They lived in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island in the beginning of the 17th century, at the time of first contact with the English colonists, a territory that included the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Their population numbered in the thousands; 3,000 Wampanoag lived on Martha’s Vineyard alone.
The Wampanoag are one of many Nations of people all over North America who were here long before any Europeans arrived, and have survived until today. Many people use the word “Indian” to describe us, but we prefer to be called Native People. Today, about 4,000-5,000 Wampanoag live in New England.
Today there are about four to five thousand Wampanoag. Most live in Massachusetts where there are two federally acknowledged tribes, the Aquinnah Wampanoag and the Mashpee Wampanoag, as well as several smaller bands in areas like Herring Pond, Assonet, and Manomet.
The Wampanoags didn’t live in tepees. They lived in villages of small round houses called wetus, or wigwams. Here are some pictures of a Wampanoag wetu and other wigwams.
A Wampanoag home was called a wetu. Families erected these dwellings at their coastal planting grounds and lived in them throughout the growing season.
All of the pilgrims came on the Mayflower Samoset (ca. 1590–1653) was the first Native American to speak with the Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony. On March 16, 1621, the people were very surprised when Samoset walked straight into Plymouth Colony where the people were living.
Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. To them, Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their cultures.
Pilgrims settle at what is now known as Plymouth, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod near the abandoned village of Pahtuksut. Three years earlier, the Wampanoag had left after a smallpox outbreak ravaged the tribe.
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?
When the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrim landing was observed in 1970, state officials disinvited a leader of the Wampanoag Nation — the Native American tribe that helped the haggard newcomers survive their first bitter winter — after learning his speech would bemoan the disease, racism and oppression that followed
The Wampanoag suggested a mutually beneficial relationship, in which the Pilgrims would exchange European weaponry for Wampanoag for food. The feast of indigenous foods that took place in October 1621, after the harvest, was one of thanks, but it more notably symbolized the rare, peaceful coexistence of the two groups.
Mayflower docks at Plymouth Harbor Accused of treason, they were forced to leave the country and settle in the more tolerant Netherlands. After 12 years of struggling to adapt and make a decent living, the group sought financial backing from some London merchants to set up a colony in America.
The food that the Wampanoag tribe ate included crops they raised consisting of the “three sisters” crops of corn, beans and squash together with Jerusalem artichoke, pumpkin, and zucchini. Meat included deer (venison), black bear, rabbit, grouse, squirrel, duck, geese, muskrat, beaver, otter, raccoon and turkey.
Chores. Wampanoag boys helped the men hunt, trap, and fish, make bows, arrows and knives, and cut “mishoo n” (canoes) from tall chestnut or pine trees. Wampanoag girls helped their mothers and other women farm, gather and prepare food, make clothing with deerskin, weave mats to construct wetu, and make clay pots.
Where did the Wampanoag live in the winter? The Wampanoag people moved away from the stormy ocean in the winter. They set up their winter homes farther inland in areas that were protected by forests. There they hunted when they could and ate the crops they grew in the summer.