MI'KMAW DAILY LIFE
- DRESS AND ORNAMENTATION

 

In some accounts, explorers like Cartier and Champlain described the Indians as almost "stark naked." This description fits the Mi'kmaq male because his basic garment was the breechcloth, made of very supple leather. This was passed through a leather strap around his waist, between his legs covering his genitals, and through the strap behind him. The ends of the breechcloth were folded over the strap and left to hang down, providing extra coverage. The leather was made by brain-tanning the hide, and kept pliable as required by rubbing it occasionally with extra fat. The leather was also smoked, which allows it to retain its pliability after it has gotten wet.

Buckskin leggings, made from a single piece of leather with outside fringed seams, were also held up by the waist strap. The leggings were worn in cooler weather, and also for protection against brambles and underbrush. Even the women wore these leggings on occasion.

A jacket was made from the hide covering the legs of moose. The hide from each leg, including the hip, was carefully removed in one piece. These would form the arms of the jacket, and the two pieces would be laced together in front and behind, looking something like a bolero jacket.

For colder weather, cloaks were made from the brain-tanned hides of moose, beaver, marten, bear, and seal. These were wrapped over the shoulders and interlaced with leather strips under the chin, or worn over one shoulder and under the opposite arm if more freedom was required.

The moccasins were made from old moosehide robes, now more pliable and moisture-resistant with added grease. The English word moccasin probably comes from the Mi'kmaw word mkisn ('my shoes'.)

For special occasions like weddings and feasts, more elaborate garments were worn. Robes of white moosehide decorated in various ways were common. According to the whim of the designer, two inch strips of ornamented leather appeared in vertical or horizontal patterns or both. Colors were obtained from red and yellow ochres, white from powdered or burned shell, black either from bog manganese or charcoal, and many other colours were obtained from various plant-based dyes.

Peaked hat

For different feasts, ceremonies, and rites, the Mi'kmaq man painted his body. For feasts, he painted himself with a single color, or with several, in a pattern distinctive to each person. In mourning, the whole face was painted black. In war, red was used.

In aboriginal times, the Mi'kmaq wore no hats. However, in the 1700s, Mi'kmaw women observed that women with influence wore a particular style of hat. They adapted this hat to become the distinctive pointed or peaked cap, which was unique to the Mi'kmaq. They also pierced their ears, from which they hung many decorations of wampum, shell or quill-work, and wore arm and leg bracelets.

 

Examples of typical dress
 

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Updated: 27 Mar 2016 Print Page