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Friday, January 14, 2022

Reflections of the Great Lakes, part 15: Zhingibis and the Heart Berry


"Zhingibis and the Return of the Heart Berry"

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Aaniin! Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong. 

("Hi! Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge, where there is love and learning.")


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Ode'imin Giizis ("Heart Berry Moon") © 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik


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= THE STORY OF A BOY WHO DEFEATED THE SPIRIT OF WINTER =

 

Nahaaw, ninga-aadizooke aabiding miinawaa.
 
(“Alright, let’s tell another sacred story...”)

As long as the Anishinaabeg can remember, an old and seasoned warrior lives in Giiwedinong (the North). His name is Biboon (Winter). He is also known by his more poetic name: Gaa-biboonikaan (ᐱᐴᓂᑫᑦ᙮ written in Ojibwe syllabics), the Bringer of Winter, or Winter Maker. In many stories Gaa-biboonikaan is presented as a star constellation (often called Bebooniked Anangoog) whose presence in the night sky heralds winter. The stars of the Winter Maker embrace the whole of the winter sky. The Winter Maker starts to have its presence known in the Freezing Over Moon (November) when it starts to rise from the eastern sky; by mid-winter, which would be about in the Suckerfish and Bear Moon (February), it is standing straight up in the night sky, and when spring arrives Winter Maker sinks into the West. Striding and paddling the celestial equator like a mighty hunter/bowman/canoeist, this mighty biboonikewinini (Winter Making Man) shines the brightest in the two spirit moons (December and January). 

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Gaa-biboonikaan Orion constellation
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Now it happened that Biboon, who, if he had it his way, would keep the lakes and rivers of the Northwoods in his icy grip all year around with his freezing breath, was engaged in a permanent conquest with a young man called Ziigwan, for whom he harbored a special hatred. Ziigwan was an antipode of the fierce old warrior; possessing a kind and gentle nature, his abode was in the land of zhaawani-noondin (the South Wind), a place of perpetual warmth and flowers and bird song. Thus, each year around Onaabanigiizis (Snowcrust Moon) Biboon and Ziigwan tested their strength for dominion over Gaa-zaaga'iganikaag, the land of Many Lakes.

Now, this is an old story that happened in a distant past, you may say. Just an old folk tale, of a merely poetic or romantic nature at most, stemming from a long-gone time when people still believed in magic. But this is where you may be wrong! The story presented today, although told in the backdrop of the annual struggle between Biboon and Ziigwan, is one that happens in the here and now, and proves that magic is still alive deep in Anishinaabe Aki - the heartland of the Ojibweg Peoples…¹

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NOOKOMIS’ TEACHING


Ahaaw sa, okay then, this is how the story begins.

On an Ojibwe reserve, which was situated in a beautiful area of rapids and falls that connects two big freshwater lakes, a young man named Zhingibis Manitoskiing lived with ookomisan, his maternal grandmother. Most folks on the rez called him by his birthname but, because he had an exceptionally kind and gentle nature, his grandmother addressed him as “Ziigwan,” which is anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) for "spring." Although his family and friends knew him to be a dreamer, modest and pensive, and possessing a truly romantic soul, he also had a cheerful and optimistic side to him - some would even say quick-witted, and cheeky. 

If there was one thing that could be said about him, however, is that he loved stories. Or, to be exact, the traditional stories of his People. And that he loved Nookomis, his grandmother! Zhingibis particularly cherished the many evenings when he got to listen to her sharing the old aadizookaanan, or -  as she called them – “sacred stories.” The reason why he loved ookomisan’s storytelling so much, I guess, was that they were filled with meaningful and – often – humorous - life lessons and populated with a myriad of colorful aadizookaanag (story characters) showing many patterns of behavior in both real life and in the stories themselves. When ookomisan shared these cultural stories with him during the cold winter nights he could hear in her voice the love she had for each and every one of these “relatives” – as she called them – and boy, were there many! “Look up in the night sky,” noozis, Nookomis used to say, “and count the stars. That is how many stories there are. Then look up when the night is at it clearest and count again. That is how many relatives live up there!”

When he was seven years old Nookomis had told Zhingibis that his parents (who had both gone to the spirit world) had named him after the legendary Zhingibis, the brave and very persistent little grebe that lived long ago along the nearby shore of Gichigami (Lake Superior), and that, true to its sunny nature, always made the best of every situation. Zhingibis had always been very proud of his name! The reason why he loved that little resilient waterfowl – who had earned a warm spot in the hearts of the Anishinaabeg for bravely standing up to the terror of the Northwest Wind – so much was that its character resembled his in more than one way…

The smart little grebe invited the North Wind inside his lodge,” Nookomis told her grandson, “ but when he sat there by the fire in the warm lodge, he did his best to freeze the fire, but Zhingibis would stir it up and it got very warm in the lodge. Weaker and weaker from the heat, the North Wind, whose body was made of ice, slowly but surely melted; he finally turned and left. Soon after that Ziigwan (Spring) came!”

The winter moons were long and there was plenty of time for storytelling. Another favorite story character of Zhingibis was Wenabozho, the Great Trickster hare who, with his daring and often foolish actions holds up a mirror to mankind. And of course there were Giizhigookwe, or “Sky Woman,” the legendary creator of mankind, and the bagwaajiwininiwag or “wilderness men,” a race of mischievous magical dwarfs that live in the forest, and Gaa-biboonikaan, the great trickster of the cold north and bringer of winter. But by far his favorite aadizookaan was that of ᐅᑌᐦᐃᒥᓐ᙮ Ode’imin, the boy who returned from the dead in order to help his People.

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Zhingibis Defeats the Northwest Wind

Zhingibis Zhaagooji' Giiwedin ("Zhingibis Defeats the Spirit of the Northwest Wind") © 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik
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Nookomis often related the story of ᐅᑌᐦᐃᒥᓐ᙮ Ode’imin to her grandson, who never tired listen to it. When a plague had struck the Anishinaabeg, ᐅᑌᐦᐃᒥᓐ᙮ Ode’imin, when still a 15-year old, had been one of many who died. He entered the Land of Souls; the otter, called oshkaabewis or helper, walked with him as his travel companion. At the end of this path the boy met up with spirits, who manifested themselves as grandmothers. He pleaded with these grandmothers to save the Anishinaabeg from this destructive epidemic. The grandmothers were so impressed by the admirable altruism of the young fellow, Nookomis said, that the boy was brought back to life and sent 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, ᐅᑌᐦᐃᒥᓐ᙮ Ode’imin hereupon brought his People their Medicine Lodge, and thus forever institutionalized the knowledge of curing. But most importantly, Nookomis said,  ᐅᑌᐦᐃᒥᓐ᙮ Ode’imin taught the Anishinaabeg about mino-bimaadiziwin, the Good Code for Long Life and Upright Living. “This, noozis, my grandson, led to the physical and moral healing of our People,” she said.

One day Zhingibis had asked her, “Where does Ode’imin live now, Nooko?” “He now lives in the moon, noozis,” grandmother replied, “the Midewigaan, our Medicine lodge, was built in honor of him, and this is still commemorated today by when we look up to the moon. Here he can be seen holding and guarding the grandfather-water drum. Through Ode'imin, Nookomis Dibik-giizis, our Grandmother the Moon, teaches the men of our Nation to care for this sacred item, and she has instructed our women to teach the men to use their hearts and to connect their hearts to the water drum. So sacred is the story of Ode'imin who lives in the moon to guard the water drum that the ma'iinganag, the wolves, can be heard howling at our grandmother at night...”

Zhingibis, his curiosity fired, then asked, “But why is a strawberry called heart berry, Nooko? “Our people have called the strawberry so since time immemorial, noozis,” grandmother had replied, “since a strawberry is shaped like a heart and its medicinal uses are for strengthening and healing the cardiovascular system. When you look closely at a strawberry plant it resembles a human heart, and it’s veins, leaves, and roots function the same as the heart system that we carry in our bodies. Baashkaabigonii-giizis, the Flowering Moon the white man calls June, is when the heart berry ripens and since our ancestors first walked the earth, it is a time of Summer Solstice when Anishinaabeg come together to hold a yearly ceremony and feast. Traditionally, we eat the entire berry including the little green leaves that sit on top. The reason for this is that this part is not only full of medicine but it is also part of the spirit of the plant.

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Baashkaabigonii-giizis Blooming Moon

Ziigwan Niigiwin ("Birth of Spring"), line art wall print © 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik. 
Click here to view details of the print.

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THE OLD MAN IN THE CABIN BY THE LAKE 

Now, today’s story begins late in the moon of Onaabani-giizis (Snowcrust Moon; the month of March). It was bitterly cold. Despite (or because of?) the global warming, winter still held the waters of the nearby locks and rivers in its icy grip. This worried Zhingibis since his grandmother, who had a heart condition, was sick and suffered badly from the perpetuating cold. This had happened before in the past, and when Zhingibis was still a small child, ookomisan had told her grandson to step outside the house, bring his bow and arrows with him, and aim skyward.

“Go and shoot up in the sky. Shoot Gaa-biboonikaan, the Bringer of Winter,” ookomisan had said. Sure enough Zhingibis did as he was told, and sure enough the weather warmed up. He smiled as he remembered it, and decided to take his bow and arrows out as soon as the Bringer of Winter, which white folks in town call Orion, emerged in the night sky. Then he fell asleep…

That night, Zhingibis had a dream. He saw himself walking westward along the bank of Gichigami. He walked tirelessly. In this dream he walked for hours along the shore, treading with a light and quick step, and, despite of his normally rather timid nature, his dark eyes sparkled and a resolute smile was spread across his handsome face.

That evening he encountered a log cabin amid a grove of pine trees. Zhingibis noticed a big wiigwaasi-jiimaan (birchbark canoe) lying upside down at the back of the cabin. Surprised by his own sudden boldness he peeked through the window, and inside the cabin, which consisted of just one room, he noticed an old man with exceptionally long and snow white hair who beckoned him to enter. He sat at the remains of a fire in the center of the room, the reflection of its dying flames faintly flickering across the rough log walls and the old man’s wrinkled face. The scent of a mixture of wiingashk aniibishan (sweetgrass) and oziisigobimizh (shining willow), which the old man had toasted over the fire, filled the cabin. Ode’imin noticed a whole bunch of animal hides hanging on the left wall; the right wall was neatly lined with rows of frames of agimag (snowshoes). The floor of hard-packed earth was covered with apishimonag (cedar branches) and scattered with piles of what looked to him like carcasses and antlers of waabitiig (elk), adikwag (caribou), and moozoog (moose). Except for an antique cabinet placed against the back wall there was no furniture in the room… Zhingibis remembered seeing the old man in town once in a while, but not often. People said he talked to no one and lived a secluded life outside the reserve.

 “Giin ina Nanaboozhoo?” said the old man in a raspy voice, using an old Anishinaabe expression of greeting. “Are you Wenabozho? I have waited for you. The spirits told me you would come. Biindigen, gisinaa agwajiing heh heh, come in, it’s cold outside. Even zhingibis, that pesty little waterbird that is your namesake, is quiet, heh heh! I have been told you are a mighty storyteller. So am I! Ambe, come, sit down beside me, let’s smoke the pipe and have some black medicine water (coffee). Then, let’s share some stories!”

As Zhingibis, reluctantly, sat down on the bare dirt floor it was freezing cold inside the cabin, almost as cold as outside! he noticed to his horror the old man’s eyes were cold as stone, enh, the color of ice. He also sounded different from the Elders he knew on the rez. The old man took an asinii-opwaagan (stone pipe) from his gashkibidaagan (pipe bag), filled it with a smoking mixture that seemed to the boy like apaakozigan (kinnikinnick; a mixture of tobacco and willow bark). After he lightened the pipe using an ember from the dying fire he took a few puffs, offering the smoke to the north; then, counterclockwise, to the west, the south, and the east. Then he offered the smoke to the earth and then to the sky. Next, the old man handed over the pipe to Zhingibis, who was baffled by the order with which the old man had addressed the spirits of the four winds and the sky and the earth. He had never before seen anyone start their prayer in the north, let alone in a counterclockwise direction! True to his tradition, Zhingibis started with the east before offering the smoke to the south, the west, and the north, and finally, like he was taught by his Elders, to the sky and the earth. When this ceremony was concluded the old man, who looked at Zhingibis with a strange glow in his eyes, handed him a mug of coffee. Then he started to speak. “Let it be known that I open my heart and my home to you, my son, since you have been walking for many hours. Your deeds and reputation preceed you! Ahaaw andodan, n’ga gwayak dadibaajimo noongom. Now listen! I will tell you a true story.”

As he looked at Zhingibis with glaring white eyes, the old man took a few pulls on his pipe and resumed in his creaky voice, “Ahaaw! I know of an old man who lives alone in a cabin far north of the rapids, deep in the woods by the side of a stream that is perpetually frozen. Now, I will tell you about this man, who is truly remarkable in more than one way. You know, they say, “waabi-makwa odoodeman”; the white bear is his clan. As you will know, the white bear, who sits in the north, is the patron of winter. They say that in his younger days this man was a mighty e-bimodaakwed (bow man) and an equally skilled jiimaaninini (canoe man). No one was as skilled in hunting as this man, who colored the snow red with the blood of countless moose, lynx, and bears. No one paddled a jiimaan across the lakes and through the rapids and treacherous undercurrents more expertly than he did; they even say he could mystically steer his vessel through the air, high up in the sky! Folks in town and most people on the rez don’t like him much though, I think they’re afraid of him. Perhaps this is because they suspect that this man possesses powerful medicine, and not just when on the hunt or paddling his canoe. When he breathes, the water of the rivers and lakes stand still. The water turns into ice for as long as he think it’s fun and there isn’t a darn thing they can do about it. This man, this powerful canoeist, he happens to like the cold and the ice, he loves heavy snowfall and freezing hail storms. In fact, he hates the warm weather and he makes darn sure the waters stay frozen and the roads are inaccessible as long as he lives. Ha! Folks on the rez whisper he’s a wiindigoo, one of those winter monsters that feed on human flesh you hear about in the aadizookaanan, our sacred stories. Of course, he’s not, that’s just their superstitious nature talking, heh heh.”

After a moment of silence, during which he stared pensively into the flames of his dying campfire, the old storyteller resumed: “But that this man has supernatural powers is without question. It is believed he is closely related to Gichi-ogimaa, the Big Chief Star called “Vega” in Zhaaganaash (English). As you may know, there lives not a thing or being on earth that does not have a ruling spirit or star in the skies; this Gichi-ogimaa, or Chi-ogima Anang as he is often called, controls all the other stars and constellations and assigns them their roles. On earth, Chi-ogima Anang controls the force of gravity and causes the water to be lifted off the lakes and rivers. So powerful is this star that he is able to store up all these waters and later release them to cause snowfalls! This Chief Star, I’m pretty sure the old man I’m telling you about and that star are two peas in a pod! Therefore no one can stop the old man, he cannot be defeated, and as long as the Chief Star wills it, the spirit of biboon will cover the earth with a thick blanket of snow and the fish will remain locked underneath the frozen waters of creeks and rivers and lakes. As long as waabi-makwa, the spirit of the polar bear, rules the north and Gaa-biboonikaan, the star constellation called Orion by the white man, rises in the east and travels across the southern night sky, the animals and the people on earth will hide from this man’s icy breath in their snowed-in dens and caves and houses, and the very ground under their feet will remain hard as flint for a long, long time.” The old storyteller drew a few puffs from his pipe and concluded by saying with a rather smug expression on his thin white lips, Giiwenh, so the story goes. Ahaaw noozis, daga aajimishin! Okay my grandson, now please, you tell me a story!”

Now Zhingibis, upon hearing the old man’s tale, thought a while before he responded. Since he had a lively imagination, and on top of that a poetic way of expressing himself, he said, rather cheeky, “Miigwech for your hospitality and for telling me the wiindigoo story, grandfather. Now, if you let me, I will tell you a true story about a boy I know and whom we will call Ziigwan (Spring). Folks on the rez and in town happen to like this boy. They say that although he can be meek and shy, he’s also very sociable and always ready to help others in need. This boy, although not a skilled hunter and canoeist like the old man in your story, he is a born poet and he, too, has powerful medicine, which he, too, derives from the stars. But Ziigwan’s medicine is different from that of the old man you spoke of. Instead on Gaa-biboonikaan, the Bringer of Winter, his gaze is always fixed on the constellations of Ojiiganang and Mishi-bizhiw, the Fisher and the Great Lynx, which the white man calls Big Dipper and Leo, or Cancer, and which are directly overhead in spring.

This boy, they say that his direct ancestor is Ode’imin, the boy who came back from the spirit world to teach his people about herbs and morality. His character is like that of Zhingibis, that little stubborn helldiver of the lake that can’t be intimidated. It is also said that his nature resembles that of Wenabozho himself, who, they say, now rests in a faraway land in the west. Where this boy walks, all things, instead of withering away and dying, come to life. When he speaks, flowers start to bloom and birds start to sing. The warmth of his very soul melts the snow and even unlocks the frozen streams and lakes. They say the boy Ziigwan truly lives up to his name. They say he is like spring.”


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Zhingibis Defies the Spirit of Winter, line art by Zhaawano Giizhik  © 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik

Zhingibis Defies the Spirit of Winter, line art by Zhaawano Giizhik 
 © 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik

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JOURNEY TO ANOTHER DIMENSION



Zhingibis looked at the old man who sat motionlessly across him. Nookomis’ story of how the smart little grebe outsmarted the Northwest Wind came to his mind and he couldn’t help smiling. After a few moments he said, with a mischievous flicker in his boyish eyes, “Wiishtaa grandfather, it sure is cold in here! Let me rekindle the fire for the night. I will go outside for some firewood and be back in a while.” Before his host could respond Zhingibis quickly walked outside in the night and started to gather firewood. As he was picking twigs from the frozen bushes alongside the lakeshore he noticed with a shiver the weather changed. Violent gusts of wind and freezing rain crossed the big lake, rattling along the tops of the bare trees lining its shore, and almost knocked over the boy who, arms full of firewood, sped to the door of the old man’s cabin. Safely inside, he immediately started to rekindle the fire, building it from a low flame to almost a blaze. The wind, which tore at the door he had just closed behind him as if it would wrench it from its hinges, blew clouds of fine snow into the room; the ground shook violently before he seated himself upon it!


“Did you notice the change in the weather, grandfather?” the boy asked, gesturing toward the frozen lake. The old man looked at him, his face without expression but his strange eyes seemed even whiter than before. “Enh,” he grunted, “I expect company. Our guest will be here any minute. Here, have some more gaapii (coffee).” As the old man handed him the black medicine water, Zhingibis noticed that the old man’s hand shivered. The hand reminded him of talon’s claws. When he took the mug filled with hot coffee in both hands he had a feeling that someone was putting an ice cold hand on his neck, and he, too, shivered.

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Zhingibis and Biboon
© 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik
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After a while he looked up and noticed the tongue of his host had become silent. The old man was trembling all over his body, and his wrinkled face was wet with transpiration. He was weeping speechless! Streams began to flow from his eyes! As the heat of the fire increased, the old man seemed to shrink, and hoowah!, in front of the amazed boy, within seconds he had melted completely away, leaving only a little pile of pale bones and melting snow. Then, tayaa! the door behind Zhingibis flung open and the room became instantly filled with a roaring sound accompanied by heavy snow flakes that felt like razors carried on a violent wind. A terrible cold, even more freezing than before, pervaded the lodge. An invisible hand appeared over the place where the frightened boy sat, clearly with the intent to smother the fire. The fire, suddenly blazing with flames flickering wildly with millions of sparks flying around the room like angry bees, died down completely. In the blink of an eye the room became black like the night outside…

Then, suddenly a thick mist rose from the snow-packed floor of the cabin that seemed to muffle every sound in the Universe. Zhingibis had another vision. Dreaming, he looked around, and he found himself alone in a wiigiwaam - a lodge covered with large sheets of birch bark. To his wonderment he noticed he wasn’t dressed in his usual jeans and shirt and winter jacket but instead wrapped in a blanket stitched with countless colorful beads, in the floral design style his grandmother loved so much. Although she was nowhere to be seen he felt her presence near. Then, his soul-vision saw eye-blinding flashes of white light that came from the smoke hole of the domed roof. A big thundering voice broke the silence, resonating in the lodge, saying, “Inashke! Nindabiiw. Nigimiigaadenimaa! Sha naa, ishpiming inaabin! “Pay attention! I am the visitor you have been expecting. I am your enemy! Look up into the Sky dammit!” Before Zhingibis knew it the spirit that spoke to him lifted him up, through the smoke hole, into another dimension that lay above the earth.

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The Spirit of Ziigwan

Biboon ("The Spirit of Winter"), line art wall print by Zhaawano Giizhik
© 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik. 

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THE GREAT SKY BATTLE


As he sat on this higher plane, still dreaming, Zhingibis was surrounded by the star constellations Nookomis had told him about. He saw the Moose chased after by Wenabozho, he saw the Great Horned snake, the loon, and two Thunderbirds, their wings flapping, and with silent lightning flashing from their eyes. And there, hovering right in front of him, Biboonikewinini, the Bringer of Winter the old man in the cabin had talked about! The Great Hunter loomed light in the night sky; it shone very brightly and he could almost touch it. A bright red star located in the Great Hunter’s shoulder caught his eye. Suddenly, a tall stranger broke away from it. He had the shape of a man, though he seemed to be fashioned of ice. This huge scary-looking dude walked or rather, floated – up to the plane he sat on with big, angry strides and judging from the mean look in his eyes he was up to a lot of no good!

The unfriendly spirit positioned himself in front of Zhingibis, who quickly stood up. Blowing his ice-cold breath in Zhingibis's face, he snarled, “Ambe oshkinawensh! Come on young fellow! I know who you are and I do not like you one bit! You must wrestle me. Only by defeating me the warm weather will return to the land and the lakes and the rivers beneath you.” “Hoowah! Why should I fight you?” Zhingibis responded. “I am not looking for trouble and I’d rather have you leave me alone. Put me back on earth please, I just want to go home!” “It is not for you to question, nor to sneak away like a dog with it’s tail between his legs” thundered the ill-tempered stranger. “It is the way of the world and you must obey.”

Suddenly an ice cold wind started to blow, growling and snarling like a hungry wolf and a terrible blizzard blasted in from the north, darkening the sky, reducing Gaa-biboonikaan, the Winter Star constellation, to a pale light. Without further ado the stranger began to assault the poor boy with his bare fists that felt like ice-cold steel. Zhingibis almost shat his pants with fear. His gentle nature was no match for his mighty opponent’s hatred, whose ferocious blows almost knocked him unconscious. With each beating the boy became weaker, and he already envisioned himself lying senseless on the icy clouds he kneeled on, battered and bleeding and dying… But, amid his tormentor’s terrible blows, crouching and suffering badly, his vision temporarily blurred by blood and tears running into his eyes, he was tormented the more by the flame of conscience… in a flash of light an image appeared of his sick ookomis, who smiled at him. “Gigichimashkawizii noozis!” grandmother whispered, “Zoongide'en! Bimaaji’i Anishinaabeg, bimaaji’i aki.” You have great inner strength, grandson! Be brave! Save the Anishinaabe people, save the earth.”

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The Great Sky Battle
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"A terrible battle ensued." Artwork by Zhaawano Giizhik. The Great Sky Battle between Ziigwan and the Wiindigoo in the Night Sky. © 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik

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DEFEAT OF THE GREAT SKY WARRIOR


Zhingibis, who loved ookomisan very much, felt courage grow in his heart… still half-blinded, he raised himself up and with both fists he savagely attacked his hot-headed opponent, punching him wildly in his icy face, and knocked him unconscious. The spirit, his face turning purple, thumped on the ground. The wind still howled like a wolf, but less ferocious now – no longer in indignation or retribution but rather with a shuddering groan. The snow that a minute ago had poured down heavily upon the icy plane, swirling around through the air like a tremendously dense fog, stopped falling. Panting, bleeding, Zhingibis sat down and waited by the unmoving form beside him. As soon Zhingibis as his tormentor recovered the wind started to howl again, and again Zhingibis assaulted him. A terrible battle ensued, even worse than the one before, and Zhingibis kept attacking his opponent relentlessly. The fight continued until the old warrior pleaded for mercy, promising to leave the boy alone, and return to his abode into exile - albeit temporarily.

The old warrior spirit from the north, although beaten in battle, stood still tall. Facing the boy, he addressed him in a somewhat faltering, yet solemn voice:

“Your heart is known to me, noozis, my grandson.

Since you have a generous and gentle nature and have always behaved in the most upstanding way and are sincere in your concern for the animals, the small and large birds, the fish and the human beings, and especially for gookomisan, your grandmother,

all the nations of the four-legged and fish and birds and your own people, as well as the spirits that dwell the corners of the earth and the stars that dwell the night sky, feel kindly disposed to you.

This is why the spirits have conferred upon you the power to conquer the fiercest and most relentless winter tempests, and gave you the ability to annually plant the seeds of the renewal, youth, and life into the bosom of the earth as soon as the days of gaa-biboonikewinini, the bringer of winter, are numbered, and end.

Such a powerful medicine is yours only as you find it necessary in your perpetual quest of doing good deeds.

Use this medicine wisely noozis, my grandson, and know that I respect you.

But remember this. You have beaten me this time but you shall not destroy me entirely. Each season has certain spirits that make that season happen. The star of the mighty hunter warrior called Gaa-biboonikaan shines less brightly now, only to temporarily retreat to Ningaabii'anong, the land in the west. I have grown weak and life must take his place; death must yield to life. This is the way of the world. However, in time I will recover from my injuries and I will come back in seven moons from now, when Gaa-biboonikaan’s Star stands upright again, high up in the southern sky. When I return to the earth I will challenge you again and beat you in battle.

Since it is my nature, noozis, I promise I will bring back winter and snow and ice to the earth and her children, and bring along with it decay, hardship and desolation, and death! You and I will always test our strength and battle for supremacy over the land and the lakes and the rivers on below earth. This, I assure you, will go on into eternity.”

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THE RETURN


The battered warrior disappeared out of sight and Zhingibis, the voice of his antagonist still ringing in his ears, found himself alone on the frozen sky surface above the earth, which now was stained with the blood of himself and his beaten enemy. The wind, which had howled fiercely during the battle, lay down. Gaa-biboonikaan disappeared behind the western horizon and Waabananang, the Morning Star, soon followed by Giizis, he Sun, appeared in the east. A distant eagle, wings bathing in the golden light of dawn, swooped down over The Great Lake (Lake Superior). A gentle warmth came over the icy plain where he had nearly lost his life; the place, now sun-drenched, suddenly looked serene. Looking down from his high abode, he noticed the cabin beside the river that he had visited a while ago, bathing in a peaceful morning light. The surface snow had melted under the glare of the radiant sun and the ice on the lake had thawed. Exhausted but contented, the soft breeze lightly touching the surface of the blue lake delighting his ears, he closed his eyes and he sensed his body descending, floating almost, gently back to earth again…


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Ode'imin Giiwekii ("Return of the Heart Berry"), digitized pen and ink on paper by Zhaawano Giizhik. © 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik

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GIFT OF THE HEART BERRY


When Zhingibis woke up he found himself lying on the lakeshore where the cabin had stood. He searched for his reflection in the clear water to see if his face showed any signs of the terrible fight he had been engaged in. But no. “Did it really happen?” he wondered. Then, suddenly, he realized he was still dressed in the richly decorated blanket that he had been wearing while on the sky plane. Looking around he noticed the snow and ice had disappeared and the soil had become green, lush, and beautiful again. The fragrance of growing herbs and flowers that came softly on spring breeze from the south filled his nostrils. The branches of the trees that lined the lakeshore showed fresh buds and the air filled with the humming of bees and the song of robins and bluebirds. Feeling revived and his spirit renewed, Zhingibis stood up and searched for the old man’s cabin but not a trace of it was left. He did, nevertheless, find the remains of the firepit! Around it lay scattered the antlers and bones he had seen on the cabin floor. How amazing was that!


But, hoowah! the most amazing part of it was that, right where the old man’s campfire had burned, stood three graceful vines of ode’imin (Heart Berries). Their exceptionally tall stems, which reached all the way to the sun, were abundant with five-petal snow-white flowers. He knew by experience that pretty soon
white heart-shaped fruit would appear, only to transform over days into big red delicious heart-shaped berries, luscious, sweet, and health-reviving…

Again he wondered if it had all had been real, or just a dream or hallucination… the old man inviting him into his cabin, the storytelling, the storm, the old man vanishing, the blanket with its dazzlingly intricate floral patterns, the invisible hands that had lifted him onto the sky plane where the cruel stranger from the north had wrestled him and where he had seen the face of his grandmother, talking to him, reassuring him, and giving him the strength to beat his formidable opponent… the invisible hands that then had gently lowered him back onto the earth…

With a shudder, he remembered the icy visage of the angry spirit that had attacked him in the old man’s cabin, and then battled with him in another dimension, high in the sky… Suddenly he realized he had witnessed the dying of winter! He had looked no other than the fearsome Ishpiming Wiindigoo in the eye and, unknowingly, challenged him … that dreaded giant of the night sky that he had heard about in the stories ookomisan had told him as a child lived in the Bebooniked Anangoog, the Winter Bringer constellation…

Zhingibis instinctively understood that the vines before him, which had bravely lifted their white and yellow heads out of the ashes of old man biboon’s campfire, were a silent reminder of what had occurred and a symbol of the rebirth of ziigwan, the spring. He knew that they were an image of himself. To him, their stems, green leaves and bright flowers wavering softly in the warm spring breeze symbolized nutrition, and healing. Then he remembered one of Nookomis’ strawberry stories that held an important teaching about death and about the power of change and healing. “Finding peace doesn’t necessarily come from the head – it comes from the heart,” Nooko had said. He instinctively knew that the heart-shaped fruit that would soon paint the land red in great abundance would revive his sick grandmother…

He smiled and started to walk home where he knew she awaited him.

Giiwenh: so the aadizokaan goes about Zhingibis Mandosking and how his dream helped returning the warm weather to the freezing earth. The story reminds us that we must follow the path of his namesake, the resilient little grebe who, according to tradition, defeated the cold Spirit Winter and thus became a metaphor for mental strength and the virtues of perseverance and fortitude. It also teaches us that whenever or wherever we as Anishinaabeg establish our villages and homes we must never neglect our duty to annually honor, celebrate, and carry on the gift of healing and the knowledge of medicine that was handed down by our first teacher Ode'imin, the Heart Shaped Berry. 

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 when he was still a boy and the berry the boy who transformed into a teacher. And all we have to do to catch a glimpse of him and his helper, the otter, is to look up into the night sky, to the moon and to the Milky Way, the river of souls...

Nahaaw, miigwech gaa-gii-anamichigeyan o’owe aadizookaan noongom mii dash gidibaajimotoon o'owe bawaajigewin.

Well, thank you for having read this story today, for letting me tell you about this dream.

Read part 16 in the series: Why I Use Silver in My Wedding Rings.

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¹ The story is loosely based on an earlier story, titled “The Gift of Spring,” which I wrote in the Suckerfish Moon (March) 2020.

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About the author and his sources of inspiration:



Trouwringen ontwerper Zhaawano Giizhik

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My name is Zhaawano Giizhik. My clan is waabizheshi, the marten.

As an American artist and jewelry designer currently living in the Netherlands. I like to draw on the oral and pictorial traditions of my Ojibwe Anishinaabe ancestors from the American Great Lakes area. For this I call on my manidoo-minjimandamowin, or "Spirit Memory"; which means I try to remember the knowledge and the lessons of my ancestors. 

The mazinaajimowinan or ‘‘pictorial spirit writings’’ - which are rich with symbolism and have been painted throughout history on rocks and etched on other sacred items such as copper and slate, birch bark and animal hide - were a form of spiritual as well as educational communication that gave structure and meaning to the cosmos. 

Many of these sacred pictographs or petroforms – some of which are many, many  generations old - hide in sacred locations where the manidoog (spirits) reside, particularly in those mystic places near the coastline where the sky, the earth, the water, the underground and the underwater meet. 

It is these age-old expressions that provide an endless supply of story elements to my work  be it graphically, through my written stories, as well as in the context of my jewelry making. 

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