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Wampanoag Indian Fact Sheet (Massachusett)

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

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Wampanoag Tribe

What is the correct pronunciation of "Wampanoag?" What does it mean?
Originally Wampanoag was pronounced similar to WAWM-pah-NAW-ahg. But today, most Wampanoag people pronounce the name either wamp-a-NO-ag or WAMP-ah-nog ("wamp" rhymes with "stomp.") The meaning of the name Wampanoag is "Easterners." Another name used by some of the Wampanoag was Massachuset, which means "people by the range of hills." The state of Massachusetts is named after the Wampanoag tribe.

Where do the Wampanoag Indians live?
The Wampanoag Indians were original natives of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It was Wampanoag people who befriended the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock and brought them corn and turkey for the famous first Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the relationship went downhill from there, and disease and British attacks killed most of the Wampanoag people. The surviving Wampanoags are still living in New England today. Here is a map showing the location of Wampanoag and other tribal territory in the New England area.

How is the Wampanoag Nation organized?
The Wampanoag tribe has its own reservation on Martha's Vineyard. Reservations are lands that belong to Indian tribes and are under their control. The Wampanoag tribe has its own government, laws, police, and other services, just like a small country. But the Wampanoag are also US citizens and must obey American law. There are about 300 members of the Wampanoag tribe, but many other people of Wampanoag descent live elsewhere in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Were the Natick, Pokanoket, Nantucket, Chappaquiddick, Patuxet, and Massachusett tribes part of the Wampanoag Nation?
Sort of. All these tribes spoke the same language and had the same general culture, but their villages were autonomous. That means each band made its own political decisions. They didn't belong to a larger Wampanoag government like the Iroquois tribes did. But the Pokanokets, Patuxets, Chappaquiddic, Naticks, Nantuckets, and Massachusets are collectively called Wampanoag today because of their shared culture and history.

What language do the Wampanoags speak?
Wampanoag Indians all speak English today. In the past, they spoke their native Wampanoag (Massachusett) language. The Wampanoag language was banned in New England schools, which is the reason why it became extinct. But today some Wampanoag people are trying to revive the language of their ancestors again. If you'd like to learn to say a Wampanoag word, Wuneekeesuq (pronounced similar to wuh-nee-kee-suck) is a friendly greeting that means "Good day!" You can also see a Wampanoag picture dictionary here.

What was the Wampanoag culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here are the websites of the two main Wampanoag tribes today, the Gay Head Wampanoag Tribe and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. On their sites you can learn about the Wampanoag people past and present.


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How do Wampanoag 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 Wampanoag children did have cornhusk dolls and toys such as miniature bows and arrows and hand-held ball games. A Wampanoag mother traditionally carried her baby in a papoose board on her backs--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were men and women's roles in the Wampanoag tribe?
Wampanoag men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Wampanoag 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, Wampanoag chiefs were always men, but today a Wampanoag woman can participate in government too.

What were Wampanoag homes like in the past?
The Wampanoags didn't live in tepees. They lived in villages of small round houses called wetus, or wigwams. Here is a website with some wetu pictures. Each Wampanoag village was built around a central square used for councils and ceremonies. Some villages were palisaded (surrounded with log walls for protection.) Today, Native Americans only build a wigwam for fun or to connect with their heritage, not for shelter. Most Wampanoags live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Wampanoag clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Wampanoag women wore knee-length skirts. Wampanoag men wore breechcloths with leggings. Neither women nor men had to wear shirts in the Wampanoag culture, but they would dress in deerskin mantles during cool weather. The Wampanoags also wore moccasins on their feet. Here is a picture of Wampanoag clothing and some photographs and links about American Indian clothes in general.

The Wampanoags didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Usually they wore a beaded head band with a feather or two in it. A Wampanoag chief might wear a headdress made of feathers pointing straight up from a headband. Wampanoag women had long hair, but a man would often wore his hair in the Mohawk hair style or shave his head completely except for a scalplock (one long lock of hair on top of his head.) Wampanoag warriors also painted their faces, and sometimes decorated their bodies with traditional Native American tattoos.

Today, some Wampanoag 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 Wampanoag transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes, the Wampanoag made dugout canoes by hollowing out huge trees. They used them for transportation and ocean fishing trips. Here is a website with pictures of different kinds of American Indian canoes. Over land, the Wampanoag tribe used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) Today, of course, Wampanoag people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Wampanoag food like in the days before supermarkets?
Everyone in a Wampanoag family cooperated to gather food for the tribe. Women harvested corn, squash and beans. Men hunted for deer, turkeys, and small game and went fishing in their canoes. Wampanoag children collected other food like berries, nuts and herbs. Some traditional Wampanoag recipes included soup, cornbread, and stews. Here is a website with more information about Native agriculture.

What were Wampanoag weapons and tools like?
Wampanoag hunters and warriors used bows and arrows and heavy wooden clubs. Fishermen used nets and bone hooks. Here is a website of pictures and information about Indian weapons and tools.

What are Wampanoag art and crafts like?
The Wampanoag tribe was known for their beadwork, wood carvings, and baskets. Here are some photos of a Wampanoag basket being woven. Wampanoag artists were especially famous for crafting 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 pictures and symbols on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.

What is Wampanoag music like?
The most important Wampanoag instrument is the drum. Wampanoag drums were usually large and several men would play them together while singing. Here is a video of men dancing to a drum song at the Wampanoag pow wow.

What other Native Americans did the Wampanoag tribe interact with?
The Wampanoag traded with all the other New England Indians, especially the Mohegan, Wyandot. and Delaware Indians. The wampum beads made by the Wampanoag tribe were highly valued by other tribes. Sometimes the Wampanoag fought with the Mohawks and the or the Narragansetts.

How did the Wampanoag tribe get along with English settlers?
At first, their relationship was pretty friendly. The Wampanoag leader, Chief Massasoit, signed one of the first peace treaties in North America with the English in 1621, A Wampanoag liaison named Squanto came to live with the Pilgrims at Plymouth, where he taught them about the local environment and agriculture. The first Thanksgiving festival was celebrated between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags. Later, however, tensions grew over the alcohol trade and English expansion onto Wampanoag lands. A conflict called King Philip's War broke out, and the Wampanoag tribe was defeated.

I read that Thanksgiving was actually celebrating the massacre of a Native American town. Is that true?
The English settlers had thanksgiving feasts frequently and for many different reasons. Some of them were positive (like the feast with the Wampanoag celebrating a good harvest) and some of them were very negative (like the feast celebrating the Pequot massacre.) The festival which is usually called the "first Thanksgiving" took place in 1621 and was not related to the massacre, which happened 16 years later. However, what you read is true, the 17th-century colonists did sometimes have thanksgiving feasts to celebrate massacres.

What kinds of stories do the Wampanoags tell?
There are lots of traditional Wampanoag legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to Wampanoag Indian culture. Here's one legend about a Wampanoag giant. Here's a website where you can read more about Wampanoag stories.

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

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy Children of the Morning Light, which is a wonderful collection of traditional legends retold by an Wampanoag elder. If you want to know more about Wampanoag culture and history, two interesting sources for kids are Clambake, A Wampanoag Tradition and Wampanoag Native Americans. Older readers may prefer King Philip's War, the history of the conflict with English settlers that nearly wiped out the Wampanoag people. You can also browse through our recommendations of Native American books in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through 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 Wampanoag Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Wampanoag Tribe

Wampanoag Indian Tribe
An overview of the Wampanoag people, their language and history.

Wampanoag Language Resources
Massachusett Indian language samples, articles, and lesson plans.

Wampanoag Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Wampanoag and other Massachusett Native Americans, past and present.

Wampanoag Indian Words
Wampanoag Indian vocabulary lists.



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