Wôbanaki Men's Clothing from 1770
By 1770, some Wôbanaki people, especially those
in French or English towns, were beginning to live in
a manner very similar to that of the French and English.
They often wore the same style of clothes, lived in the
same kinds of houses, had many of the same types of possessions,
and by outward appearance, did not appear to be dramatically
different. Most Native people, however, kept some elements
of tradition, by wearing moccasins and leggings, decorating
their clothing with silver ornaments, or keeping their
hair long. Some chose to keep traditional ways of life,
and acquire just a few European items. Such is the case
for the man described here, who wears a few items of
clothing from the French Canadian people.
Wôbanaki people did not have special clothing
for sleeping. They would sleep in what seemed most suited
for the season. In the winter this would mean wearing
several layers to bed and in the hot weather one might
sleep without clothing.
Hairstyles differed from group to group. In general,
men living further north tended to keep their hair longer
because the climate was cooler. Hairstyles would also
change over the course of one’s life to reflect
personal taste, or to signify alliance or mourning.
Wôbanaki people believed it was a good idea to
protect sensitive areas of the body, such as joints,
the neck, ears and face, with jewelry, garters, and tattoos.
By these means, they believed that dangerous energy or
spirits could not enter their bodies. Jewelry with complicated
patterns, reflective surfaces, and dangling and jangling
pieces such as bells or metal cones, all helped to confuse
harmful forces. Porcupine quill embroidery, beading,
fringe, and ribbons might be added to the edges of clothing,
both to offer protection and to encourage connections
with desirable plants and animals. For instance, the
edge of a breechclout might be decorated with ribbons,
or the flaps on a pair of moccasins might be decorated
with beads or porcupine quill embroidery.
Among the numerous items available through trade in
the 1770s were wool and linen cloth, ready-made shirts
and coats, knitted wool hats and mittens, felted wool
hats, glass beads, silver jewelry, brass kettles, paint
pigments such as vermillion, and metal axe and spear
heads and knife blades. Native American people in New
England would trade with the French in New France or
the English in the American colonies. Items they received
might come from England, France, Holland, or as far away
as India. or China.
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Breechclout or Breechcloth
A breechclout, called “adhozoan”, is a strip of
fabric or deerskin that goes between the legs and is held in
place by a belt tied around the waist. The breechclout might
be compared to modern-day shorts, underwear or bathing suit.
This man's breechclout is made of wool, decorated with silk
ribbons and silver trade pins. It is interesting to note that
wool cloth used for clothing was usually either red or blue.
These are wool leggings, called “medasal”, decorated
with silk ribbons and glass beads. The leggings are tied to
a belt at the waist to keep them up. Leggings were worn for
warmth and to protect one's legs when walking through scratchy
These are summer-weight moccasins with a center seam.
They are made from the hide of a white-tailed deer. The Abenaki
call all kinds of shoes "mkezenal". The English
adapted this word into “moccasin”.
These wampum beads (cylindrical beads used for jewelry,
ceremonies, and currency) are made of glass. The Abenaki
word for wampum bead is "wôbôbial".
Face paint was used for a variety of reasons, including
for disguise or to convey a mood or emotion. This man wears
red paint to show that he is feeling happy. Red was associated
with life, victory, blood, war, or enthusiasm.
Tattoos were put on the body for a variety of reasons.
Some were marks of valor, and others were used to cover skin
injuries. Some tattoos, such as those across the chest of
the man shown here, served as barriers against evil spirits.
Tattoos were often placed on powerful parts of the body such
as around the eyes, on the chest, joints, or the fingers
used to draw a bow or pull the trigger of a gun. Tattoos
were also used to deaden nerves, to relieve various aches,
and to attract healing energy to specific parts of the body.
The man holds a wooden cup for food or drink. It might
have been made by himself or by one of his male relatives.
The Abenaki word for a personal wooden scoop or cup
in Algonkian, the word for a wooden cup is "noggin".
These cups were useful for collecting drinking water
from a spring or other fresh water source while traveling.
This man's shirt, called a “wihibaks”, is made
of linen and has ruffles at the neck and sleeves. It is the
same style worn by European men for formal occasions, but they
would wear theirs tucked into their breeches. This man's shirt
has been decorated with silver trade pins called "brooches".
This man pierced his nose in order to wear a nose ring.
This ring is made of silver.
This is a silk kerchief. The silk would have been imported
This hairpiece is called a "roach". It is made of
dyed red hair from the tail of a buck deer. The Penobscot word
for roach is "wesewal", which means "faith".
A roach was an important and deeply meaningful ornament.
These earrings are made of silver with wampum beads. People
often slept with their earrings on. Earrings are called “saksohanal”.
Arm Bands & Bracelets
Jewelry was worn by men and women. These bracelets and armbands,called “wpedinibial”, are made of silver.
Sash & Garters
This man wears garters, called “kiganibial”, just under
his knees. They help to keep his leggings in place. He also wears a
sash around his waist. The sash and garters are made from wool yarn,
using a technique called "fingerweaving". As the name suggests,
fingerweaving is a way to weave by using just the fingers. The sash
and garters are decorated with glass beads, which were sewn on after
they were woven.
A knife could be used for a variety of tasks, from cutting
food to carving wood. The sheath is decorated with embroidery
of flattened, dyed porcupine quills, white glass beads, and
tufts of deer hair dyed red and placed in cones made from
a copper kettle that was cut up to make jewelry. The cones
would serve as bells, making a pleasant noise when the sheath
A match coat is a blanket used as a cape or shawl. When
used as a blanket, it’s a “maksa”; when
used as an overcoat, it’s a "kchi pikizon".
This one has been decorated with silk ribbon.
This metal axe serves a dual purpose. It can be used
for cutting or smoking. There is a pipe bowl on the end opposite
the blade. In diplomatic contexts, pipes like these signaled
the delicate balance between war and peace.
Wampum Belt & Talking Strings
Around this man's neck is a wampum belt. It is composed
of glass beads. In Abenaki, the word for wampum belt
Dark beads signify anger, sadness, conflict or complexity.
It would give an important, serious message to someone receiving
it. The ends of the belt are knotted; among the Wôbanakiak,
this might symbolize a personal belt belonging to this
man. The talking strings were used for peaceful purposes
and served as memory devices. White signifies peace, clarity,
calmness, and friendship. Each strand might stand for part
of a message, inviting and welcoming visitors and wishing
This deerskin pouch is decorated with tufts of deer hair
dyed red, embroidery of flattened, dyed porcupine quills,
blue and white glass wampum beads, and cones made from
a copper kettle. The cones would serve as bells, making a
pleasant noise when the pouch moved. The pouch's contents
include bullets, a steel striker with flints, and a magnifying
lens. When a piece of flint is struck against a striker,
sparks are produced that can be used to start a fire. If
the lens is held at a certain angle to the sun, focusing
the sun’s rays onto something flammable such as a piece of tree
fungus, it could generate enough heat to start a fire. On
the right side, from top to bottom, are tobacco rolled up
in paper, a screwdriver for use with a gun, a spring for
cleaning a gun, and a stone pipe.
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