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Thursday, April 4, 2019

Giigidowag Mitigoog (The Trees Speak), part 1

Sugar making moon

"Stories of the Maple Tree"

- Ziisbaakadokwe-giizis/Iskimagize-giizis, Sugar Making Moon (April 4, 2019)
Updated: April 6, 2023
"It is here, in the rocky sanctuaries near the lakes or in hidden domains in the very depth of the woods – sometimes circular glades in the middle of pine and cedar tree woods formed by little spirits, such as bagwajininiwag (“little wilderness men”) –, that men and women seeking a vision quest, searching for solitude and yielding to the quiet mystery of the lake’s and forest’s existence, are welcomed by the spirits. And it was here, in their dreams at night, that our ancestors were told by the bagwajininiwag how to boil down aninaatigwaaboo, the sacred water that comes from the maple trees, to make sugar.”

- Zhaawano Giizhik


Ininatig trees

Boozhoo indinawemaaganidog, gidinimikoo miinawaa. Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong. Hello relatives, I greet you in a good way! Welcome back in my storytelling lodge.

The story that I tell you today is the first in a series named Giigidowag Mitigoog. This is Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) for The Trees Speak." The series features stories about our most sacred trees. Today I will tell you about Gimishoomis Ininatig, Our Grandfather the Maple Tree and what he means to our Peoples, the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg of Turtle Island (North America).  

April, aaniin dash weji-izhinikaazod ishkigamizige-giizis? Ininaatigoog onjigaawag. Ishkigamizige-giizisong, mii apii ji-iskigamiziged a'aw anishinaabeg!

The month of April, why is it called Maple-sugaring Moon? The maple trees run with sap. It is called so because that is when the Anishinaabe boils sap. 

Mewinzha igo ishkigamiziganing gete-aya'aag gii-izhaawag.Gii-taawag gete-aya'aag gii-ozhitoowag ziinzibaakwaad.  

For a long time the ancestors used to go to the sugar bush. The ancestors used to stay there and make sugar. 

Nakawe, biindaakoojigewag anishinaabeg. Bagoneyaa a'aw mitig. Naadoobii. Ozhaboobiiginaan ziinzibakwadwaaboo a'aw anishinaabe. Manise a'aw anishinaabe. Dazhi-iskigamizige iwidi ishkigamiziganing a'aw anishinaabe. 

First, the Anishinaabe makes tobacco offerings. A hole is drilled in the tree. He gathers sap in a birch bark bucket. The Anishinaabe strains the maple sap. Then the sap is boiled. The Anishinaabe gathers wood, then he boils the sap at the sugar camp.


Collecting maple sap
Collecting sap at a maple sugar camp at mde wáḳaŋ (Mille Lacs Lake), 1939. Photo by Monroe P Killy. Minnesota Historical Society.

In communities all across Anishinaabe-aki (Ojibwe country), syrup, sugar, taffy, and candy are made from the sap of the maple tree during the month of April. Some Anishinaabeg, depending on where they live, call April iskigamizige-giizis or ziinzibakwadoke-giizis ‘‘sugar making moon,’’ others call it Pokwaagami-giizis ‘‘broken snowshoe moon.’’ Different names are used for the sap as well. Aninaatigwaaboo ‘‘maple tree water,’’ wiishkawaaboo ‘‘sweet water,’’ and ziinzibaakwadaaboo ‘‘sugar water’’ are probably the most common names, although often spelled in various ways.


A tale about how the Anishinaabeg learned how to boil maple sap  


Ningad aadizooke... I will tell now a sacred story...a story about the Bagwajininiwag...


Bagwajininiwag, called bagwajinishinaabenhsag by some, are dwarflike forest dwellers. Although good-natured, they are probably more mischievous than the Memegwesiwag; they sometimes mess with people's memories or move their things around. If you annoy them, you'll probably lose your keys...Source:
Image: Feast of the Bagwajiwininiwag, painting by Zhaawano Giizhik ©2023 Zhaawano Giizhik


“Gchi-mewzha go gonda bgojinishnaabenhsag bi ko yaawaad maampii gidkamig. Kina go mziwe yaawag. Naangodnoong gaawiin gdoo-waabmaasiig, yaawag dash wii go. Gaawiin ngikendamaasiig yaawaad. Gaawiin ooya bbaamendmaasiiwaan. Mii ninda Nishnaabeg gaa-kinoomaagwaajin waa-zhi-ziisbaakdokewaad. Ninaatigo-ziiwaagbmide gii-zhichgaade maampii Canada jibwaa-dgoshnawaad gonda waabshkiiyejig gchi-gaaming bi-njibaajig. Mewzha, bgojinishnaabenhsag gii-yaanaawaa niigaan-nendmowin, noongo ezhinikaadeg ‘telepathy.’ Epiichi- nbaaying, Bgojinishnaabenhsag kii-wiindamaagnaanik waa- zhi-zhitooying ninaatigo- ziiwaagbmide. Kii-wjitoonaa, gii-nakiimgad dash go. Noongo
go geyaabi zhichgaade ninaatigo- ziiwaagbimide. Mii gonda bgojininiwag gaa-zhichgewaad, gaa-zhi-kinoomaagyiing. Bgojinishnaabenhsag, yaawag go geyaabi."

“Those bagwajinishinaabenhsag (little wilderness beings) have been around this earth for a long time, and there are more of them, all over this country. But you can’t see them, sometimes, but they are around though. I don’t know where they are. They never hurt anybody. And that’s how the Anishinaabe learned how to make maple syrup. Maple syrup was being made here, in Canada, long before the Europeans came here. A long time before, bagwajinishinaabenhsag had, what most people describe as ‘telepathy.’ While we were sleeping, bagwajinishinaabenhsag told us how to make maple syrup. So, when we were told how to make it, we tried it and it worked. It’s still being made today, but, it was those little wilderness men that told us how to do it. Bagwajinishinaabenhsag, they are still around."


Illustration:Sugar making in the old days. Source: Ningo Gikinonwin: Ojibwe Four Seasons.

Inininaatig Aadizookaan - The Sacred Story of the Man Tree, Gift from the Great Mystery

Ahaaw, n’ga aadizooke bezhig miinawaa...Let's tell another sacred tale now...a tale about the origin of maple sugar-making as it is known in the land of Minisooding (present-day Minnesota).  

In the beginning when the world was still young, GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Mystery, decided to make life easier for the Anishinaabeg, who were starving. One day a man stood at the lake gazing across when he heard a voice behind him. It was the spirit of the Man Tree who addressed him saying that the Great Mystery pitied the starving Anishinaabeg and that from now on the trees would gift them with their stories and nutritious sap. The voice gave the Anishinaabe inini at the lake instructions on how to tap the trees. The maple trees were full of thick, sweet syrup that dripped out easily when a branch was broken from the tree and the Anishinaabeg knew they would never have to grow hungry again after the hardships of winter.


Ininatig book


One day, Wenabozho, the supernatural hero and friend of the People, decided to visit the Anishinaabeg, but they were not in the village. No one was hunting, fishing, or working in the fields. Finally he found them in a forest of man-trees, lying around on the ground, catching syrup in their open mouths from the dripping maples.

Wenabozho decided that after all the hardships in the past, life had become too convenient for his People; they would all grow fat and lazy because they would never had to work anymore.


Wenabozho and the Man Tree painting by Zhaawano Giizhik

Ojibwe makak

Top: "Wenabozho and the Man Tree," painting by Zhaawano Giizhik ©2023
Bottom: An Ojibwe ziinzibaakwado-makak (birchbark sugaring basket), Minnesota 1955 


So he made a basket out of birch bark, filled it with water, went to the top of the man trees and poured the water down their trunks. Suddenly, the thick syrup turned thin and watery, just barely sweet. From now on, Wenabozho said, the Anishinaabeg will have to work for their syrup by collecting it in great amounts in a birch basket like mine, and then boil off the water by heating the sap with hot stones. In this way, people will appreciate their hear-earned syrup. But Wenabozho made it so that maples only produced the sap during certain times of the year, at the end of winter, so the Anishinaabeg would spend the rest of the year working in the fields and hunting and catching fish. And this is how it has been ever since..."


> Watch the video about the Man Tree.

So goes the Teaching...

Giiwenh. So goes the Teaching Story about Sugar Making in spring and what it means to the Peoples of the great Turtle Island...Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidaadizookoon. Thank you for listening to my storytelling today. Gigawaabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon... 

> Read part 2 in the series: Birth of the Bear Berry Tree

> Visit the website to read more stories from and about the Anishinaabe Peoples. Illustration at the top of the page: Maple Sugar Time, Patrick DesJarlait (Ojibwe),1946 (detail).
¹A tale related by Wiigwaaskingaa (Whitefish River) Elder Namens/Little Sturgeon. Source: “Wiigwaaskingaa: Land of the Birch Trees,” p. 40 – 41. GRASAC Network.

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