"Giigoonh, Silent Being of Lakes and Streams"
A new story told by Simone McLeod and Zhaawano Giizhik
Passing in the night
Glimpses of each other
as we leave our mother
Is it safety that we stay
inside our canoe our life
not ever making a choice
I strain my ear
to listen carefully
to just hear your voice
When calm is the sea
rustling of memory true
Calm waters eager heart
she feels my longing
moon she looks at you
Fog was designed
for lovers arms
reaching out in vain
I will wait once more
for cloudy nights
to bring you again
We all must fall
sometimes in life
to rise up strong
Learn to walk again
learn to smile again
learn right from wrong
Our journey our life
is our story our own
sit down my friend
For we can share
our words our dreams
Why must it end..."*
We are most grateful to our friend Charles J. Lippert who, in the course of writing this story, once again shared with us his knowledge of Anishinaabemowin, the Ojibwe language.
Gidoodeminaanig, our clans
The five original doodemag, or clans, of the Anishinaabe ancestors who - at least - 700 summers ago gathered at Baawitigong, the rapids and waterfalls of Michigan's upper peninsula -, hold a set of traditional responsibilities for the People. Each member regards himself or herself as member of a clan first, then a community. Traditionally, clan membership includes certain colors, songs, and ceremonies, along with responsibilities that belong to the doodem in question.
Although it is believed that farther back in history the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg were matrilineal – which means that doodem identity was passed through the mother – , nowadays the children usually become automatically members of the father's clan. Members of the same matrilineal or patrilineal clan, no matter how many miles apart, are kin and forbidden to marry, and are expected always to extend hospitality, food and lodging to each other. That tradition is carried on today. Tradition dictates that when members are buried, their doodem symbols appear on their graves to mark their lineage. Also, clan symbols appear in birch bark scrolls of the Midewiwin and and in the old treaty documents.
The Fish Clans
Particularly awaazisii (bullhead), name (sturgeon), and maanameg (catfish) represented the noble arts of knowledge and science.
Fish clan members, known for long life and baldness in old age, claim that in the old days, when their ancestors still lived toward the rising sun, their clan had been the first of the original doodemag to appear out of the Atlantic ocean. From of old, Giigoonh doodem members are responsible for mediating between the chief clans (Crane and Loon) in the case there needs to be a settlement of a dispute and/or a deciding vote.
Traditionally, Giigoonh doodem members help children to develop skills and healthy spirits; they are the teachers, scholars, and the intellectuals of the Anishinaabe peoples. It is especially the Elders' task to teach about life through storytelling, chants, and dances, and to prepare the young for a vision quest.
About the painting
To Simone, this acrylic on canvas titled “Growth Within" touches the core of what true Woodland Art represents: using colors and form to create art that reflects a unique way of looking at the world. This is what Simone said about the painting:
“I am Sturgeon Clan and I grew up facing things alone, set apart from the other women in my family, I depend on nature to see me through many things.
Name Babaamaadiziwin - Path of the Sturgeon - bicolor gold Midewiwin wedding bands designed and handcrafted by Zhaawano Giizhik. Click here to view details of the wedding bands.
The Lake Sturgeon
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).
Click here to view details of the above ring set.
A Good Way of Life
The teachings of MIDEWIWIN, the Lodge of Medicine and Ethics of the Anishinaabe People, tell us that each person has a path to follow, called The True Path of Life, a capricious trail with many digressions (dangers and temptations) traveling over four “hills”: infancy, youth, adulthood, old age. He or she who managed to live out life in all its stages was to receive and possess nature’s greatest gift: MINO BIMAADIZIWIN. Traditionally, MINO-BIMAADIZIWIN, “to live a good way of life,” has always been the central goal for the Anishinaabeg.
About the necklace
The four moveable elements of the necklace, a gold eagle feather, a stylized fish head and tail of white gold and silver and a turquoise stone set in gold, pertain to the central concept of the design: the stages of life that we humans must pass through from birth to death. The elements also relate to the various phases of LEARNING: the human cognitive process and the transfer of knowledge and know-how.
The Anishinaabe forefathers distinguished a variety of Giigoonhyag Manidoog (fish spirits) of at least three types, the first being Mishiibizhiwag, the Underworld Cats, and the others being Mishiginebig, the Sea Serpent who provides Knowledge of Medicinal herb and Makadeshigan or Black Bass, the spirit of the Underworld, who presented the People Medicine and rituals.
A safe passage
The giigoonhyag manidoog have always been
associated with the water realm, and revered by the Anishinaabeg and their
neighbours the Cree as spirits who control the moods of the Lake and
potentially dangerous guards of rapids and swift or troubled waters.
Particularly Mishibizhiw, the Great Underwater Lynx, has the power to
shapeshift into various animal forms. He is said to aid those who seek to
cross dangerous water, provided that a suitable offer is made.
To this day, some folks, particularly medicine people
who seek to be granted the power to enter the sacred rocks, still leave
offerings like asemaa (tobacco), clothing, and bundles of colored
Makadeshigan and the gift of ceremony and health
About the bolo tie
The stylized image of the fish and the ‘‘seeds of medicine’’ that Zhaawano depicted inside the woman’s womb are contemporary depictions of great spiritual power, distantly resonating with the sacred Anishinaabe art forms of the ancient past...
Miigwech for reading and listening and giga-waabamin: see you later!
Read the next episode in the Teaching Stories series: The Trees Speak, part 1.
About the authors/artists:
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. 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 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.