Mishi-name, The Great Sturgeon
We are Simone McLeod and Zhaawano Giizhik. By way of a blog series called "REFLECTIONS OF THE GREAT LAKES", accompanied by our own works of art and jewelry designs, as well as artworks by kindred artists, we seek to capture, and pay homage to, the spirit and fascinating beauty and majesty of GICHIGAMIIN, the Great Seas of the Anishinaabe People, and of all the creatures that live near, on, or beneath them.
Like we explained in our previous blog story in the series, to our ancestors, the waters themselves and their undercurrents and beaches and islands covered with mists have always evoked a myriad of mysterious representations of manidoo. These spirit beings, such as mishi-bizhiwag (great horned underwater cats), mishi ginebigag (great horned underwater snakes),
nibiinaabekwewag (mermaids), and mishi-name-ginebigag (great snake sturgeons), occasionally appear in natural guise with distinct animal (and sometimes human) personalities.
Since time immemorial, lake sturgeon, besides playing a fundamental role in the economic life of the Anishinaabe and Cree Peoples whose communities were, and still are, depending on fish as a major food crop during the entire year and as a central item of exchange, takes a central place in their ceremonial life as well. Being an important connection with both the natural and the supernatural world, Na-me, as he is called in Anishinaabemowin (the Ojibwe language), is still known as Adizookaa Giigoonh, a Grandfather Fish who provides spiritual help to the People (see the above image of an acrylic painting by Simone McLeod depicting her clan animal, a sturgeon, giving birth to the Seven Grandfathers, or Prophets).
Traditionally, Grandfather Sturgeon, since he offers himself abundantly to the spearers during the fishing season, symbolized to our ancestors selflessness and sustenance, and he taught them the need for modesty and wise and generous sharing. When a person killed an animal or collected the first fruits of the season - like maple sugar, blueberries, and wild rice -, he was supposed to, in the spirit of Na-me, first offer it to the Spirit-Grandfathers of the Universe and then divide it among the camps. Then he would cook his own share and invite all the old people to come and eat with him.
Wii winaanaa-naadaashimag mishi-name
Mii, wii gagwedibenimag.
"I shall go after the great sturgeon in the wind
Thus, I shall test the great sturgeon."
"I set my nets near the shore
I set my nets halfway across the lake."*
The Sturgeon Snake
In some of these stories, Na-me is a descendant of a snake, and there are many tales relating of Mishi-name-ginebig, the Great Sturgeon Snake, prowling the waters of the lakes, that - sometimes described as a huge snake with a fish tail, a red belly and a box-shaped head, sometimes with horns -, if consumed, will strangle a human being, or even transform him into a snake...
The story of Name Odakanid (the Horned Sturgeon)
"Once upon a time, some Anishinaabe giigoonyikewininiwag (Ojibwe fishermen) got in their canoes to look for Na-me (sturgeon); they had spears; and they went out on the lake. They looked down into the water and they happened to see a sturgeon.
*A free rendering by Zhaawano of a traditional Midewiwin song for good fishing. Source: Basil Johnston, Ojibway Ceremonies, University of Nebraska Press Lincoln and London, 1982.
**Source: Oshkaabewis Native Journal; a free rendering by Zhaawano of a retranscription by Jeremy Kingsbury of the Ojibwe traditional narrative "Name Wadakanid".
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