Tuesday, August 31, 2010
The Iroquois lived without type or writing. They had no art of writing to record events, or preserve the stipulations of treaties. Memory, therefore, was tasked to the utmost, and developed to an extraordinary degree. They had various devices for aiding it, such as bundles of sticks, and that system of signs, emblems, and rude pictures, which they shared with other tribes. Their famous wampum-belts were so many mnemonic signs, each standing for some act, speech, treaty, or clause of a treaty. These represented the public archives, and were divided among various custodians, each charged with the memory and interpretation of those assigned to him. The meaning of the belts was from time to time expounded in their councils. In conferences with them, nothing more astonished the French, Dutch, and English officials than the precision with which, before replying to their addresses, the Indian orators repeated them point by point.