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The Wampanoags lived in wigwams. A wigwam is a small, domed home built by native groups of the northeast. Wampanoags called their wigwams wetu. The wetu was a seasonal structure that was built to withstand bad weather. They were usually made by felling and bending saplings over a circle drawn on the ground, forming arches. Another set of saplings was then wrapped around the first layer, giving the structure support before the sides and roofs (made of bark) were built. Wigwams were not only built by the Wampanoag, but by many native groups such as the Apache of the American southwest and the Ojibwe of Minnesota.
The Wampanoags were generally sedentary but moved inland in the winter and closer to the coast in spring. Boys were taught from an early age how to hunt and girls were taught how to maintain the family's wigwam and to tend to the crops. Women were responsible for a significant portion of food production.
The Wampanoags were organized into confederations led by a single sachem, or political leader. The head sachem would preside over other sachems that were in charge of their villages. Sachems were in charge of organizing trade alliances and protecting their villages. Both males and females could serve as sachems.
The history of the Wampanoags before colonization is poorly known. It is thought that an epidemic may have decimated the population between the years of 1616-1619. In 1620, it was the Wampanoags, including Squanto, who taught the hapless Pilgrims how to farm the land, catch fish, and survive the winter. America's first Thanksgiving occurred in November of 1620 and commenced with a huge feast shared by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags. It is important to note that many experts call into question the idea that the Wampanoags celebrated in such a way with the Pilgrims.
Wampanoag Chief Massasoit Smoking a Pipe with John Carver of Plymouth in 1621.
As the English population grew in Massachusetts in the 17th century, the Wampanoag culture declined. The Puritans had converted thousands of Wampanoags to Christianity and thousands more had become alcoholics. Relations between Wampanoags resistant to continued English settlement and English colonists became tense and culminated in King Philip's War in 1675. Led by the Wampanoag chief Metacom, (known as Philip to the English), thousands of natives from different tribes began burning English settlements to the ground, including Providence, Rhode Island, and Springfield, Massachusetts. At first, the alliance of natives was successful in
its battle, but soon, was overwhelmed by the English settlers.