"Spirit of the Blueberries"
A story told by Zhaawano Giizhik
- Updated June 7, 2023
I consider it an honor to share with you this blog story, the first in a new series called Spirit Of The Seasons. Today's post features four canvases painted by Simone McLeod, a as yet unindentified canvas - possibly painted by Blake Debassige - and a silver-and-turquoise ring handcrafted by myself - which graces the finger of a woman from a faraway land in the East. The ring sat in my showcase for many years waiting for the right person to come along. To me, the purity of the shape and color of the stone symbolizes summer, and, since this woman, even if it was for a brief moment, brought warmth and sunshine back into my heart, and since the ring is exactly her size, I figured it was time to give the ring its freedom.
What is it that inspires me to write and create jewelry?
To describe my art and writings, as I see it, is to reflect back to our ancestors, the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg from the northwoods and plains of the Turtle Island areas nowadays called Michigan, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.
Today's blog story breathes the spirit of the months of June and July, respectively ode'imini-giizis and aabita-niibino-giizis in the Ojibwe language of the Anishinaabeg who live south and east of Gichigami (Lake Superior). These names mean literally, "heart berry moon" and "middle of the summer moon." Other names for June that are used throughout Anishinaabewaki (Ojibwe territory) are:
- Baashkaawano-giizis (Egg Breaking Moon)
- Gitige-giizis (Planting Moon)
- Mishiikenh-giizis (Mud Turtle Moon; term used in in the southernmost parts of Anishinaabewaki)
- Ozhibinigaawi-giizhis (sic: Term used by Nakaweg-Ojibweg from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta)
- Waabigonii-giizis (Flower Moon)
- Waabigwanii-giizis (Flower Moon)
- Waabigwaniwi-giizis (Flower Moon)
- Waawano-giizis (Egg Moon)
- Zaagibagaawi-giizis, or -biisim (Budding Moon; term used by Nakaweg-Ojibweg from Northwestern Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta, and by the Northern Ojibweg/Anishininiwag (Oji-Cree))
The month of July is called by the following names:
- Aabita-niibino-giizis (Midsummer Moon; term used in Minnesota and Northwestern Ontario)
- Baapaashkizige-giizis (Keeps Shooting Moon, a modern reference to the Fourth of July)
- Ishkaninjiimini-giizis (Moon of Unripe Berries; term used in Northwestern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta)
- Joolay-biisim ("July Moon"): Modern term used by the Northern Ojibweg/Anishininiwag (Oji-Cree))
- Madwezige-giizis (Be Heard Shooting Moon, a modern reference to the Fourth of July)
- Miin-giizis (Blueberry Moon; term used by the Odaawaag/Southeastern Ojibweg)
- (Blueberry Moon; term used by the Northeastern Ojibweg)
- Miinikaa-giizis (There Is a Blueberry Patch Moon: Northwestern Ontario)
- (Berry Gathering Moon: Northwestern Ontario)
- Miskomini-giizis (Raspberry Moon)
- Miskwimini-giizis (Raspberry Moon)
- Opaaskowi-giizis, or -biisim (term used by he North-shore Ojibweg in Ontario, and by the Northern Ojibweg/Anishininiwag (Oji-Cree))
- Giizhibagaawi-giizis, or -biisim (Be All Out in Leaves Moon; term used in Northwestern Ontario, and by the Northern Ojibweg/Anishininiwag (Oji-Cree))
- Baashkaawe'o-giizis (Egg-Hatching Moon)
- Aabita-niibinoowi-giizhis (Midsummer Moon; term used by Nakaweg-Ojibweg from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta)
- Aabita-niibini-giizis (Midsummer Moon; term used in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Northwestern Ontario)
In the old days, during the warm moons in the period called niibinishiwin (summer camping), the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg of the northwoods, as soon as the ice on the lakes and rivers melted, left their winter camps and headed for the shores of gichigamiin, the Great Lakes. Here they stayed during the summer moons near the river mouths, where the men fished for namebinag (sucker) and namewag (sturgeon) that were entering the rivers and streams to spawn.
Others set up summer camps near the shores of the zaaga’iganan (inland lakes) and fished, hunted, and gathered plant foods and medicinal herbs. These temporary summer villages were usually composed of single-family waaginogaanan and asawa'ogaanan (respectively circular or domed and conical wigwams made of bent-over saplings and covered with birch bark sheets) that generally housed populations of 50 to 70 persons.
Niibinishiwin was not only a time of labor but also of social activities and weddings and ceremonies. At the end of the season called dagwaagin (fall), some of these summer camps served as a base for productive fish expeditions to the tempestuous gichigamiin where the men netted adikamegwag and maazhamegosag (whitefsh and trout) that spawned in gigantic numbers. After the abundant catch the fish was cleaned, smoked, and freezed for the wintermoons. While the men took care of fishing, these kinds of activities would put a heavy demand on the collective labor of the women.
The Anishinaabeg and Iliniwak (Cree) ancestors have always been very fond of berries. Berries, cherries, and acorns were traditionally compounded with other herbs in making medicine. Dried berries, sometimes combined with dear tallow and moose fat, provided nutrition for in the winter moons. When boiled, berries were often seasoned with ziinzibaakwad (maple sugar) or combined with other foods. Strawbwerries and bunchberries were eaten raw. Cranberries - harvested in the fall when the fruit takes on its distinctive deep red color - were cooked using sugar. Blackberries, cherries, chokecherries, red raspberries, and currants, after being cooked (usually without sugar), were traditionally spread on slates of wiigwaas (birch bark) and then stored in makakoon (birch bark baskets and boxes) for winter use.*
A long and healthy life
Look, there goes a bear
|GEGET GI DEBWE ("You Really Speak The Truth"), acrylic on canvas by Simone McLeod|
in dreams long past
feelings of peace
that seem to last
You brought me hope
made life worth living
melting all the frost
it was just the start
for my small feet
each new day
to you my friend, miigwech
for showing me the way...
Story of Ode'imin, the heart-shaped berry
The story of the heart-shaped berry, as is the Anishinaabe name for the strawberry, is forever linked to Midewiwin, Society of Good Hearted Ones, a prestigious and important association of male and female healers and thinkers that is said to have been founded many strings of life (literally thousands of years) ago.
According to one tradition, the Midewiwin was founded by the first herbalist/medicine man of his People, who went by the legendary name of Ode'imin (Heart Berry or strawberry). When a plague struck the Anishinaabeg, this 15-year old boy was one of many who died, and as he entered the Land of Souls he pleaded with GICHI-MANIDOO to save his people from this destructive epidemic. GICHI-MANIDOO was so impressed by the admirable altruism of the young fellow that he brought him back to life and sent him back to earth on a mission of revival and hope.
Under the skillful tutelage of his supernatural teacher Wenabozho, who taught him to study the nature of plants from the conduct of animals, Ode'imin hereupon brought his People the Midewiwin, the grand Medicine Society that forever institutionalized the knowledge of curing, and he taught them about mino-bimaadiziwin. This Good Code for Long Life and Upright Living led to the physical and moral healing of the Anishinaabeg Peoples.
|Otehimin (Ode'imin, the heart-shaped berry), acrylic painting by Simone McLeod (detail)|
Ode'imin taught the People the properties and the curative powers of all beings of the plant world and conferred to them the philosophy of mino-bimaadiziwin, which would forever be propagated through the ceremonies of the Midewiwin. Ode'imin explained to the ancestors that a healer could only reach the highest possible order of healing powers through a high ethical standard, and not by knowledge alone. What counted were not only knowledge of plant and self, but also the ability to bring together the healing capacities of both plant and self. Only a herbalist gifted with and keeping up a high standard of inner power could expect the plant being to reveal its own healing power; only then the plant would allow the herbalist to confer his or her inner curative power upon the plant itself. And to this day, whenever or wherever they establish their villages and homes, the Anishinaabeg never neglect their duty to annually honor, celebrate, and carry on the gift of knowledge that was handed down to their ancestors by Ode'imin, the Heart Shaped Berry. And into this day, each spring and each summer Ode'imin is remembered and celebrated by the People, for the blossom of the strawberry symbolizes Ode'imin's first life and the berry itself his second.**
** Source: Przybilla and Councillor, Ojibwe Tales, 21-2.
|Detail of acrylic "Prayers For Humanity" by Sinome McLeod/Aki-egwaniid|
List of common summer berries, their use, and their harvest season:
Azasawemin,* wiisagipogozimin, isawemin,** ososowemin** (chokecherry): food, medicine (digestive troubles); August to September in Canada;
*Minnesota, Wisconsin, North-shore Ojibweg (Ontario)** Northwest Ontario
Ikwemish,* azasawemin (wild cherry ): food, medicine (digestive troubles); June;
Makade-mikomin,* odatagaagomin, nabanedemin** (black raspberry): medicine (diseases of women); throughout summer;
* Southeastern branch of Ojibweg
**South-shore Ojibweg (Ontario)
* Northern and western branches (Nakaweg Ojibweg) and Anishininiwag
Odatagaagomin,* makade'omin,**makade-miskomin,*** waaboozomin (blackberry), odatagaagominagaawanzh,* (blackberry bush): food, medicine (lung trouble); July, August
* South-shore Ojibweg (Michigan, Wisconsin) and Minnesota
** Southern branch of Ojibweg
*** Southeastern branch of Ojibweg
Odatagaagomin, mitigwaabimin* (mulberry), odatagaagominagaawanzh (mulberry bush): food; throughout summer;
* Southern branch of Ojibweg
*Southeastern branch of Ojibweg
Ode'iminijiibik, bagwaji-ode'imin (heart berry root; wild strawberry): medicine (intestinal disturbance of infants); May;
Zhaaboomin, nikimin (gooseberry); medicine (diseases of women); July, August;
Zhaashaagomin, ozhaashaagomin, ode'iminijiibik, zhakaamowin (bunchberry): food; summer to fall.
About the author:
Zhaawano Giizhik, an American currently living in Amsterdam, 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.