The Two Row Wampum belt is a metaphor for how the European newcomers and the Haudenosaunee mutually agreed to live in peace as brothers while pursuing parallel but separate paths of culture, belief, and law. This was symbolized as a ship and a canoe floating side by side on the River of Life, indicated in the wampum belt by the two dark rows. The vessels were bound together by a symbolic three-link chain, representing Friendship, Good Minds and Peace.
The Two Row Wampum belt records the first agreement made between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch and our oral history dates it to 1613. The Mohawks and Dutch may have become aware of each other as early as 1598, according to Dutch records. However, around 1613, it appears that two Dutch traders had made their way up the Hudson River, and met Mohawk representatives of the Haudenosaunee south of present-day Albany, NY. The Haudenosaunee saw a need to define their relationship with the newcomers, so they struck an agreement to provide aid to each other. This was an important moment as this agreement, according to Onondaga oral history, contained the essential elements of all subsequent treaties.
Silver Covenant Chain
After the English defeated the Dutch in 1664, they then turned their attention to ensuring peace with the influential Haudenosaunee.
The English wanted to solidify their friendship to ensure that lucrative trade would continue. The chain that bound the ship and canoe in the Two Row Wampum, came to represent a Silver Chain of Friendship or Silver Covenant Chain. From 1664-67 several treaty agreements were made whereby they became political allies, trading partners and agreed to resolve any difficulties using the Good Mind. In this way, the Haudenosaunee extended the branches of the Tree of Peace to shelter their new allies. Planting that tree, burying any weapons of war under it, and re-polishing the silver chain became the metaphors used in subsequent treaty councils.
When difficulties erupted, the parties would kindle the sacred fire, use wampum to express the seriousness of the matters discussed among the delegates until a mutual decision was reached, and then recorded that decision in a new wampum belt. The symbols woven into such belts were human figures holding a chain between them or a series of connected squares, diamonds or hexagons.