"Waabizheshi and the Mermaid"
An Ojibwe story told and illustrated by Simone McLeod and Zhaawano Giizhik
It is a collection of love stories written and illustrated by myself and Simone McLeod. The stories are based on aadizookaanan (traditional stories) of our ancestors, the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg from Gaa-zaaga'eganigak, the land of many lakes - the Great Lakes area of North America.
The stories are of a sacred, healing nature and told within a romantic context, their allegorical themes often provided with a personal touch.
Today, we tell the zaagi'iwewi-aadizookaan (sacred love story) of Waabizheshi and the Mermaid.*
To our ancestors, Mermaids were metaphorical interpretations of fish, symbolizing temptation, their nature combining the paradoxical qualities of beauty and treachery. Like Mermen, they belong to the world of the fish spirits. They are one of the giigoonhyag (fish clans), known for long life and baldness in old age.
Waabizheshi thought he saw sitting on a rock in the water a beautiful woman with long pitch-black hair, thick and curly. But as soon as he reached the rock he was immediately pulled under! He passed out and when he regained consciousness, tayaa! he found himself amid aadizokanaa giigoonhyag (Fish-beings) who were part human and part fish and who, as he would find out later on, were able to shapeshift in either a water being or a human being!
Waabizheshi was struck dumb with astonishment and surprise. That he had gone to the land beneath the lake, married, and fathered children while the same storm was still beating the coastline and Name was shouting his name through the wind, was truly incomprehensible to him. Could his new life down there have happened in just the blink of an eye? Could it be that his descent to the lake’s underworld was measured by another time than the linear rule of time that governed the upper earth?
Upon seeing their lost son his mother started to cry and his father lamented, “We warned you of Sleep-Being-Woman so many times but you didn’t listen. Now she has taken hold of you, my son. And we will never see you again in this life.” He too started to weep.
Simone McLeod (her traditional name is Aki’-egwaniizid, which is an Ojibwe name meaning "Earth Blanket") is an Anishinaabe painter and poet, born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1962, and a member of Pasqua First Nation in Saskatchewan. She belongs to he Name doodem (Sturgeon clan) of her mother's people, the Azaadiwi-ziibi Nitam-Anishinaabeg (Poplar River First Nation) of Manitoba. Simone descends from a long line of Midewiwin seers and healers and artists. Her artwork has been appreciated by several art collectors and educational and health care institutions from Canada, as well as by art lovers from all over the world.
Zhaawano Giizhik, an American currently living in Amsterdam 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 and a writer and a jewelry designer, Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of his ancestors. In doing so he sometimes works together with kindred artists. He has done several art projects with Simone and hopes to continue to do so in the future.
* The story 'Waabizheshi and the Mermaid' is loosely based on the traditional story 'Nebaunaubee', related by Basil Johnston in his book Ojibway History. University of Nebraska press Lincoln and London, First Book printing 1990, p. 169 / 170.
Illustration at top of page: "Anishinaabe Aki Gichigamiing", digipainting by Zhaawano Giizhik (2013).
Acrylic painting of a Mermaid by Simone McLeod, 2013.
Digi-painting "The Love Story Of Waabizheshi And The Mermaid " by Simone McLeod and Zhaawano Giizhik (2013).