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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Reflections of the Great Lakes, part 5

"The Spirit of ᒪᓅᒥᓐ Manoomin"

Updated: Manoominike-giizis, Ricing Moon (August 13), 2021

Bruidsarmband van ZhaawanArt Unieke Trouwringen

Aaniin! Hello!

By way of a blog series called "REFLECTIONS OF THE GREAT LAKES," accompanied by paintings, graphic art, and jewelry designs, I aspire to capture, and pay homage to, the spirit and beauty and majesty of GICHIGAMIIN, the Great Seas of the Anishinaabe People. A natural resource of immense proportions once respected, revered and held sacred, yet nowadays unappreciated by many, its ecosystem largely being exploited by a myriad of big mining corporations.

The “story bracelet” featuring today's story is made of sterling silver, 18K yellow gold, and turquoise; the piece has inlay of turquoise, white shell, mother-of-pearl, red coral, 14k and 18K yellow & red gold on the inside.

Wisconsin Historical Society


Manoominike Giizis: Mii o’pii manoominked a’aw Anishinaabe  (In The Rice-Making Moon: When The Anishinaabe Picks Rice - When the Moon Grows Fat And The Wild Duck Flies) 

Unieke trouwringen armband
I designed the bracelet as a tribute to manoomin (the wild rice), Manoominike Giizis (the month of August/September), and the natural beauty of zaaga’iganan: the freshwater lakes of the northern country. The bracelet design also expresses my admiration for the brilliant work of the late Hopi spiritual leader and jeweler Charles Loloma – a member of the Badger Clan and a snake priest whose painterly and contrasting jewelry-making style was derived from the colors and contours and patterns of the rugged terrain of his own ancient homeland, deep in the American Southwest.

Although far less wild and exotic, perhaps more clean and delicate than Loloma’s work, and characterized by a “northerly” fashion that was unknown to this master metal craftsman from the Southwest who became world-famous by his sculptural tufa cast jewelry, the “storytelling” designs on (the underside of) the Manoomin bracelet are - remotely- reminiscent of one of Loloma’s early findings: the lining of the interiors of rings and bracelets. Like Loloma and other contemporary Native jewelers influenced by him, I like to think of these inlaid – and sometimes overlaid  interiors not only as themes that tell a story: I call them the soul of my jewelry.

INLAY is a technique initiated by Native silversmiths from the American Southwest, in which a decorative pattern of stones or shell is set into the silver or gold interior or exterior of a piece of jewelry. Charles Loloma’s early "height bracelets" for instance were characterized by multi-colored relief patterns, with the inside of the same piece sometimes lined with intricate mosaic. Irregularities in sizes and shapes of decorative stones were equaled by free forms in the total pieces of this master jeweler, the old and the new always meeting in his sophisticated work.



Great Lakes wild rice harvest
Noongom isa, giwii-dazhindamoon anishinaabe-manoominikewin.

 "Now, I'm going to tell about Ojibwe ricing."

When in the heart of Anishinaabe Aki (Ojibwe land) the leaves of wiigwaasatigoons (the young white birch) start to turn yellow and asasaweminagaawanzh (chokecherry) ripens, then grandmother moon begins to wax and the Anishinaabeg start canoeing their freshwater lakes and rivers gathering their sacred grass: manoomin, or ᒪᓅᒥᓐ written in Ojibwe syllabics, the food-that-grows-upon-the-waters, foretold in the Ojibwe Midewiwin migration prophecy. Traditionally, after the harvest and landing back on shore, the Anishinaabe ricers thresh the freshly harvested grain by dancing on it.

Within living memory, manoomin (wild rice, literally "spirit berry") has fed the mouths, the hearts, and the spirits of the Anishinaabe Peoples that live at, or nearby, Gichigamiin, the Great Lakes. Traditionallly, manoomin forms the chief cereal food in many a southern Anishinaabe community, from some areas in the east (present-day Michigan) to the Lakes region farthest to the west (present-day Wisconsin). It abounds in several lakes, ripening earliest in the shallow ones fed by streams, and later in the lakes fed by springs. By a wise provision of nature the seed of manoomin is carried southward by the plump, ring-necked zhiishiib – the wild duck- which the People hunt during Manoominike-Giizis, the Rice-Making Moon, the season the Euro Americans call the months of August/September.

While “ricing” is traditionally an industry essential to food supply and trade, it has, like the maple sugar camp in the Maple-Sugaring Moon (April), a pleasant social phase, which is why the southern Anishinaabeg gave manoomin an honored place in their culture. Even when someone passes on to the Spirit World, the People offer manoomin for the spirit/soul to travel its journey. Also, in the long ago the Great Mystery blessed the sleep of certain chosen people with the knowledge of manoomin and these “Rice Dreamers’’ showed their fellow band members how to feed themselves with the sacred grain.

Manoomin wild rice Ojibwe nooshkaachinaagan

Harvesting Manoomin has also a spiritual meaning pertaining to the bond between man and woman. When they collect the wild rice a Nishnaabewinini and a Nishnaabekwe go out in their own canoe and they don't take anyone else with them; this show of unity beteen male and female and their mutual contribution to the spirit of manoomin will guarantee a good harvest and also that nothing bad will happen when they are out on the lake.

Simone McLeod The Fire Within #2

To this day, manoominike is the activity that most enlivens Anishinaabe sense of identity. It is simply a way of life, which, however, becomes more and more threatened by changes in the water level and toxic waste and heavy metals from the factories and mines that belong to companies like Exxon - which are gradually but dramatically turning today’s Great Lakes into one big mining district.

According to Ojibwe Anishinaabe traditionWenabozho, the beloved supernatural hero of the Anishinaabeg, known as the first man who walked the earth, was introduced to manoomin by fortune, and by a duck.

"One evening Wenabozho returned from hunting, but he had no game ... As he came toward his fire, there was a duck sitting on the edge of his kettle of boiling water. After the duck flew away, Wenabozho looked into the kettle and found manoomin floating upon the water, but he did not know what it was. He ate his supper from the kettle, and it was the best soup he had ever tasted. Later, he followed in the direction the duck had taken, and came to a lake full of manoomin: the sacred berry, nowadys called wild rice. He saw all kinds of ducks and geese and mud hens, and all the other water birds eating the grain. After that, when Wiinabozho did not kill a deer, he knew where to find food to eat...."



Unieke Trouwringen bracelet
The smooth and simply stylized exterior as well as the sophisticated, vary-colored interior of the bracelet are reminiscent of the once quiet and perfectly natural world of my Anishinaabe ancestors.

It is a world that can best be visualized by closing one’s eyes and imagining the peaceful sounds of paddles slicing the calm waters of a lake on a quiet autumn night - or of bawa’iganaakoon, smooth cedar rice vanning-sticks, gently knocking on stalks of manoomin in the daytime. 

Unieke Trouwringen collectie

The slightly concave form of the smoothed outer band of the bracelet – symbolizing the moonlit surface of a freshwater lake in the quiet season - sets off a lovely, free-form turquoise elegantly set in 18K gold. The unusual green color of the stone represents the sacred and nourishing powers of manoomin – the sacred gift from GICHI-MANIDOO to the Anishinaabeg. This protruding stone, which can be seen as the inner strength, or the spirit of the plant, dramatically tops the abstract Medicine Painter-like image of manoomin that is adorning one end of the bracelet’s exterior – and which I executed in the technique of overlay. The opposite end of the band I decorated with -identically stylized - images representing knocked kernels of manoomin in the first stage of preparation. The black - oxidized - color of the kernels pertains to the color of makadewiminigad, or black seed-grain, which is created by letting the kernels dry in the sun.

Unieke Trouwringen website trouwarmbanden

The seven panels (seven is a sacred number) that I created to line the interior of the bracelet express several interrelated themes, or scenes from Anishinaabe life. Some of these I fashioned by texturing the silver (with a soldering torch) or with the technique of overlay, along with the abstract graphic style of the Medicine (Woodland) Painters.

On the far left I depicted wayiiba da-biboon or the cold weather of soon-approaching winter, represented by the textured imprint of the silver inlay; silver rice beds illuminated by images of the night-sun and the celestial bodies (a touch of red coral represents ningaabi’anang, the evening star, symbol of the west) have been depicted to the right; adjoining are several thin slices of brilliant mother-of-pearl, symbolizing the reflection on the lake’s surface of giizhigaate, the light of the moon; and, farther to the right, I fixed into a panel of 18K yellow gold sheet, giizis bajiishkiwine, or a (red gold) crescent moon, gradually waxing into a giizis waawiyezi or a full moon. This I made from a dome shaped moon stone cabochon. 

Unieeke Trouwringen ZhaawanArt bracelet collection

Since the Anishinaabeg regard zhiishiib and the snipe – a wading bird they call manoominikeshii, the ricing-bird – as special messengers, a sure sign of ripe grain, I created with the technique of overlay - in a graphic style resembling the abstract outline drawings of the Medicine Painters - a silver image of a startled water bird flying over a golden rice bed.

This image of the startled bird visualizes the relationship between the waterfowl and manoomin and the People who so heavily depend on both.

Inlegwerk overlay armband unieke trouwringen

Finally, I fixed to the ends of the interior(!) of the band two attractive brown-speckled turquoise cabochons, one green and one blue, representing the earth and the sky – like opposite sentries guarding the stilled scenery of the moonlit rice beds. Both stones add an unusual finishing touch to the overall design, honoring in color and form the Rice-making Moon, the annual rice harvest, and all that is quintessentially Anishinaabe…

Giiwenh. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidibaajimotoon.

So the story goes. Thank you for listening to me today, to allow me to tell you this story.


Jewelry mage: Manoomin, Spirit of the Wild Rice - bracelet of sterling silver, 18K yellow gold, turquoise; inlay of turquoise, white shell, mother-of-pearl, red coral, 14k and 18K yellow & red gold on the inside. Jewelry photography: Zhaawano Giizhik.

Image of painting: The Fire Within #2, detail, acrylic on canvas by Simone McLeod© 2014 Simone McLeod.
Ojibwe manoomin wild rice



Click here to read #6 in the series Reflections of the Great Lakes. 


Zhaawano Giizhik Tammo Geertsema 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 Baawitigong (Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Michigan) is Waabizheshi, Marten. 
As an artist, a writer, and a designer of Native American inspired 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.



  1. HI Zhaawano,
    How do I go about purchasing some of your gorgeous jewelry? Thank you for sharing your talent and vision with the world.

  2. Hi Katie, I have two websites, one of which is still not entirely finished, but you will find some of my jewelry on it. If you have questions about a given piece do not hesitate to send me a message through the contact form or by email. I gladly make you a customized quotation without obligation and according to your whishes or price expectations.