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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Stories from the Land of Crane and Turtle, part 2

"Wiinabozho and the Butterflies"


Ojibwe-style wedding rings designed by Zhaawanart Fisher star Creations
Visit the website to view details of the ring set


Boozhoo! Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong. Ninga-aadizooke noongom giizhigad! Hello! Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge where legends and teaching stories are told. Let’s tell an aadizookaan (sacred story) today!

Today's story is the second in a series named Stories from the Land of Crane and Turtle, featuring traditional Anishinaabe stories that encompass the unique world view and cultural perspective of the Anishinaabe Peoples. 

The story features a set of wedding rings and a graphic illustration by myself and several acrylic paintings by the late Carl Ray and Miskwaabik Animikii (Norval Morrisseau). 


A Dancing Butterfly Shows Us the Way

Memengwaa Niimi Miinawaa Miikanaakaw: “A Dancing Butterfly Shows Us the Way," or, more literally, "A Butterfly Dances and Prepares a Trail." Thus is the title of these unique, handcrafted wedding bands. (The literal translation of miikanaakaw is: "he or she paves the way for someone.")

The title as well as the design of the wedding bands are inspired by a memengwaa (butterfly) who recently came from a faraway country in the East and who, out of the blue, landed on my shoulder, her gentle spirit opening my heart in ways I have never experienced before. It is she to whom I dedicate this story.

Before I tell you more about the design symbolism of the rings, let’s start by exploring the meaning and significance that memengwaag, or memengwaanhyag as my Anishinaabe relatives who live farther to the east call them, had in the hearts and minds of gete-aya'aag, our ancestors who for at least a thousand years dwelled Anishinaabe Aki, the Heart Land of our Peoples of Gaa-zaaga'iganikaag (the Place Of Many Lakes).



The Power of Enchantment


“When Aki the world was still young, the beings of all animal Nations were created. GICHI-MANIDOO gifted them with a body, a shadow, and a soul. But they still had no powers. One day, GICHI-MANIDOO summoned all animal Nations to come to the high mountain where its abode was. This is where the animals received their gifts of power. 

First, GICHI-MANIDOO gave migizi the bald eagle strong wings and a keen sense of sight. Then, GICHI-MANIDOO gifted makwa the bear with courage and strength. Then GICHI-MANIDOO gave nenookaasi (hummingbird) and memengwaa (butterfly) the power of hovering and fluttering and sublimity, mystery, and divine presence. And to this day, nenookasiwag the hummingbirds, as do memengwaag the butterflies, display one of the greatest of all powers: the power of enchantment..."


The Creation of Turtle Island

Ahaaw, n’ga aadizooke.
( “Now, I will tell a traditional Anishinaabe story.”)
This is the sacred Anishinaabe story of Giizhigookwe, beloved creator and grandmother of mankind, and the manidoo (spirit) Wiinabozho, friend and benefactor of the Anishinaabe Peoples…and about how they created the Earth, the Anishinaabeg…and the butterflies.
“Many moons ago – when the World was still young -  the Mishi-ginebigoog, the Underwater Snakes, inveterate enemies of the mischievous but good-natured Wiinabozho, in their fervor to kill him, inundated the First World with water from the depths of the Great Lake, and he barely escaped the flood by seeking refuge in a tall pine tree on the top of a high mountain.

At the same time there lived an aadizookaan, a supernatural being, residing alone in the sky. Her name was Giizhigookwe, or Sky Woman. GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Mystery of Life, pitying her loneliness, sent a male aadizookaan to Sky Woman to keep her company. Animikii (Thunder), for that was his name, traveled to the sky lodge of Giizhigookwe and from the union that took place were born the Anishinaabeg (a twin brother and sister), whom she planned to lower on the back of a giant Mikinaak (snapping turtle).

Oji-Cree Woodland artist Carl Ray
"Recreation": acrylic painting by the late Carl Ray

But first Giizhigookwe had to convince Mikinaak to lend his back to the re-creation of the world, because at that time the Underwater Snakes had flooded the earth below her and most animals had been drowned in the Great Flood that had hit the First World. As Sky Woman learned that a few animals had survived the flood she called to her aid the giant turtle. He came to the surface so that she could sit on his back and call others to her side. Maang (the  loon), Amik (the beaver), Nigig (the otter), and Wazhashk (the little muskrat) were among her helpers.
That day, long ago, after she had descended from her sky lodge to the newly-created world in the shape of a turtle’s shell, dancing all the way down in a sacred manner, she addressed the water animals as follows: 
“I don't have all the powers of creation that GICHI-MANIDOO has. But I am a female spirit and I have a special gift. I have the power to recreate. I can recreate the world GICHI-MANIDOO created, but I can't do it by myself. I need your help. We had better create some land. Let someone dive deep and bring me a handful of the original soil made by GICHI-MANIDOO. The soil will be the seed I use to recreate the Earth.''
All the water animals, who loved the female spirit from the Skies, pledged to help her and all day long they took turns trying to reach the soil covered by the great depth of water - but to no avail. Nigig the otter dived down. He could not reach the bottom and just before he drowned the others pulled him back onto the Turtle’s back and revived him. Maang the loon dived, and he failed too. And so did the others. At the end of the day it was only Wazhashk the little muskrat, not used to swimming in deep water, who had not given it a try. The brave little animal decided that with no one else available to help it was up to him to do the job. He took many deep breaths and dived down and down.
As he finally came back to the surface, tayaa, what do you know! Wazhashk had clutched in his paw the soil from the bottom of the sea! Tenderly the grateful Giizhigookwe took the soil from little Wazhask’s paws, dried it and breathed life into it, then rubbed it on the turtle's back. She rubbed the soil round and round and as she did so an island took shape above the water. Giizhigookwe continued to move over the new soil. She walked in wider and wider circles; some say it took her 14 summers to complete the job. And so the Earth was recreated. Forever after the Anishinaabeg called the world MIKINAAKOOMINIS, or Turtle Island.

The Nurturing of the Twins

The new island was finally complete, Giizgigookwe’s purpose on earth was nearly fulfilled, and just before she danced her last sacred dance upward into the fading light of the sky, she again summoned the awesi’ag (animals) to council and called upon them to help her nurture the boy and girl to manhood and womanhood. Since the awesi’ag were very fond of the niizhoodeg (twins) they promised Sky woman they would do everything in their power to bring comfort to them and help them survive: Animosh the dog, watching over the abinoojiiyensag (babies); Onijaani, the doe, providing them with milk to nurture them; and Ma’iingan, the wolf, bringing them freshly hunted meet so they would not starve. Makwa, the bear, in turn offered his thick curly fur to keep the infants warm, and Amiik the beaver and Wazhask the muskrat volunteered to bath the abinoojiiyensag in order to keep them clean. Giigoonh the fish, in turn, taught the niizhoodeg to wave their little arms and legs around, and Bineshiiyag, the birds, sang sweet lullabies to them.
Copper Thunderbird painting
"Heavenly Twins Give Gift Of Life", acrylic painting by the late Miskwaabik Animikii


Meanwhile, Animosh the dog performed his babysitting job with great enthusiasm, enh, with every fiber of his being! One single sound of the twins was enough to have him jumping to his feet with ears cocked and his tail wagging. When he found out what troubled the infants he would solve the problem or call the other animals to help him.

Did the niizhoodeg need fresh moss for their cradle? Animosh would not hesitate and turned to Amik and Wazhask for help. Were the niizhoodeg hungry? Animosh would run to the great hunter Ma’iingan for fresh meat, or to Onijaani, to give him some of her nourishing milk. 

Did the flies and musquitos keep the abinoojiiyensag awake? Animosh asked Asabikeshikwe (spider woman) for help – or, if he would not find her at home he himself would jump and snap at their tormentors until the abinoojiiyensag nearly split their sides laughing. Did the niizhoodeg indicate they wanted to be amused? Animosh would do all kinds of hilarious tricks to keep them busy. He would roll around on the earth rolling his eyes and wagging his tongue, then sit up and wag his tail. And he would tickle them by licking their noses, and he did so as long as it took to make them shriek with happy laughter. Then, when the abinoojiiyensag were finally quiet again he would lie down beside them and cover his eyes with his paws, and rest until he was needed again. 

But after a while it became clear that something was wrong with the niizhoodeg. This time it was Makwa the bear, worried about his two little protégés, who called upon all the awesi’ag to congregate and sit around the infants.

"Aaniin nisayedog ashi nimisedog gaye! (Hello brothers, and you too sisters!)" Makwa said, "Like you, I am worried about the abinoojiiyensag because they cannot walk! Sure, they look strong and are obviously happy and having a good time with our brother Animosh, but alas! They cannot run and play like our own young! What do you suggest we can do to help them?"

After a moment of thoughtful silence Ma’iingan spoke first."Atayaa! Geget gi debwe! (indeed! You are really speaking the truth!). The abinoojiiyensag are definitely not weak! They do eat the meat that I bring them each morning at daybreak."

Onijaani, the soft-spoken doe, calmly agreed with Ma’iingan."Debwe, the niizhoodeg certainly drink the fresh milk that I bring them daily."

Then Amik the beaver and Wazask the muskrat exclaimed in one voice: "Tayaa! Geget gi debwe! Good golly, this is certainly true! The abinoojiiyensag definitely have a way of waving their arms and legs with great strength as they are being bathed! They even splash us until we are soaked and losing our temper! Then they laugh at us for being cranky and continue waving their legs and arms about as if nothing happened!"

Hereupon Giigoonh the fish quietly chuckled, "Enh, aahaaw, Amik and Wazashk are right eh! The Anishinaabe niizhoodeg are good students, they do exactly like I taught them to do heh heh!"

The Great Teacher Wiinabozho and the First Butterflies

Aadizookaan Nanabush
"Wiinabozho Telling Stories"
illustration by Zhaawano
Giigoonh had barely finished his sentence when a gentle spring breeze swept softly over the water of the nearby lake like a welcome visitor, sending forth catkins from the azaadiwag (poplars) that were awakening from their winter sleep, bringing comfort to all the creatures of earth. As the breeze blew through the camp where the awesi’ag had gathered, inashke! in walked the great Teacher Wiinabozho or Trembling Tail, also known as Misaabooz the Great Rabbit or Hare! Wiinabozho had escaped the wrath of the Mishiginebig by climbing a tall tree and, after the earth was recreated, he walked throughout the land, blessing all of Creation by naming the waters, the mountains, the trees, the plants, the animals, and the birds.

"Boozhoo, mino-gigizheb nisayedog miinawaa nimisedog!", Wiinabozho spoke, "Hello and good morning my elder brothers and sisters! Today GICHI-MANIDOO sent me on a special task, to play with the niizhoodeg, the twins whom Sky Woman has lowered to the newly-created earth in order to create a new human race!"

Makwa the bear rose to his feet and standing on his hind legs he welcomed Wiinabozho. Acting as a spokesperson for all awesi’ag present that day, Makwa told Wiinabozho of their concern. Wiinabozho listened carefully to the account Makwa gave and after a while he said:

"Hoowaah! You all have taken good care of the Anishinaabeg (the First People) indeed! What is more, you have cared so well for them that they have not learned to take care of themselves! Little ones are better off when we do not pamper them too much. We really should motivate them to undertake things by themselves instead of always handing them things on a biskitenaagan (birch bark platter). Therefore I shall travel to the faraway land of my Father, where the sun sinks in the sea, and think of ways to help the abinoojiiyensag to learn how to walk."

Wiinabozho bade the council of awesi’ag farewell and journeyed to the land of the Grizzly Bears where his father E-bangishimog and his brother Maajiigawiz ruled, where there are high mountains towering to the sky and covered with a thick blanket of clouds, and there, standing in this most sacred place, he addressed GICHI-MANIDOO seeking the inspiration he needed to find a solution.

As he was petitioning the Great Mystery in full daylight, his eyes squinting against the bright sunlight breaking the clouds that made the mountain peaks shimmer in tints of silver and gold, Wiinabozho noticed that the rocky slopes of the mountain he stood on were covered with many sparkling pebbles, gemstones really, of countless brilliant hues such as bright red, crimson, yellow, blue, white, amber, and azure.

Wiinabozho squatted among the shimmering rocks and started to collect as many pebbles as he could and created many piles that shimmered in the sunlight. He gazed at the piles for a long while, but nothing happened. At last, bored and restless, he scooped up a handful of the sparkling gems and let them fall clattering. Grinning, he scooped up another handful, and twice he threw them high up in the air, catching them as soon as they fell back. But when he tossed the pebbles for a fourth time, hands outstretched, tayaa! To his astonishment he noticed that this time they were being caught by the winds! The pebbles immediately changed into winged beings of the most fantastic shapes and colors!

These enchanting beings, whom no creature or spirit dwelling the Universe had laid eyes on before, fluttered gaily around, gracefully dancing in the wind, before they eventually alighted on Trembling Tail’s shoulders. In the twinkle of an eye Wiinabozho saw himself surrounded by swirling clouds of continuously changing, kaleidoscopic colors! These were the nitami-memengwaag, the first butterlies…


Carl Ray Woodland Cree painter
"Butterfly" by the late Carl Ray


Wiinabozho, understanding that he had found the answer to his prayers, left the abode of his father and brother and returned to Gaa-zaaga'iganikaag, the land of many lakes. The thousands of butterflies followed Wiinabozho back to the niizhoodeg, whom were still in the tender care of Animosh the dog. Upon seeing the swirling clouds of memengwaag, the eyes of the nizhoodeg began to twinkle and soon they crowed with pleasure, their little legs waving and their little arms reaching out to the fluttering creatures! But the memengwaag always fluttered just beyond the grasp of their outstretched hands…not before long, the niizhoodeg, in their efforts to catch the memengwaag, began to crawl, then to walk, and, finally, enh, even to run…”


Miskwaabik Animikii painting
"Children See Dreams", acrylic painting by the late Miskwaabik Animikii

Giinweh. Thus is the traditional Anishinaabe story of how the memengwaag came to earth. “And when it is time for the memengwaag to leave the earth” it is been said, “they change into apa’iinsag (elflike beings) who inhabit glades and glens in the forest, always seeking abinoojiinyag (children) to play with...

Thus, to our ancestors, the memengwaag became the spirit of children’s play…in a deeper sense, throughout time, they would become symbols of transformation and regeneration (or rebirth), and thus of change, life, and hope. Of course, in the context of the parable I just related to you, the example of Wiinabozo and the memengwaag teaches parents and guardians an important pedagogical lesson – enh, even stresses the importance of us human beings not to become lazy and never stop undertaking things and finding solutions for problems that face us every day!


Anishinaabe wedding rings
Go to our website to view details of this ring set

Mide Life Path diagram

This capriciously stylized road with seven side roads or digressions  - an age-old symbol of the Midewiwin Life Road -, depicted in the exteriors of the wedding bands, symbolizes the life path of two persons who share their joys and sorrows with each other. The dancing menengwaag on the insides of the rings show the two life companions the way through the curves of Life and guide them around pitfalls and barriers that they individually and as a couple encounter along the way. But above all, the dancing Menengwaag remind them how important it is not just to know how to walk, but how to walk together – and even run together (strive hard) if need be in order to keep their relationship healthy and strong and – in a broader sense - to keep their family and their People well.

On a lighter note, the butterflies in the interiors of the wedding bands symbolize the love between two people – particularly the playful side of love – and emphasize the importance of a positive and happy approach to life.
Dare to be natural and yourself always, is the message. Be happy, light-spirited, and free!

Gaye dash, migwechewendan akina gegoo ahaw! Also, be thankful for everything!

We hope you enjoyed the story of Wiinabozho and the Butterflies as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you. Miigwech for listening. Bi-waabamishinaang miinawaa daga: please come see me again!

> Click here to read part 3 in the series: "Zhoomin and the Vision of the Dancing Corn Plants"


Norval Morrisseau acrylic painting of a butterfly
"Butterfly" acrylic on canvas by the late Miskwaabik Animikii


Woodland artist Zhaawano

About the author/artist:

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, 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.


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Star Stories, part 4

Nibaad Misaabe Dibikad


 "A Star in My Vision"

A love story about two earth beings, shone upon by the light of the Universe, their love reflected by the glow of the stars above...    

Manidoo-giizis (Moon of the Spirit; January 22), 2019


Winaagozi Dibishkoo Anang
Wedding ring set "Like a Star in My Vision." Click on the image to view details of the set.


Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge

Boozhoo! Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong. Ninga-aadizooke noongom giizhigad! Hello! Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge where legends and teaching stories are told. Let’s tell a zaagi'idiwin aadizookaan (sacred love story) today!

This blog tale is another episode, the fourth in a series named Star Stories. The series features teaching stories that encompass the unique worldview and cultural perspective of the Anishinaabe Peoples.

About love and separation


The story I will tell you today features a set of wedding rings; click on the above image to view details of the rings. The design and story of the rings as well as the song that accompanies the story are inspired by a woman I recently met and who stole my heart. She arrived on a big bird that came flying from a faraway land in the East called Israel. We met for a short period of time and then she had to return to her country. Although our time together was brief, her beauty and moral bravery touched me in unspeakable ways, words fall short to express what I feel for her. Only the stars high above understand the depth of the love that lives in our hearts and the scope of the feelings that we harbor for each other. Only they see how hard it is for us to be separated again by time and distance. We are stars in each other's eyes, bonded forever, together, yet also beyond each other's grasp...

The rings

The design of these wedding rings, which I titled Winaagozi Dibishkoo Anang (“Like a Star in My Eyes”), is inspired by the pictographic outline drawing style of the Anishinaabe and Cree  Medicine painters - more commonly called Woodland Art painters

The magic outline of Nibaad Misaabe, or the Sleeping Giant, a rock formation that juts out on Lake Superior and characterizes the body of water that was called Animikii-wiikwedong (Thunder Bay) by my Anishinaabe ancestors, has for years been a main source of design inspiration for me.


Like A Star in My Vision, wedding rings by Zhaawano Giizhik
Click on the image to view details of the ring set


The red gold bottom part of the wedding rings featuring flowing yellow gold outlines – showing two bodies including faces “in profile,” which I modeled after the Sleeping Giant - represent two lovers who once sprang from the earth’s womb and now become one with each other - and with the Earthmother herself. Thus earth and lovers become a symbolic unity. While the lower part of the wedding rings’ surfaces symbolizes the fertile earth, the grayish white color of the top half of the ring shanks, made of palladium white gold, as well as the yellow gold star figures in the center represent the night sky lit by the glowing light of the stars of the Universe.

The song

Dibishkoo biidaanikwag, w’gii abi-ezhaa
Dibishkoo waabaanikwag, aabiji-maajaa.

N'gashkendam w'gaa abi-izhaad 
N'gashkendam w'gaa ago-maajaad.

N'gii magawig 
n'gaa abi naanig na?

W’naagozi dibishkoo anang
W’waasa wendaagozi dibishkoo anang.

("Like a cloud has he come and gone
Like a cloud drifted away forever.

Sad am I since he came

Sad am I since he's gone.

Now he has found my love
Will he return for my love?

Like a star in my eyes
Like a star beyond my grasp, my love.")

- An Ojibwe love song


So the story goes...

Giiwenh. So goes the story about the Sleeping Giant wedding rings; so goes the tale about the love that I feel for a beautiful woman who came from a faraway land and touched my heart before she goes the song sung by this brave woman from the East who feels sad because she and her lover, who lives in the West, live far apart...  Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidaadizookoon. Thank you for listening to my storytelling today. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon...

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About the author and his sources of inspiration

My name is Zhaawano Giizhik. As an American artist and jewelry designer currently living in the Netherlands. I like to draw on the oral and pictorial traditions of my Ojibwe Anishinaabe ancestors from the American Great Lakes area. For this I call on my manidoo-minjimandamowin, or "Spirit Memory"; which means I try to remember the knowledge and the lessons of my ancestors. 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 - were a form of spiritual as well as educational communication that gave structure and meaning to the cosmos. 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.