Wampanoag, Algonquian-speaking North American Indians who formerly occupied parts of what are now the states of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including Martha’s Vineyard and adjacent islands.
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.
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.
The Wampanoag Tribe made domed shelters using tree bark as a covering. These shelters were called wigwams. By bending these young trees, and tying them together with roots, they were able to make a domed structure.
From 1615 to 1619, the Wampanoag suffered an epidemic, long suspected to be smallpox. Modern research, however, has suggested that it may have been leptospirosis, a bacterial infection which can develop into Weil’s syndrome. It caused a high fatality rate and decimated the Wampanoag population.
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.
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?
The Wampanoag, led by Chief Massasoit, are remembered for the help they gave to the first colonists and for his son Metacom (King Philip ).
The Wampanoag religion was called Spiritualism. This means that the Wampanoag tribe believed in Mother Earth as their god.
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.
Today, about 3,000 Wampanoag Indians still live in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. There is a reservation for the Wampanoag Indians on Martha’s Vineyard that was set up by the United States government.
Today, there are over five million Native Americans in the United States, 78 % of whom live outside reservations: California, Arizona and Oklahoma have the largest populations of Native Americans in the United States.
A Wampanoag home was called a wetu. Families erected these dwellings at their coastal planting grounds and lived in them throughout the growing season.
Aquinnah Wampanoag own 485 acres of land and are governed by an elected tribal council; the council also has a traditional chief and a medicine man as members. They maintain traditional governing roles by electing a sachem, a medicine man, clan matriarchs, and an elder council.
Arts and crafts were important in Wampanoag cultural life. Their basket weaving, wood carving, and beadwork became famous. Crafting wampum (white and purple shell beads) were Wampanoag artists’ specialty. Wampum beads were traded as a form currency and an art material.