beads made of shells, used by the North American indians as money, and also wrought into belts, etc, as an ornament. Round his waist his belt of wampum. (Longfellow) Girded with his wampum braid. (Whittier)
These beads were of two kinds, one white, and the other black or dark purple. The term wampum is properly applied only to the white; the dark purple ones are called suckanhock. See Seawan. It [wampum] consisted of cylindrical pieces of the shells of testaceous fishes, a quarter of an inch long, and in diameter less than a pipestem, drilled . . . So as to be strung upon a thread. The beads of a white colour, rated at half the value of the black or violet, passed each as the equivalent of a farthing in transactions between the natives and the planters.
Origin: North American Indian wampum, wompam, from the Mass. Wompi, Del. Wape, white.