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Abenaki: Customs

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Editors: Marla Felkins Ryan and Linda Schmittroth
Date: 2004
From: Abenaki
Publisher: Blackbirch Press
Series: Tribes of Native America
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 631 words
Lexile Measure: 830L

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Games and festivities

Games have always been an important part of Abenaki culture. Boys began to race when they were small. Handball and lacrosse were popular games for the Abenaki.

The Abenaki liked to sing and tell stories as they did their daily chores. They also enjoyed riddles and word games. They danced and sang at most social events, such as marriages, funerals, and the first corn harvest of the year.

War and hunting rituals

When conflicts broke out with other peoples, the Abenaki war chief would stand before the tribe with a red club in his hands. He would ask for volunteers to unite for the fight. Then, the men feasted and danced well into the night. Before the battle, warriors painted their faces red and drew pictures of past battle victories on their bodies.


Around the time of puberty, an Abenaki boy went on a vision quest. Alone in the woods, he fasted for many days. Then, he waited for the guardian spirit who would guide him through life to appear. Males were considered adults by age fifteen. Some girls also went on vision quests.


When a young man wanted to marry, he sent gifts to his intended bride to entice her into marriage. If she refused the gifts, it meant that she rejected the proposal. If she and her parents agreed, the couple lived together for a trial period. They were supervised by chaperones and had to follow strict rules.

Marriages became official when the groom's family accepted gifts offered by the bride's family. A wedding celebration was held. For western Abenaki, new couples lived with the husband's family after marriage. If the bride's family were wealthier, the couple lived with them. Eastern Abenaki newlyweds usually lived with the bride's family. Some chiefs of the eastern Abenaki were allowed to have many wives.


The bodies of dead Abenaki were dressed in their finest clothing, wrapped in birch bark, and tied with a cord. They were buried quickly so that their spirits would not linger over the village. Food was put in the grave for the deceased person's journey to the other world. Also in the grave were weapons, tools, and personal items to use in the afterlife.

Current tribal issues

In the 1980s, the Abenaki Indians of Vermont fought in court for the right to hunt, fish, and travel on their traditional lands. In 1992, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that all of these Abenaki rights had ended. The Vermont Abenaki continued to fight. In the late 1990s, the General Assembly of Vermont recognized the tribal status of the Abenaki people. The tribe's next goal is to gain recognition by the U.S. government. When the federal government recognizes a group of Native Americans as an Indian tribe, they are granted the right to hunt and fish on their homeland. The tribe also receives better health care and educational benefits.

Notable people

Joseph E. Bruchac III, Ph.D. (1942–), is an author and poet whose works reflect his Native American heritage. His books have won many awards. He has also written many stories for children.

A Penobscot named Louis Francis Sockalexis (1871–1913) was the first Native American to play professional baseball. He was an outstanding hitter for the Cleveland Spiders. In 1915, the Cleveland team was renamed the Indians in his honor. (In the 1980s and 1990s, many Native Americans protested the use of Indian names in sports as demeaning.)

Samoset (1590–1653) was a chief who lived on an island off the coast of present-day Maine. He served as a go-between for the Pilgrims and Native American groups. Samoset helped to create the first peace agreement between whites and the Wampanoag tribe.

Samoset Visiting Colonists Samoset (center) worked for peace between the Pilgrims and Native Americans in the 17th century. Samoset (center) worked for peace between the Pilgrims and Native Americans in the 17th century. Copyright © North Wind/North Wind Picture Archives--All rights reserved.

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Words to Know

a Native American game played with a ball and long poles with webbed pouches
a long building in which several Native American families lived together
a Native American priest who used magic to heal people and see the future
an agreement between two or more parties
Vision quest:
a Native American child's search for his or her guardian spirit
a trap used for fishing
a Native American hut made of bark and hides

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CKQLHO480955976