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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reflections of the Great Lakes, part 3

Image of norhern lake by Zhaawano Giizhik

"Look into the water of a clear lake"

Updated July 20, 2019

Unieke trouwringen ZhaawanArt sieraden Tammo Geertsema Warffum

Aaniin!~Hello! In today's blog post we will talk about one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Great Lakes of the Turtle Island continent - nowadays called North America.

For six centuries or more, the Great Lakes basin, whose abundant waters, continually ebbing and flowing with the seasons, feed into the Turtle Island continent and the Atlantic Ocean, has been the home of our Native ancestors, who for generations have lived close to the water’s edge to survive.

Since the days when these Algonquian speaking immigrants arrived in this vast region of bountiful freshwater lakes and islands and rivers and forests, its waters have nourished many generations of the People, physically as well as spiritually. Along with water, all kinds of fish species, turtle spirits, snakes, muskrats, water birds, mermen and mermaids, mishibizhiwag and mishiginebigoog (great lynx and snake spirits), as well as a myriad of other water creatures, play a central role in the traditional narrations and creation stories of the Anishinaabe Peoples.

By way of a new series called "REFLECTIONS OF THE GREAT LAKES," in the form of pen drawings, canvases, and original works of jewelry, and occasionally philosophical musings, I aim to capture, and pay homage to, the spirit and beauty and majesty of GICHIGAMIIN, the Great Seas of the Anishinaabeg Peoples. A natural resource of immense proportions once respected, revered and held sacred - yet nowadays largely abused, misused and unappreciated by various commercial fishery and timber companies, international chemical corporations, and of course the tourist industry.

Part 3 in the series. 


Zhaawano Giizhik Woodland artist

Inaabin zaaga’igan gawaakamig.
Gaawiin gii-waabandanziin
igiwe aazha gaapime ayaawaad.

 “Look into the clear lake.
The image you see in the water is not yours.
What you see is the reflection of those who came before you.”*

The Anishinaabeg who inhabited the shores and islands of gichigamiin (the Great Lakes) have always sensed and appreciated the powerful majesty of the lakes and their omnipresence in their daily lives; to them, the scarlike slopes and the pretty beaches of colored sand, the isolated caves and countless coves and caverns -  as well as the animals and the big and little spirits that resided there - embodied an aadizookaan: a sacred story. They knew the rocks and natural surroundings of the lakes were filled with many mysterious beings and lessons and songs and teaching stories, magically and rhythmically washing ashore by the tidal waves since the beginning of times.


Ojibwe jimaan_______________________________________________________________________________

However awesome and dynamic their sprit and grandeur, the gichigamiin have always been regarded as only a part of the MUCH GREATER WEB OF LIFE. The ancestors knew that the celestial bodies, the mountains and the lakes and the rivers, the fires, the thunders and the lightnings, the rains and the winds and a myriad of other living things that make up the physical world, were – as if all part of a Great Council - presided  by a powerful ogimaa (chief) superseding all things alive. The name of this chief was GIMISHOOMISINAAN GIIZIS, our grandfather the sun.

GICHI-MANIDOO, or GICHI-MANITU, the collected sum of all mysteries, was the name by which it was known.


Chris Angeconeb  Ojibwe Anishinaabe Woodland artist

The Great Mystery could be known only through its creations and the order and harmony it had designed throuhout the Universe. So, to the Anishinaabeg, the sun who is the father of all life, personifies none other than GICHI-MANDOO, the sprit of spirits, the mystery of mysteries, the one force that created and permeates all life. 

The hand-hammered sterling silver cuff bracelet that you see below is titled dibewagendamowin (“Reflection”); it shows the rudimentary figure of a sun. I designed the bracelet in celebration of THE SPIRIT OF LIFE. To me, the overlay technique, which, if executed well, results in minimalist designs of striking simplicity, provides a genuine depth of meaning to my pieces. I want the contrast and dramatic movement of black outlined forms and flowing lines to capture the core essence of what I try to convey. Which is: to render a metaphorical, or rather, hidden, meaning in a way that anyone can relate to the universal nature of the imagery.

What is it that you try to get across, then – what exactly is the meaning of the sun figure in the bracelet? You might ask. And: What’s the relation between the sun and the lake – if there’s any?


Armband Unieke Trouwringen
See our website for details of this silver wrist band

Let me dwell a little on the design and its symbolism that I inorporated in the bracelet. As you can see, inside the graphic sun image a circular symbol was created. This symbol, a circle with four projections circumscribing a smaller circle and a red coral cabochon placed in its center, is used to denote Great Mystery. Since in Native thought a circle is symbolic of spirit or mystery, a circle around a smaller circle signifies the sum of all mystery. The red of the coral stands for fire and universal spirit.

Note that in the photo, the pine trees at the lake shore as well as the snowy banks of the lake itself are reflected on the silver surface of the bracelet!

So, by depicting the reflection of sun rays on a northern lake as well as the four projections of the spirit symbol inside the sun, I aimed to capture the universal presence of GICHI-MANIDOO.

You could safely say then, that the imagery of the sun in this overlay bracelet is imbued with metaphorical meaning consisting of more than one layer.

Not only do his invigorating rays reach out to the cold waves of the winter lake and all life on and underneath its surface, but to all of our Relations - not just our human family! - and to the entire Universe.

On a more personal note, I guess in a way the eccentric sun/great spirit design of the bracelet and, in particular, the sacred symbol that I placed inside the sun design, define the outlook on life that I share with Simone; the bracelet design also stimulates a deeper insight in how our art relates to oury life values. So to me, the bracelet not only speaks of ILLUMINATION, but – in a deeper sense – of introspection. It is a symbol of SELF REFLECTION. 

Let me dwell on this a little further.

To me, the anima, or animus, of a being is the core of the self. You can see the body, outward manifestation or persona of a human being but his vital part may be somewhere else, especially when he is asleep and dreaming or on a spirit journey.


dibewagendamowin reflection
See our website for details of this silver wrist band

However, in everyday life this mysterious quality, which gete-ayaa'ag (the Anishinaabe ancestors) called OJICHAAG, always reveals itself in the person’s disposition and temperament, their expressions and gestures, and through the timbre of their voice. And since they are thought to be windows to the soul, ojichaag becomes particularly apparent through the eyes of a person – after all, is it not our older and wiser brothers the naayogaadejig (four-legged animals) that look right into a man’s eyes to see his true intentions?

Likewise, the gete-ayaa'ag were convinced that the ojichaag - the essence and consciousness of a person - reveals itself through, what they called, jiiban (shadow): an often invisible substance that generates and regulates a person’s perception and intuition. They say that, under certain circumstances, the jiiban of a person might reveal itself mystically in the form of ojiibaaman (aura)!


Ishkode Biinjina #2 Fisher Star Creations

I believe these things to be true and do not like at all the Western tradition that encourages us to structure our relationships to the natural world in a merely technical and rationalistic way – are we not being taught in school to draw neat categorical distinctions between living organisms and so-called dead matter, between the animate and the inanimate, between the natural and the  supernatural, between the human and the nonhuman, and between linear time and circular time? That is why I'm becoming more and more aware that the fundamental key to an understanding of the core and expressiveness of our work as artists, and perhaps even our observational abilities in every day life, lie in the ancient worldview of the Anishinaabeg gete-ayaa'ag- rather than in the classical paradigms of Western thought.



The thoughtful and reverential manners in which the aayaanikaaj mishoomisag and aayaanikaaj ookomisag (forefathers and foremothers) traveled the way of the Medicine Wheel (see above image) by recognizing beauty, mystery, harmony, and sacredness in the earth’s growing circle, the waters, and the sky, have become a daily mirror to us, as human beings and as artists – how flawed our demeanor and our work may seem at times.

One of the SEVEN GRANDFATHER TEACHINGS that our distant ancestors brought with them from their original homelands in the East and which they called GWAYAKO-BIMAADIZIWIN or WALKING THE STRAIGHT ROAD, reminds us always to be honest with ourselves, to see and accept ourselves for who we are.

Then and only then might we accept others for who they are. 

Another Grandfather Teaching, called NIBWAAKAAWIN or WAYS OF WISDOM, tells us that the only way to live wisely is by living our lives based on our own unique gifts without ignoring the lessons of our forefathers. 

In order to clarify these lessons we are encouraged to look for our reflection in a clear lake.

If we do so, it is not really a reflection of ourselves that we see, but rather that of our ancestors. The reflection we see might speak to us as follows:


Minnesota Historical Society Anishinaabe Ojibwe warriors


"Through All Your Relations
and the Seven ancestral Teachings of Wisdom,
you will find a direction to follow on your life’s journey.
Do not listen to your inner voice
Without listening to those of your ancestors.
Do not live your life solely based on your own inspiration
but try to recognize inspiration from the Great Mystery also.
Avoid listening to your voice
when you are tempted in contradiction of your higher values."**

So, I guess it is all about reflection! The same is true for our paintings and jewelry creations, which, although at first sight they might reflect contemporary standards of design, are really expressions of an visual language that is very old. This means that our canvases and pieces often depict REFLECTIONS or SHADOWS of the ESSENCE of certain “things” or certain LESSONS they contain - instead of the “things” themselves.


Overlay bracelet Unieke Trouwringen

In other words, when you look at this particular silver bracelet, the primitive sun figure contained in black form lines that you see reflected in the silver lake is really a reflection of something else that goes beyond the obvious; this something is a “macro force” encompassing the scope and depth of life and Creation itself. I like to think the primitive flow and energy of the boldly designed sunrays in the design are in confluence with our own energy, like the meeting of two rivers, one running wild with an invigorating current, the other flowing along gently along curving snowy banks whose evergreen trees trail their boughs peacefully in its calm waters.

Thus, in a way, the dramatic imagery of the bracelet acts as a traditional medicine wheel, or a universal mirror shedding  light on our own personal thoughts, passions and motives.

And, if we are lucky, it might even shed light on certain
aspects of our lives or personalities that had remained obscure before…

Giiwenh. That´s how far this blog story goes. Miigwech for reading and listening!

Bi-waabamishinaang miinawaa daga: please come see us again!

Click here to read #4 in the series Reflections of the Great Lakes.

* Source: Seven Sacred Teachings (Niizhwaaswi Gagiikwewin) By Dr. Joseph Martin and David Bouchard.

** This text merely reflects my personal interpretation of the original Oral Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers.


Silver cuff bracelet design and jewelry photography: by ZhaawanArt (2011)
Pen drawing of the lake: by Zhaawano Giizhik (2003)
Acrylic "We-nen-wi-wik-ka-ni-an" by Chris Ezhinwed Angeconeb
Acrylic on canvas "Ishkode Biinjina" (The Fire Within # 2): by Simone McLeod (2013)
Photo Anishinaabe warriors at shoreline: Minnesota Historical Society


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 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.