Abenaki Indians

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The Abenaki Indians lived in the northern part of New England and the southern part of the Canadian Maritimes. The Abenaki were divided into eastern, western, and maritime divisions. The eastern Abenaki were located in modern day Maine, to the east of New Hampshire's White Mountains. The southern boundaries of the Abenaki homeland were near the present northern border of Massachusetts. The western Abenaki lived on the eastern shores of Lake Champlain. The Maritime Abenaki were found on the border between what is now Maine and New Brunswick. Prior to the arrival of the white man the Abenaki population was nearly 40,000 people, divided respectively among the three divisions. The Abenaki referred to themselves as ‘Alnanbal', meaning ‘men.' The name Abenaki meant ‘people of the dawn' or ‘easterners.' Among the Europeans the Abenaki were known as the St. Francis Indians. The Abenaki spoke their own unique Dialect of the Algonquin language.

The Abenaki is more of a geographical and linguistic group, rather than a political group. Before contact individual tribes were the usual level of political organization. Occasionally several tribes would unite under a powerful sachem for purposes of war, but the Abenaki were known for their general lack of central authority. Even at the tribal level, the authority of their sachems was limited, and important decisions, such as war and peace, usually required a meeting of all adults. In many ways the lack of central authority served the Abenaki well. In times of war, the Abenaki could abandon their villages, separate into small bands, and regroup in a distant refuge beyond the reach of their enemies. The Abenaki could just melt away, regroup, and then counterattack. It was an effective strategy in times of war, but it has left the impression that the Abenaki were nomads. Since the Abenaki usually retreated to Canada during war, New England came to think of them as Canadian Indians (which, of course, they were not) but it served as an excuse to take most of their land in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont without compensation. Largely invisible over the years, the Abenaki have remained in their homeland by living in scattered, small bands. New England has numerous romantic monuments, which celebrate the disappearance of its original residents. Misleading, since they never really left!

The Abenaki lived in a manner similar to Algonquin in southern New England. Since they relied on agriculture (corn, beans, and squash) for a large part of their diet, villages were usually located on the fertile floodplains of rivers. Depending on location and population, some of their cultivated fields were extensive. Hunting, fishing, and the gathering of wild foods supplemented agriculture. The relative importance of fish/seafood depended on location. In areas of poor soil, fish were often used as fertilizer to increase the yield of corn. In spring and summer, bands would gather at fixed locations near rivers, or the seacoast, for planting and fishing.

Social Structure

The Abenaki lived in isolated villages, mainly consisting of extended families. During the winter they would roam their hunting grounds, which were inherited through the father (the Abenaki being a patrilineal society). In the spring the people would emerge from the forest to regroup at set locations, invariably near a river. Here they would plant their crops and fish. The average summer village would consist of about one hundred people. For dwellings, the Abenaki preferred to make use of the dome shaped wigwam, which was covered in buffalo hides. Religion

The Indians believed in a God named Cautantowit. In the beginning, the evil spirits in the earth caused a tremendous flood to cover the land. Many of the animals escaped to the Great Mountain. The birds and the animals were given many god-like qualities, because they lived near Cautantowit, also, known to the Algonquin...
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