A typical Abenaki family had a father, mother, their children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Several related families lived together in the same large house, but each family had its own living space and fire. Family members shared food and possessions. In the summer, the family groups lived on hunting lands that were inherited through the fathers. Abenaki villages rarely had more than one hundred people.
Most Abenaki buildings were made from the bark of birch trees. Western Abenaki families lived together in longhouses. When food became scarce in the winter, families sometimes moved into wigwams. Shaped like a cone, the wigwam was covered with mats made from the bark of elm trees. Wigwams were not as sturdy as longhouses, but they could be moved easily while a family hunted game animals.
The eastern Abenaki built two different kinds of homes. Some houses were shaped like domes. Other houses were square and had roofs shaped like pyramids.
The Abenaki made most of their clothing from deerskin. In warm weather, men wore breechcloths. These garments had front and back flaps that hung from the waist. Women wore wraparound knee-length skirts. In the cold winter months, the Abenaki wore fur robes with hoods. They also wore moccasins that were lined with rabbit fur.
Both men and women wore their hair long. Women sometimes wore braids. They often wore necklaces decorated with shells.
The Abenaki hunted and fished for most of their food. In the spring, they fished from their canoes for salmon, sturgeon, and eels. They used nets, three-pronged spears, and fencelike traps called weirs to catch fish.
During the summer, Abenaki who lived on the coast harvested the ocean for fish, shellfish, and sea mammals. In the fall, the Abenaki used bows and arrows to hunt both large and small game. Some Abenaki fished on frozen ponds during the winter. They wore snowshoes made from wood and leather to hunt deer, bear, and otter in the cold weather.
The Abenaki grew crops such as corn, beans, squash, and tobacco along the rivers. In areas where the soil was less rich, the Abenaki used fish as fertilizer. Every February the western Abenaki collected maple sap, which they boiled to make syrup.
Women gathered nuts and berries to eat raw or bake into breads. They also planted crops such as beans, corn, and squash.
Abenaki children were often raised by their grandparents, aunts, or uncles. Boys were taught the skills needed to hunt or wage war. They began to practice with a bow and arrow at a very young age. By age twelve, they could hunt with the men of the family. Girls were taught how to weave baskets, grow crops, and sew clothing. They also learned how to care for younger children.
Healers, or shamans, took care of sick people in Abenaki villages. Most shamans were men. They used herbs, teas, and ointments to cure the sick or wounded. When herbs did not cure a person, a shaman used magic to treat an illness. The shaman might try to dance an illness away. If the sick person was near death, villagers let the person starve to bring death more quickly. This practice was considered kind.
The Abenaki made decorative objects from the bark of white birch trees. The tree bark was shaped into baskets, boxes, and canoes. Many of the objects were not only useful but works of art.