Wôbanaki Women's Clothing from 1800
By 1800, quite a few Wôbanaki people were living
in a manner very similar to that of those Americans of
European descent. 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 woman
described here, who wears a few items of clothing from
the French Canadian people.
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
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
hem of a skirt 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 1800s were wool, linen, silk, and cotton cloth, ready-made
shirts, knitted wool hats and mittens, glass beads, silver
jewelry and metal axe heads and knife blades. Native
American people in New England would trade with European
people in either Canada or the United States. Items they
received might come from England, France, Holland, or
as far away as India and China.
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This woman wears a cotton shift. It is a trade item and is
the same style that was worn by French and English women throughout
the 18th century. By the 19th century, this style of shift
was not being worn by European women, but Wôbanaki people
did not always follow European fashion trends and some continued
to wear "old-fashioned" clothing.
This skirt is made of wool cloth and is decorated with
ribbons, white glass beads, and silver pins known as "brooches".
The woman wears more brooches on her shift. The skirt wraps
around the waist and a sash is tied on to keep the skirt
in place. Wrap skirts and petticoats are called “labizowan”.
It is interesting to note that the wool cloth preferred by
Wôbanaki people for clothing at this time was usually either red or blue.
These are summer-weight moccasins with a center seam.
They are made from the hide of a white-tailed deer.
The Abenaki word for all kinds of shoes is "mkezenal".
The English adapted this word into “moccasin”.
These are wool 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 leggings have been decorated with ribbons and white glass beads,
all received in trade.
Sash & Garters
This woman wears a sash around her waist and garters,
called “kiganibial”, tied on just under her knees.
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 just using the fingers, instead of weaving
on a loom. The garters help to keep the woman's leggings
Bracelets & Earrings
Jewelry was worn by men and women. The earrings and bracelets
seen here are made of silver. People often slept with their
earrings on. Earrings are called “saksohanal”.
This woman wears a variety of necklaces. A necklace is called
a called “nôpkoan”, a thing that circles.
Several of these “nôpkoanal” are made from
glass beads and one strand is wampum (cylindrical beads used
for jewelry, ceremonies, and currency). The purple beads are
made from quahog clam shells collected from the New England
seacoast. The white beads are made from whelk shells. She also
wears a woven necklace of blue and white glass wampum.
A knife could be used for a variety of tasks, from cutting
food to carving wood or basket splints. The sheath is decorated
with white glass beads and paint. The wooden barrel-shaped
bead serves as a toggle to help keep the knife on a belt.
These are ash splint baskets that this woman would have made
to sell to non-Native people. Baskets are called “abazenodal”,
literally meaning containers made from a tree. Many Wôbanaki
and other Algonkian Indian women traveled from town to town
to sell baskets to their non-Native neighbors.
The French name for this jacket is a "mantelet".
This style of jacket was popular during the second half of
the 18th century. It would have been out of style for most
European women by 1800, but Eastern Woodland Native American
women did not always follow European fashion trends and might
wear a piece of clothing that was considered to be old-fashioned.
This mantelet is made of a cotton fabric known as "calico".
The fabric would have been imported from India, and the jacket
would have been received in trade.
The Abenaki word for hat is “asolkwin”. Without the decoration,
this is the style of top hat worn by European men. It is composed of
felt made from beaver hair. The silver band and red ostrich feather
are typical of decorations used by the Wôbanaki people on hats
such as this.
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