Kahswenhtha - Two Row Wampum


Due to their eastern location, the Kanien'kehaka were the first nation of the Iroquois Confederacy to make contact with the new comers to North America. The first Europeans to meet the Kanien'kehaka were the French, who arrived in 1534 with Jacques Cartier. Cartier and his men did not pave a smooth road for the other Europeans who followed. They exposed the Kanien'kehaka to treachery and despair after the Kanien'kehaka had taken them in, relieving them of hunger and curing them of scurvy. When Cartier left, he kidnapped several people and took them back to Europe.

When Samual de Champlain arrived in the St. Lawrence River Valley in 1608, the Kanien'kehaka were at war with the Algonquin. Champlain allied himself with the Algonquins and lost trust with the Kanien'kehaka. For a short time French interference, and their supply of firearms to the Algonquin, allowed the Algonquin to overpower the Kanien'kehaka. Cartier and Champlain showed the Kanien'kehaka that the newcomers were different than any people who the Kanien'kehaka had dealt with for centuries.

The first Europeans who established continuous contact with the Kanien'kehaka were the Dutch. Henry Hudson, an Englishmen employed with the Dutch East Indian Company, sailed up the Hudson River in 1608 and Fort Orange (Albany) was established in 1624. The Mahicans were at war with the Kanien'kehaka and the Dutch allied themselves with the Mahicans. Six Dutch soldiers and their commander, Krieckebeck, joined a battle which took place nine miles up river from Albany. Although the Dutch had firearms, the Kanien'kehaka were victorious and Kriekebeck and three of his men were killed. Shortly after, the Mahicans were defeated and the few remaining permanently left the territory.

The Kanien'kehaka were puzzled as to why the Dutch had allied them selves with the Mahican. The Kanien'kehaka had never done anything to disrupt the peace between themselves and the Dutch. The newcomers did not understand the ways of the people on Turtle Island (North America). As a result of their experiences, the Kanien'kehaka realized that a special agreement was needed in order to restore the peace with the Dutch. The Kahswentha (Two Row Wampum) concept was introduced, recognizing an agreement of peace and respect for each other's way of life.

The understanding was recorded with a belt of wampum. Wampum are beads that are made from the shells of the Quahaug clam. The belt was made with a background of white wampum beads with two purple rows that run parralel from one end of the belt to the other. The words that go with the explanation of the Two Row Wampum speak of the relationship that shouls exist between the parties involved in the agreement.

The background of the white beads represents a river and the two parralel rows of purple beads represents two vessels travelling the river. It is recognized that the river is large enough for the two vessels to travel down together. In one vessel shall be found the Kanien'kehaka and in the other, the Dutch. Each vessel shall carry the laws, traditions, customs, languages and spiritual beliefs of each nation; in short, all that which makes a people who they are.

It is the responsibility of the people in each vessel to steer a straight course. Neither side shall attempt to bring or force their laws, traditions, customs, language or spirituality on the people in the other vessel. Such is the agreement of mutual respect that is recorded in the Two Row Wampum.

The Kanien'kehaka have used the principles embodied in the Two Row Wampum as the initial guide or set of rules for relations between themselves and any other nation. They have been careful to abide by the concept that was developed so long ago and each succeeding generations is taught the importance of maintaining the principles of the Two Row Wampum for the generations to follow.

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