- Uncommon Threads: Wabanaki Textiles, Clothing, and Costume
Uncommon Threads: Wabanaki Textiles, Clothing, and Costume by Bruce J. Bourque and Laureen A. LaBar is a valuable contribution to the scarce literature on maritime Wabanaki material culture history. Bourque and LaBar focus their book on the Penobscots, Passamaquoddies, Maliseets, and Micmac, who live [End Page 394] between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Gulf of Maine, and they spotlight Wabanaki textile arts, which have played a vital role in expressing and maintaining cultural identity from precontact to the present. This book was written to fill an important void: Pan-Indian exhibitions often omitted the peoples of the Maritime Peninsula, stating a lack of resources as a reason. Now, many spectacular examples are discussed and shown in full color in this exhibition catalog.
The authors bring different scholarly backgrounds to this study. Bourque, an anthropologist and archaeologist, has written about the history of the peoples of the Maritime Peninsula, and LaBar wrote her thesis on Indian trade silver in the Northeast. Both are curators at the Maine State Museum. While not a primary author, ethnologist Ruth Whitehead also contributed to the knowledge presented in the book. She has written extensively about Micmac material culture.
The book is divided into four chapters and is abundantly illustrated with historical paintings and photographs of museum objects. It celebrates Indigenous textile technology and demonstrates how the study of textiles can provide insight into Native peoples' histories. The authors describe how the layering of garments also could serve as metaphors, representing the overlapping of cultures at various points in time. Wabanaki textiles challenge stereotypes about Native attire because they are not the typical Plains examples. Instead, they demonstrate the diversity of Native material culture. While this book presents a wealth of raw information and object descriptions, the authors rely heavily upon archaeological theory and European historical texts. The Wabanaki Native voice is, unfortunately, notably absent, and we never learn what the clothing or costume meant to the people who wore it.
The first chapter introduces the reader to the Native peoples of the Maritime Peninsula from a non-Native perspective, briefly discussing movement into the area suggested by linguistic and archaeological evidence before delving into a timeline of contact with European travelers. The authors depend on the journals of explorers, from the Norse to the French, for descriptions of the Indigenous peoples residing in this area. Through recounting the region's early political history, the authors demonstrate that the Wabanaki were a powerful tribal confederacy, involved in numerous interactions with other tribes and non-Native communities. The Wabanaki expressed agency in their political alliances, in their acceptance and rejection of new materials, and in their preservation and modification of tribal traditions. The recounting of the historical political interactions, confederations, engagements, and events segues into a discussion about the Wabanaki's use of wampum, coins, breast gorgets, and other trade silver items as political souvenirs and objects of personal adornment.
The second chapter outlines the historical development of textile technology and describes the ancient legacy of Wabanaki weaving and textiles. The authors [End Page 395] use an expanded definition of textiles to include houses, nets, and canoes to the more generally accepted list of garments, woven mats, and baskets. Here, in addition to the archaeological evidence, the authors present some Wabanaki cosmological information pertaining to the use of body painting and tattooing, the need to decorate the self to please the animals for success in hunting, and the important role of canoes as evidenced in an origin story.
In the third chapter, "Layered Colors, Layered Cultures," the authors discuss Wabanaki clothing in a changing cultural environment and explain the connection between clothing and cultural change and adaptation. Garments continued to be used as distinguishing markers at diplomatic meetings, and varying levels of difference—such as those from different tribal affiliations—existed among the members of the Confederacy. Importantly, men's attire changed more quickly than women's clothing, which exhibited conservation of tradition. Examples of quillwork persisted into the...