Wôbanaki Men's Clothing from 1700
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. The man pictured here carries
a wool blanket for his bed.
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
edges of a breechclout might be decorated with ribbon,
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 early 1700s 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 might come from England, France,
Holland, or as far away as India.
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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.
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.
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.
Jewelry was worn by men and women. The earrings seen here
are made of brass and quahog shell. People often slept with
their earrings on. Earrings are called “saksohanal”.
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.
These are brass armbands, called “wpedinibial.” They
were made by cutting up a kettle received in trade.
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.
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 hairpiece is called a "roach". It is made of
dyed red hair from the tail of a male deer. The Penobscot word
for roach is "wesewal", which means "faith".
A roach was an important and deeply meaningful ornament.
This man wears garters, called “kiganibial”, 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. These garters
are decorated with white glass trade beads that were sewn on
after the garters were woven. The garters help to keep the
man's leggings in place.
Ring & Bracelet
The ring and bracelet seen here are made from brass.
The bracelet was made from a kettle. Wôbanaki people
used some kettles received in trade for cooking and cut up
others to make into jewelry. The ring is called a "bague
a cachet" (plaque ring) by the French. This style of
ring was given to Native people by traders, soldiers, politicians,
and Catholic priests.
This silver medal is being worn simply as jewelry. Wôbanaki
people believed that wearing a lot of shiny and sometimes noisy
jewelry of various shapes helped to scare away evil energy
This is a "French chief’s coat", made by the French
and intended to be worn by the Native American chiefs with
whom they traded. The coat is made of wool. It is interesting
to note that the wool cloth preferred by the Wôbanakiak
for clothing was usually either red or blue.
This is a wooden war club. The clan symbol of its owner
is carved just below the club head. The lines underneath
might signify how many times the man had been to war, how
many war party members there were, or how many prisoners
were taken. A man might also decorate his war club with an
image of his own face or copies of tattoos on his body.
This wampum belt is composed of glass beads. The Abenaki word for wampum
is "wôbôbial". White signifies peace, clarity,
calmness, and friendship. Dark beads signify conflict or complexity.
The belt might have been a gift to the man holding it. The ends of
the belt are knotted; among the Wôbanakiak, this might symbolize
a personal belt belonging to this man.
This deerskin pouch is decorated with tufts of deer hair
dyed red, embroidery of flattened, dyed porcupine quills,
white glass beads, and cones made from a copper kettle.
The cones would serve as bells, making a pleasant noise when
the bag moved. A bundle of tobacco is attached to the
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