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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Teaching Stories, part 4


"How The Spirit Of Mandaamin Came To The World"

- Updated August 9, 2017 ___________________________________________

Nanabush and Mandaamin Jessica Maria
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Boozhoo! Ahaaw, 'ngad-aazooke

Today I use my blog to tell a traditional tale that has been told and retold many times by many generations of Anishinaabe storytellers. It is a story about the origin of mandaamin, the magical warrior spirit who offered himself in the form of a tall and graceful plant that would prevent the hungry People from starvation.

"Many, many winters ago, Wiinabozho - who also went by the name of Wiisakejaaklived with his grandmother Nookomis at the shore of a big lake. Wiinabozho - who was called Nanabush by his grandmother - was known as half human half spirit, a legendary prankster and shape shifter as well as a wise teacher and an adventurer. 

One day Wiinabozho was asked by his grandmother to go and find a gichi-minisiinoo (great warrior) who would wait for him to give him instructions. Wiinabozho crossed a big lake in a canoe, and there he found the minisiinoo, dressed in garments of green and yellow, with on his head a tuft of green plumes. The gichi-minisiinoo told Wiinabozho that his name was Manidoo-imin or Mystery Seed, and that GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Mystery, had ordered him to start a wrestling match with Wiinabozho. A great magic battle followed that was felt throughout the universe, and when after three rounds Wiinabozho proved to be the strongest, the big minisiinoo pleaded him to strip his garments, to clean the earth of weeds and roots, and to bury him in the soft soil.

Mandaamin
Wiinabozho did as he was told, and after some moons of clearing weeds and keeping the soil soft and moist, hoowah! to his surprise he saw tufts of green blossoms coming out of the grave! 
Suns passed, and one day, there in the place where the strange minisiinoo had been buried, suddenly stood an amazingly tall and graceful plant that no one had ever seen before. All the Anishinaabeg feasted on the ears of Corn, and they thanked Wiinabozho and GICHI-MANIDOO for bringing them this new Sacred Food of Wonder. By his death Manidoo-imin had given life to the hungry Anishinaabeg!"



Giiwenh. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidaadizookoon. So the story goes. Thank you for listening to me today, to let me tell you this sacred story.

Miigwechiwendan akina gegoo ahaw! Be thankful for everything!

Artwork by JESSICA MARIA TAYLOR. "The Great Battle Between Nanaboozhoo and Mandaamin", oil on canvas (2011)

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Mandaamin
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Construction and symbolism of the bolo tie


This one-of-a-kind 3.15 x 2.37 inch sterling silver and 14K yellow gold bolo, made to fit a round silver snake chain cord, I designed in honor of MANDAAMIN, or Maize, which, of all foods, became the most constant for the Anishinaabeg throughout the ages.

In the bolo tie design, human and plant realms mystically merge. Created in the fashion of the Medicine Painters of the New Woodland Art School, the design - like many of my jewelry creations - features striking images inspired by the texts of Anishinaabe/Algonquian aadizookaanan (traditional stories). The black-outlined imagery and the use of the clear-cut and hard-edge, calligraphic lines in the bolo design indeed reveal a strong influence of the Medicine Painters on my work.

The bolo tie shows a highly stylized image of Mandaamin, or maize (Indian corn). The use of the corn-symbol itself goes back to the old Anishinaabe story as described above, yet the contemporary design is a tribute to the artists of the Medicine (Woodland) Painting School, whose graphic designs are born of Anishinaabe tradition. 

The ovally shaped turquoise cabochon set in a yellow gold bezel that I placed inside a shadow box symbolizes Creation; the tiny red coral depicted at the base of the design represents the small seed from which the tall and graceful cornplant grows.

The bolo design, its modern character of sleek abstraction, along with the lyrical movement of its flowing lines, are further enhanced by an adaptation of two distinctive silversmith techniques from the Southwest: overlay and the domed shadowbox style.


Ojibwe-style overlay jewelry
First, I take a big heavy plate of sterling silver, which I cut out in the oval shape of the bolo, then I hammer it into a dome shape. Then I cut out with a jeweler’s saw the outlines and interior parts of the corn design. I also cut out a large oval opening: a  “shadowbox “ for holding the turquoise setting. Next, I solder the cutout plate on top of another, thinner silver plate. This method is called overlay. Next, I put the individual parts, as if they were pieces of a puzzle, back inside the contours of the plant design. Soldering does this. Then, in order to add depth and sophistication to the corn design and to make it look more pronounced, the bottom layer of silver that still shows through the cutouts is oxidized, or chemically blackened, and finally a high polish is put on the raised surfaces.
In addition, a high bezel for holding the turquoise cabochon is soldered inside the large oval shadowbox frame, which I cut out earlier (see above). The bezel, which I made of yellow gold, is of a slightly smaller size than the shadow box it has to fit into. This consequently leaves a rather narrow “trough” around the bezel. Then the “trough ” becomes oxidized in order to highlight the raised bezel, and the overlay/ shadowbox design is completed.  

My adaptation of Anishinaabe Medicine Painting design to silverwork, combined with the use of the above-mentioned metal working techniques, has resulted in a style of silversmithing I like to consider distinctly my own. The "Mandaamin” bolo for example is a carefully wrought blend of these ingredients. Its design, both quintessentially Anishinaabe and absolutely modern, celebrates the imagery and beauty of the world of my ancestors and provides testimony to the pride I take in my heritage.

Mii sa go i'iw, that is all.

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Jewelry images: 'Mandaamin/Sacred Plant' by ZhaawanArt. Sterling silver, turquoise, red coral bolo tie with sterling silver lanyard and tips. Jewelry photos by Zhaawano. Acrylic painting: Jessica Maria Taylor. Graphic image: Stanley Panamick.

About the author/artist:

Zhaawano Giizhik, an American currently living in the Netherlands, was born in 1959 in North Carolina, USA. Zhaawano has Anishinaabe blood running through his veins; the doodem of his ancestors from Baawiting (Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Michigan) is Waabizheshi, Marten. As an artist, a writer, and a designer of Native American jewelry and wedding rings, Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of his ancestors. In doing so he sometimes works together with kindred artists.

The MAZINAAJIMOWINAN or ‘pictorial spirit writings’ - which are rich with symbolism and have been painted throughout history on rocks and etched on other sacred items, such as copper and slate, birch bark and animal hide - are Zhaawano's main design inspiration. To his ancestors, the mazinaajimowin was a form of spiritual as well as educational communication that gave structure and meaning to the world as they experienced it
Many of these sacred pictographs or petroforms – some of which are many, many  generations old - hide in sacred locations where the manidoog (spirits) reside, particularly in those mystic places near the coastline where the sky, the earth, the water, the underground and the underwater meet.


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