sometimes spelled "Nipmuc" and other times "Nipmuck"?
Because Nipmuc wasn't originally a written language, so it didn't have standardized spelling. Different people wrote it down different ways over the years. Nipmuc people today accept both spellings.

Were the Nipmuc Indians part of the Mohegan tribe?
Not originally. They spoke similar languages and shared similar cultures, but the Nipmucs, Mohegans, Pequots, Narragansetts, and other tribes of New England all used to be distinct tribes, each with its own leadership. But after Europeans arrived, many Native American people of the east coast died from disease and warfare. The survivors merged together, and many of their original tribal distinctions were lost. Today, there are people of Nipmic heritage living among other tribes such as the Narragansett and Mohegan tribes -- and vice versa.

Where did the Nipmuc Indians live?
The Nipmucs were original people of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Here is a map showing the location of Nipmuc and other tribal territory in southern New England.

How is the Nipmuc Indian nation organized today?
The Nipmuc tribe is not federally recognized by the United States. That means the Nipmucs don't have reservations or their own governments. But there are still communities of Nipmuc people living in Southern New England. Here is a link to a Nipmuc tribal community in the state of Massachusetts. Other Nipmuc people live as part of the Narragansett tribe.

What language do the Nipmucs speak?
Nipmuc Indians all speak English today. In the past, the Nipmucs spoke a dialect of the Narragansett language. This language died out more than 100 years ago, but some young people are working to revive it. You can read a Narragansett picture dictionary here.

What was Nipmuc culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is the homepage of the Narragansett Indian Tribe. On their site you can learn about the heritage and traditions of the Narragansett and Nipmuc people.

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How do Nipmuc Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have cornshuck dolls, toys such as kid-size bows and arrows, and stickball games similar to lacrosse and field hockey. Nipmuc boys enjoyed wrestling competitions, and both boys and girls took part in footraces. Nipmuc mothers, like many Native Americans, traditionally carried their babies in papoose carriers on their backs.

What were men and women's roles in the Nipmuc tribe?
Nipmuc men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Nipmuc women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. In the past, Nipmuc chiefs were always men, but today a Nipmuc Indian woman could be chief too.

What were Nipmuc homes like in the past?
The Nipmucs didn't live in tepees. They lived in small round houses called wigwams. Here are some pictures of wigwam houses like the ones Nipmuc Indians used. Today, Native Americans only build a wigwam for fun or to connect with their heritage, not for shelter. Most Nipmucs live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Nipmuc clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Nipmuc women wore knee-length skirts and the men wore breechcloth and leggings. Shirts were not necessary in the Nipmuc culture, but Nipmuc people did wear deerskin mantles in cool weather. Nipmuc men and women both wore earrings and mocassins on their feet. Here is a picture of regional Algonquian clothing and some photographs and links about American Indian costume in general.

The Nipmucs didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Usually they wore beaded Native American headbands with a feather or two in the back. Sometimes a Nipmuc chief wore a headdress of feathers pointing straight up from a headband, like this. Nipmuc men, especially warriors, often wore a Mohawk hairstyle or shaved their heads completely except for a scalplock (one long lock of hair on top of their heads.) Nipmuc women usually had long hair. Here is a website with pictures of American Indians' hair.

Today, some Nipmuc people still have a traditional headband or moccasins, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Nipmuc transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes, the Nipmucs made dugout canoes by hollowing out large trees. They used them for transportation and for ocean fishing trips. Here is a website about wooden canoe styles. Over land, the Nipmucs used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) Nipmuc Indians used sleds and snowshoes to help them travel in the winter. (They learned to make those tools from northern neighbors like the Cree tribe.) Today, of course, Nipmuc people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Nipmuc food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Nipmucs were farming people. Nipmuc women harvested corn, squash and beans and also gathered nuts and fruit to eat. Nipmuc men did most of the hunting. They shot deer, turkeys, and small game, and went fishing on the coast. Nipmuc Indian recipes included soup, cornbread, and stews. Here is a website with more information about Indian corn and other crops.

What kinds of weapons did the Nipmucs use?
Nipmuc hunters and warriors used bows and arrows, spears, and tomahawks. Fishermen used pronged spears, nets, and bone hooks. Here is a website with pictures and information about the tomahawk axe and other traditional weapons..

What are Nipmuc art and crafts like?
The Nipmuc tribe was known for their Native American beading and decorative baskets. Like other eastern American Indians, Nipmucs also crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. The designs and pictures on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.

What is Nipmuc music like?
The most important Nipmuc instrument is the drum. Shinnecock drums were usually large and several men would play them together during rituals and festivals. Here is a video of drummers performing a song at the Nipmuc pow wow.

What other Native Americans did the Nipmuc nation interact with?
The Nipmucs liked to trade with other Algonquian tribes of southern New England, such as the Narragansett, Wampanoag, and Mohegans. Although they were closely related to each other, these tribes were not always friends. The Pequots were one tribe that often fought with the Nipmuc tribe.

What kinds of stories do the Nipmucs tell?
There are many traditional Nipmuc legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Nipmuc Indian culture. Here's one Nipmuc legend about how the world was made.

What about Nipmuc religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Nipmuc life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Nipmuc people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about New England Algonquian traditions and symbols or this site about Indian religions and customs in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
I don't know of any good books specifically about the Nipmuc tribe, but the Nipmuc culture was always very similar to the Narragansett culture and is even more so today, so maybe you will enjoy reading one of these books about the Narragansetts. If you like scary stories, you can try Whisper in the Dark, which is a suspense novel by an American Indian author about a Narragansett girl confronting a traditional monster. Younger kids may like reading Nickommoh, a book about traditional Narragansett Thanksgiving festivities. If you want to know more about Nipmuc and Narragansett culture and history, The Narragansett is a good choice for kids. You can also browse through our recommendations of books by famous Native American authors. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book for sale at one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Nipmuc Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Nipmucs

Narragansett Tribes
Historical overview of the Nipmuc and other Narragansett-speaking tribes.

Nipmuc Language Resources
Nipmuc Indian language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Nipmuc Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Nipmuck tribe past and present.

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