Abenaki Tribe

Last Updated on June 16, 2014 by Dennis

Abnaki Tribe, Abnaki Indians, Abenaki Indians, Abenaqui Tribe, Abenaqui Indians. (Wâbŭna’ki, from wâbŭn, a term associated with ‘light,’ ‘white,’ and refers to the morning and the east; a`ki ‘earth,’ ‘land’; hence Wâbŭna’ki is an inanimate singular term signifying ‘eastland,’ or ‘morning-land,’ the elements referring to animate dwellers of the east being wanting.–Jones).

A name used by the English and French of the colonial period to designate an Algonquian confederacy centering in the present state of Maine, and by the Algonquian tribes to include all those of their own stock resident on the Atlantic seaboard, more particularly the “Abnaki” in the north and the Delawares in the south. More recently it has been applied also to the emigrant Oneida, Stockbridge, and Munsee about Green Bay, Wisconsin. By the Puritans they were generally called Tarrateen, a term apparently obtained from the southern New England tribes; and though that is the general conclusion of modern authorities, there is some doubt as to the aboriginal origin of this term. In later times, after the main body of the Abnaki had removed to Canada, the name was applied more especially to the Penobscot tribe. The Iroquois called them Owenunga, which seems to be merely a modification of Abnaki, or Abnaqui, the name applied by the French and used by most modern writers. The form Openango has been used more especially to designate the eastern tribes. Maurault 1 says: “Some English authors have called these savages Wabnoak, ‘those of the east’; this is the reason they are called ‘Abenaki‘ by some among us. This name was given them because they were toward the east with reference to the Narragansett.”

Abenaki Language

In his tentative arrangement Brinton 2 brings into one group the Nascapee, Micmac, Malecite, Etchimin, and Abnaki, but this is more of a geographic than a linguistic grouping. Vetromile 3, following other authors, says that we should “embrace under this term all the tribes of the Algic [Algonquian] family, who occupy or have occupied the east or northeast shore of North America; thus, all the Indians of the seashores, from Virginia to Nova Scotia, were Abnaki.” Maurault gives the following as the principal tribes of the Abnaki confederacy:

  1. Kanibesinnoak (Norridgewock in part; see Kennebec and Norridgewock)
  2. Patsuiket (Sokoki in part)
  3. Nurhantsuak (Norridgewock)
  4. Etemankiak (Etchimin)
  5. Sokouakiak (Sokoki )
  6. Pentagoet (Penobscot)
  7. Ouarastegouiak (Malecite)

The name Abnaki being applied in the restricted sense to the Indians of Kennebec River. All these tribes spoke substantially the same language, the chief dialectal differences being between the Etchimin and the other tribes of the group. The Etchimin, who formed a subgroup of the Abnaki confederacy, included the Passamaquoddy and Malecite. Linguistically the Abnaki do not appear to be more closely related to the Micmac than to the Delaware group, and Dr William Jones finds the Abnaki closely related to the central Algonquian languages. In customs and beliefs they are more nearly related to the Micmac, and their ethnic relations appear to he with the tribes north of the St Lawrence.

Abenaki History

The history of the Abnaki may be said to begin with Verrazano’s visit in 1524. The mythical accounts of Norumbega 4 of the early writers and navigators finally dwindled, a village of a few bark-covered huts under the name Agguncia, situated near the mouth of Penobscot River, in the country of the Abnaki. in 1604 Champlain ascend the Penobscot to the vicinity of the present Bangor, and met the “lord” of Norumbega, doubtless an Abnaki chief. From that time the Abnaki formed an important factor in the history of the region now embraced in the state of Maine. From the time of their discovery until their partial withdrawal to Canada they occupied the general region from the St Johns to the Saco; but the earliest English accounts indicate that about 1605-20 the southwest part of the coast of Maine was occupied by other Indians whose chief seat was near Pemaquid, and who were at war with the Abnaki, or Tarrateen, as the English termed them, who were more to the north; but these other tribes were finally conquered by the Abnaki and probably absorbed by then. Who these Indians were is unknown. The Abnaki formed an early attachment for the French, chiefly through the influence of their missionaries, and carried on an almost constant war with the English until the fall of the French power in America. The accounts of these struggles during the settlement of Maine are familiar episodes in American history. As the whites encroached on them the Abnaki gradually withdrew to Canada and settled chiefly at Bêcancour and Sillery, the latter being afterward abandoned by them for St Francis, near Pierreville, Quebec. The Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Malecite, however, remained in their ancient homes, and in 1749 the Penobscot, as the leading tribe, made peace with the English, accepting fixed bounds. Since that period the different tribes have gradually dwindled into insignificance. The descendants of those who emigrated from Maine, together with remnants of other New England tribes, are now at St. Francis and Quebec, Bêcancour in where, under the name of Abnaki, they numbered 395 in 1903. At the same time the Malecite, or Amalicite, were numbered at 801 in several villages in New Brunswick and Quebec, with about 625 Penobscot and Passamaquoddy in Maine. The present Penobscot say they number between 300 and 400, while the Passamaquoddy claim as many as 800 souls.

Abenaki Culture

According to the writers on early Maine, the Abnaki were more gentle in manners and more docile than their western congeners. Yet they were implacable enemies and, as Maurault states, watched for opportunities of revenge, as did other Indians. Not withstanding Vetromile’s statement to the contrary, if Maurault’s assertion 5 applies to this tribe, as seems evident, they, like most other tribes, were guilty of torturing their prisoners, except in the case of females, who were kindly treated. Although relying for subsistence to a large extent on hunting, and still more on fishing, maize wag an important article of diet, especially in winter. Sagard states that in his day they cultivated the Soil in the manner of the Huron. They used the rejected and superfluous fish to fertilize their fields, one or two fish being placed near the roots of the plant. Their houses or wigwams were conical in form and covered with birch-bark or with mats, and families occupied a single dwelling. Their villages were, in some cases at least, inclosed with palisades. Each village had its council house of considerable Size, oblong in form and roofed with bark; and similar structures were used by the males of the village who preferred to club together in social fellowship. Polygamy was practiced but little, and the marriage ceremony was of the simplest character; presents were offered, and on their acceptance marriage was consummated. Each tribe had a war chief, and also a civil chief whose duty it was to preserve order, though this was accomplished through advice rather than by command. They had two councils, the grand and the general. The former, consisting consisting of the chiefs and two men from each family, determined smatters that were of great importance to the tribe, and pronounced sentence of death on those deserving that punishment. The general council, composed of all the tribe, including males and females, decided questions relating to war.

Abenaki Religion

The Abnaki believed in the immortality of the soul. Their chief deities were Kechi Niwaskw and Machi Niwaskw, representing, respectively, the good and the evil; the former, they believed, resided on an island in the Atlantic; Machi Niwaskw was the more powerful. According to Maurault they believed that the first man and woman were created out of a stone, but that Kechi Niwaskw, not being satisfied with these, destroyed them and created two more out of wood, from whom the Indians are descended. They buried their dead in graves excavated in the soil.

Abenaki Nation

The tribes included in the confederacy as noted by Maurault have already been given. In a letter sent by the Abnaki in 1721 to the governor of New England their divisions are given as follows:

  1. Anmissoukanti (Amaseconti)
  2. Arsikantegou (Arosaguntacook)
  3. Kwupahag
  4. Medoktek (Medoctec)
  5. Muanbissek
  6. Narakamigou (Rocameca)
  7. Narantsouuk (Norridgewock)
  8. Ouanwinak (Wewenoc, south edge of N. H.)
  9. Pegouakki (Pequawket, N. H.)
  10. Pentugouet (Penobscot)
  11. Pesmokanti (Passamaquoddy)

The following is a full list of Abnaki tribes:

  1. Accominta Tribe
  2. Amaseconti Tribe
  3. Arosaguntacook Tribe
  4. Etchimin Tribe
  5. Malecite Tribe
  6. Missiassik Tribe
  7. Norridgewock Tribe (the Abnaki in the most limited sense)
  8. Passamaquoddy Tribe
  9. Penobscot Tribe
  10. Pequawket Tribe
  11. Rocameca Tribe
  12. Sokoki Tribe
  13. Wewenoc Tribe

The bands residing on St Croix and St Johns Rivers, spoke a different dialect front those to the southward, and were known collectively as Etchimin. They are now known as Passamaquoddy and Malecite. Although really a part of the Abnaki, they were frequently classed as a distinct body, while on the other hand the Pennacook tribes, although distinct front the Abnaki, were often classed with them on account of their connection daring the Indian wars and after their removal to Canada.

Gens of the Abenaki

The Abenaki Tribe was broken down into gens which is similar to a clan. Very little information is known about these gens or they no longer exist. According to Morgan they had fourteen gentes:

  1. Mals’-süm – Wolf
  2. Ta-mä’-kwa – Beaver
  3. Pis-suh’ – Black Wildcat
  4. Maguh-le-loo’ – Caribou
  5. Ah-weh’-soos – Bear
  6. Kä-bäh’-seh – Sturgeon
  7. Skooke – Snake
  8. Moos-kwä’-suh’ – Muskrat
  9. Ah-lunk-soo – Spotted Animal
  10. K’-che-gä-gong’-go – Pigeon Hawk
  11. Meh-ko-ä’ – Squirrel
  12. Che-gwä’-lis – Spotted Frog
  13. Koos-koo’ – Crane
  14. Mä-dä’-weh-soos – Porcupine

According to Chauvignerie their principal totems were the pigeon and the bear, while they also had the partridge, beaver, and otter totems.

Known Abenaki Towns and Villages

The Abnaki villages, so far as their names have been recorded, were:

  • Ammoncongan
  • Aquadocta (?)
  • Arosaguntacook
  • Asnela
  • Aucocisco
  • Aunaseconti
  • Bagaduce
  • Bécancour
  • Calais (Passamaquoddy)
  • Gunasquamekook (Passamaquoddy)
  • Immarkuan (Passamaquoddy)
  • Kennebec
  • Ketangheanycke
  • Lincoln Island
  • Masherosqueck
  • Mattawamkeag (Penobscot)
  • Maytinacook (Penobscot)
  • Meecombe
  • Missiassik (Missiassik)
  • Moratiggon (?)
  • Moshoquen
  • Muanbissek (?)
  • Muscongus
  • Negas
  • Negusset (?)
  • Norridgewock
  • Norumbega
  • Okpaak (Malecite)
  • Olamon (Penobscot)
  • Old Town (Penobscot)
  • Ossaghrage
  • Ouwerage
  • Pasharanack
  • Passadumkeag (Penobscot)
  • Passamaquoddy (village?)
  • Pauhtannc
  • Pemaquid
  • Penobscot
  • Pequawket
  • Pocopassum
  • Precaute
  • Rocameca Sabino
  • Sagadahoc
  • Sainte Anne (Malecite)
  • Satquin
  • Sebaik (Passamaquoddy)
  • Segocket
  • Segotago
  • Sillery
  • Sokoki (village?)
  • St. Francis
  • Taconnet
  • Tobique (Malecite)
  • Unyjaware
  • Viger (Malecite)
  • Wabigganus
  • Waccogo
  • Wewenoc (village?)

For Further Study

The following articles and manuscripts will shed additional light on the Abenaki as both an ethnological study, and as a people.



  1. Maurault, Hist. des Aben., 2, 1866.[]
  2. Brinton, Len. Leg., 11, 1885.[]
  3. Vetromile, Abnaki, 20, 1866.[]
  4. Vetromile, Abnaki, 20, 1866.[]
  5. Maurault, Hist. Abenakis, 25, 1866.[]


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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