Wôbanaki Men's Clothing from 1660
Wôbanaki people did not have special clothing
for sleeping. They slept 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
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 or vulnerable areas of the body, such
as joints, any openings, 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 create connections with desirable plants
and animals. For instance, the edges of a breechclout
might be decorated with ribbon, or the flaps on a pair
of moccasins might be decorated with beads or porcupine
Among the numerous items available through trade in
the 1660s were wool and linen cloth, ready-made shirts
and coats, knitted wool hats and mittens, glass beads,
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 typically came from England, France, Holland,
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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.
This pendant is in the shape of a thunderbird or swallow,
which are both considered by the Wôbanakiak to be powerful
symbols. Swallows, too, are associated with thunder since
they become more active before severe storms. The pendant
was cut from a brass kettle.w
These earrings are made of brass and shell. People often
slept with their earrings on. Earrings are called “saksohanal”.
Notice that this man hangs his pipe in his earring for convenience.
The pipe is from Europe and is made of white clay.
Face paint was used for a variety of reasons, including
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. Notice that
he also wears a ring in his nose for decoration.
These are deerskin leggings, called “medasal”.
They 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 undergrowth.
This man wears garters, called “kiganibial”, tied
on just under his knees. They 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,
instead of weaving on a loom. The garters help to keep the
man's leggings in place.
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”.
This wool vest is called a waistcoat, sometimes pronounced, "weskit".
The Abenaki called it a “silad”. It is a similar
style to that worn by European men. “Indian waistcoats” like
this were made by Europeans specifically for trade with Eastern
Woodland peoples. It is interesting to note that the preferred
color of wool cloth used by the Wôbanakiak for clothing
was usually either red or blue.
This man's shirt, called a “wihibaks”, is made
of linen. It is the same style worn by European men,
but they would wear theirs tucked into their breeches.
Gorget & Beads
When worn by a British or French military officer, a "gorget" was
a metal badge of office, signifying that the man was not a
common soldier. The Wôbanaki people liked to wear gorgets
simply for adornment. People cut up brass kettles received
in trade to make their own gorgets, or they made them from
shells, such as the one shown here. This man's beads are called "wampum," or
in Abenaki, "wôbôbial". The purple beads
are made from the thickest part of quahog clam shells found
along the New England seacoast. The white beads are made from
clam, whelk and other white shells.
William and John Pynchon, English traders who settled
Springfield and Northampton in the Connecticut River Valley
of Massachusetts in the 1600s, provided this style of coat
for trade with Wôbanaki people. This is a "sleeved
waistcoat", also known as a "trade coat".
As a large overcoat, it was called a "kchi pikizon".
Some Native leaders purchased multiple coats and gifted them
This pipe is for everyday use and shows personal touches
(paint, a strand of beads, and a tuft of deer hair dyed red)
added by its owner. Since the pipe's bowl is carved from
stone, it is called a “senipôgan”.
The Abenaki word for tobacco is “odamô”,
and a tobacco pouch is called an "odamôwinoda".
This pouch is made of painted and beaded deer hide. It contains
a metal striker, a piece of flint, a chunk of tree fungus,
and a small bundle of tobacco tied up in cloth. When the striker
and flint are struck together, they produce sparks. The sparks
would light the tree fungus, which would then be used to light
the tobacco in the bowl of the pipe.
This hairpiece is called a "roach". It is made of
turkey wing feathers and it ties onto the hair. The Penobscot
word for roach is "wesewal", which means "faith".
A roach was an important and deeply meaningful ornament.
A "rat spear" was used for hunting smaller animals
such as rats, mink, or ermine. The spear head and shaft are
made of metal and would have been received in trade. A stabbing
tool like this is called an “astahigan”.
This man hunts for a variety of fur-bearing animals to
trade with the Europeans. This is a bundle of mink and white
weasel (ermine) pelts.
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