My name is Lise Puyo. I come from Orléans, a town south of Paris known for having been freed by Joan of Arc in 1429. Little did I know, coming to the University of Pennsylvania as an exchange student would mean discovering a whole new realm of cultural patrimony.
Wampum studies drew me in when I realized wampum belts were across worlds, across functions, and across genres. It is at the same time material, because of the beads, sinews and threads composing it, and literary, because of the oral and written traditions associated with each one. It can bear conflict but is mostly an agent of peace. It travels between groups, nations, cultures across the continent, and sometimes even crosses the oceans. It is what it represents but it is also more than that. Trying to understand wampum in general and to contextualize wampum belts in particular is an exciting scholarly challenge, but when you study anthropology, most things can be seen that way.
In October 2013, I attended a conference on the subject in upstate New York, at Syracuse University and in Onondaga, where, in the documents I’ve read, shines the council fire of the Haudenosaunee, the Iroquois confederacy. Seeing Haudenosaunee people, Jesuits, and Euro-American researchers share the stage helped me realized that wampum scholarship is more than history, archaeology or museum studies. Not only is it all that, but it also conveys political struggles, historical traumas, and issues of cultural sovereignty dramatically at stake today.
When I got the chance to talk to Haudenosaunee faith keepers, and to listen to wampum reading, I knew that wampum ceremonialism is more than mere traditions. Funerary offerings, ornaments, money, diplomatic words, sacred objects… all the interpretations of wampum overlap and compete with each other, when in fact they should complete each other.
The whole goal of this research is to put interpretations back together to make them dialogue with one another. My ethnicity and my national history comes into play in this research as a way to reconnect with people the French seem to have forgotten, and a way to address a history that many Europeans and Americans have forgotten. I am hoping my foreign perspective might bring a fresh look on apparently evident questions. Also, my fluency in French has already helped me understand several sides of the same story when looking at a few cases studies—it is fascinating what a sharp picture you get when you start to navigate between French ecclesiastical sources, French and English colonial sources, Mohawk sources, Six Nations sources, etc.
Rick Hill (Director of the Deyohahá:ge: Indigenous Knowledge Centre) and me holding hands at the Wampum Lot in Philadelphia
In 2014, I took the many teachings of the team and the people we met back to France, where I started to apply our methodology to the wampum collections in my home country. In the fall of 2015, I started the graduate program in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. Looking to the future, more insights are certain to emerge.
• “Talking With the Belts at Harvard Peabody.” On the Wampum Trail, May 14, 2014.
• “Rummaging the Archives.” On the Wampum Trail, May 22, 2014.
• “The Glass Belt at the Archives of Nicolet Seminary.” On the Wampum Trail, May 23, 2014.
• Masters’ Thesis Part I: “Les Ceintures de Wampum entrée musées, chercheurs et peuples autochtones” (Wampum Belts between museums, scholars, and Indigenous peoples). Université Lumière Lyon 2, France. July 2014.
• “How Much Does Matter Matter? A Glass Wampum Belt at the Archives of Nicolet Seminary.” Beyond the Gallery Walls. Penn Museum Blog, July 18, 2014.
• “Surveying Wampum Belts.” Expedition 56 no. 3 (fall 2014):14.
• Masters’ Thesis Part II: “Les Collections de Wampum en France.” École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, France, July 2015.
• “Contemplating the Void: Peopling the Past in Living History Museums.” Beyond the Gallery Walls. Penn Museum Blog, July 2016.
• “Encounters in the Cathedral: Revisiting the 1676 Huron-Wendat Wampum Belt at Chartres, France.” Beyond the Gallery Walls. Penn Museum Blog, October 2017.