"Zhingibis and the Return of the Heart Berry"
Ode'imin Giizis ("Heart Berry Moon") © 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik
= THE STORY OF
A BOY WHO DEFEATED THE SPIRIT OF WINTER =
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.
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 that his parents (who had both gone to the spirit world) had named him after the legendary 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 – 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. ,ᐅᑌᐦᐃᒥᓐ᙮ Ode’imin, the boy who returned from the dead in order to help his People.
Zhingibis Zhaagooji' Giiwedin ("Zhingibis Defeats the Spirit of the Northwest Wind") © 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik
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 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, “t
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.”
|Click here to view details of the print.|
Zhingibis Defies the Spirit of Winter, line art by Zhaawano Giizhik © 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik
JOURNEY TO ANOTHER DIMENSION
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.
Biboon ("The Spirit of Winter"), line art wall print by Zhaawano Giizhik
© 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik.
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.”
Ode'imin Giiwekii ("Return of the Heart Berry"), digitized pen and ink on paper by Zhaawano Giizhik. © 2022 Zhaawano Giizhik
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!
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…
Suddenly he Ishpiming Wiindigoo in the eye and … 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…
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…
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.
iigwech gaa-gii-anamichigeyan o’owe aadizookaan
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.
¹ The story is loosely based on an earlier story, titled “The Gift of Spring,” which I wrote in the Suckerfish Moon (March) 2020.
About the author and his sources of inspiration:
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.________________________________________________________