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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Star Stories, part 22: Gift of the Water Drums

"Nimitamaan and the Gift of the Water Drums"

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Woodland Art painting by Zhaawano Giizhik titled Ceremony of the Water drums

Mitigwakikoog Manidookewin ("Ceremony of the Water Drums") ©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik


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"If you want to know the answer to the biggest question of all — the question of our cosmic origins — you have to petition the universe itself, and listen to what it tells you. We, the Anishinaabeg, have the water drums so we can ask these questions in search for answers."
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Part 1: The Origin of the Grandfather Water Drum

“In the beginning, there was silence and darkness. With creation came the first sound, the sound of drum, the heartbeat. To this day, when the Anishinaabeg gather for ceremonies from powwows to traditional gatherings, the drum is present, bringing with it the presence of that long distant past and all the times since - unified by the drumbeat, the heartbeat. ” - Mowetun, Omàmiwinini Anishinaabe Elder.*

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Boozhoo, aaniin!


Welcome to part 22 of a blog series titled "Star Stories," in which I connect my and kindred artists' storytelling art – in the form of rings, jewelry, and graphic art – with anang akiiwan (the star world) as perceived by our Peoples that since time immemorial inhabit the northern regions of Turtle Island – nowadays called Canada and the United States.


Today's post tells the story of the origin of the water drums of the Anishinaabeg Peoples. Or rather, one of the many versions of the story that have been told throughout time around many campfires and kitchen tables in Anishinaabe Aki. Although I made use of various traditional Ojibwe story elements that I picked up during my walk through life so far, and wove threads of my own imagination between all these elements to create a new narrative, I could not have rendered it without the invaluable contribution of my Ojibwe friend Jessie Cree of the Mikinaak-wajiw-ininiwag, a People of mixed Native and Métis ancestry that live on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota. So, when you read the below narrative, please keep in mind that it is Jessie who inspired me to write it (and illustrate) it; it is his vast knowledge of the OLD stories and ways of his People that makes him the true storyteller in here.
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"The pulsating sound of the drums emulating the sound of flowing water reached the Lodges and entered the hearts of the Medicine People - not just their ears. As soon as the flowing water chant was started, all Medicine People in the Lodges would rise and dance during the remainder of the series of chants."

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The Beginning

Many strings of lives ago there lived a young man at a place called Mikinaakwajiw (Turtle Mountain; pronounce; mik-ih-nuck-wah-CHEW). His name was Nimitamaan (pronounce: nih-mih-tum-awn. The literal meaning of the name is “bowsprit”; metaphorically, it means “Navigator," or “He-Who-Sits-in-Front-of-a-Canoe”). 

Nimitamaan's People lived in times of turmoil and distress. A terrible war with a neighboring tribe had brought catastrophic suffering and now a great famine had struck the land. All the Elders of his community had died, leaving behind only young people like himself! This made Nimitamaan’s People worry since no one knew what to do without the experience of the Elders. Who was going to help them, especially now, when knowledge and healing were needed the most?

Nimitamaan, who – as his name suggested - had a curious and helpful nature, decided he wanted to do something to make life better for his People. He decided to seek answers through seclusion and fasting. After a seven day-walk in northern direction he found a cave nestled in a mountain overlooking a big lake.

In this cave he fasted for four days and night, but no answer came. Weakened from the fast and disappointed Nimitamaan left the cage and wandered aimlessly in the deep forest of spruce and cedars that lay at the foot of the mountain.

Then, the following night as he walked into an open glade lit by the light of the moon, he finally had the vision he had been looking for. In this vision he met another man, who seemed about the same age as himself. He wore an eagle feather in his hair, which made him look like an ogimaa (chief)! With a shock, Nimitamaan realized he even looked like him, haw sa, like two drops of water even! As he slowly walked in his direction Nimitamaan noticed a strange light flashed from the other man's pitch-black eyes. and his narrow lips parted in something that looked like a smile. “Aaniin niijikiwenh!” the stranger greeted in a deep voice and with a raised palm, “aandi ezhaayan?” Hello, my friend! Where are you going?” After both men had exchanged the usual courtesies, Nimitamaan told the stranger, who introduced himself by the name of Asin (“Stone”), that the Elders of his tribe had all died and that his People needed help.  

Asin, listening attentively, nodded, and said that he would try to help him. He told Nimitamaan to wait and walked away. After a few moments he returned with a round vessel and handed it to Nimitamaan. Awegonen o'owe, niikaan? Nimitamaan asked. “What is this, my brother?” Asin explained to him that it was a nibiiwakik (pronounce nih-BEE-wah-KICK, a pail crafted from the hollowed-out trunk of wiigobimizh, a basswood tree) and that inside the nibiiwakik was B’he Waaboo (“Medicine Water”; pronounce: b'HEH-waa-boo). This B’he Waaboo, he said, is nothing short of the heartbeat of Ninga Aki, Our Mother Earth. Nimitamaan shook his head in disbelief, after which the stranger told him to look inside the nibiiwakik and see for himself!

Nimitamaan, still not convinced, mumbled aanish gaye goda (“alright then”) and looked inside the nibiiwakik, which was indeed filled with nibi (water). Then, to his surprise, he saw something rise to the surface of the water that at first sight looked like a bubble - but when he looked closer, the bubble appeared to be a miigis (seashell)! Before he could blink twice, however, the miigis sank back to the bottom, only visible as a vague dot floating and shimmering beneath the surface of the water. Puzzled, he looked at Asin. "Inaabin miinawaa!  Look again!” the latter said, “What do you see?” As Nimitamaan looked again he saw the reflection of his face (or was Asin’s face?) in the still water. “I see the reflection of a man's face, and a white dot, which looks like a …” Nimitamaan had not finished his sentence, when a hollow sounding voice sounded from the bottom of the pail, and it spoke to him as follows:

Inaabin onda'ibaaning noozis.

Gaawiin gii-waabandanziin gimazinaatebiigishinowin.

Giiwaabandaan igiwe aazha gaapime ayaawaad.


“Look into the well my grandson.

The image you see in the water is not yours.

What you see is the reflection of those who came before you.”

Nimitamaan stood frozen to the spot, not believing his ears. Still in shock, he then heard a thundering voice, which seemed to come from the sky. “Ishke naa! Waabam Ishpeming! Look! Look up!” the voice said.

As he looked up, Nimitamaan saw the reflection of the white dot in the water twinkle in the night sky. Impressed as he was, he sang a song:

Oonh waabishkisewasin
Aaniin, awegonen wenji-izhi-ayaayan

Chi-ishpiming akiing dago
Dibishkoo waaban-anang ishpiming giizhigong

Oohn waabishkisewasin
Aaniin, awegonen wenji-izhi-ayaayan!  

("Oh shining stone
How I wonder what you are

Up above the world so high
Like the evening star in the east

Oh shining stone
How I wonder what you are!”)

When he was done chanting, he turned to his companion, but then, tayaa! he noticed six other young men had joined him! A gichi-jiimaan (large canoe) stood on its end against a tree. This puzzled Nimitamaan since there was no water nearby! How had they gotten here? The men all looked like Asin; they had the same strange light in their eyes and they wore an eagle feather in their hair.

Aandi wenjibaayag? “Where do you come from?” Nimitamaan asked them, “We came from the stars and have come to help you,” he was told. Haw dash, waabam gizhigong miinawaa, they said, “well now, look up into the sky again!”


Madoodiswan

As Nimitamaan looked up again, he noticed directly overhead a group of seven bright stars which formed a circular pattern resembling the pail in front of him! He looked back at the seven men who sat in a semi-circle before him; then, tayaa! to his astonishment, he noticed they had changed into akiwenziiwag (old men)! Their calm and dignified demeanor was clearly that of ogimaag (chiefs)!

After a campfire was lit a pipe was filled and shared among them. For four days Nimitamaan sat with the seven ogimaag at the campfire, during which they taught him chants and medicines and rituals for warding off sickness and death. This, they told Nimitamaan, would protect his People against sickness and bring them game. Next, they gave him the Niizhwaaswi Gagiikwewinan, or "Seven Sacred Teachings," a set of guidelines to live by in order to achieve moral integrity in life. After all, they explained, a long and happy life is not attained by knowledge of plant and healing and by going into ceremony alone! A full life is not to be obtained by knowledge of cure and ritual, but by living a good life!

On the evening of the fourth day, they told Nimitamaan to rest, and at daybreak to pick up the pail filled with the b’he waaboo, wrap it in a bearskin, and return to his village. “Once you return home, you must build a madoodoowigamig (sweat lodge) and perform the cleansing ritual. Returning to the state of a child in his mother’s womb will remind you of your and your People’s origin, where you came from. Make sure seven madoodoowasiniig (sweat lodge stones) are properly heated in a fire that is placed to the east of the lodge. The Grandfathers and spirit-helpers are thus awakened in the stones. These seven rocks are the Grandfathers that live in the sky. They are us. Remember that! When the Grandfathers are welcomed into the lodge and the space is completely sealed off so that no light and air can enter, place them in a hole at the center of the lodge before you add nibi (water) and giizhik aniibiishan (cedar leaves) to produce the cleansing steam and purifying scent. When you sit in the madoodoowasiniig remember that sitting and sweating there in the dark is like being in your mother’s womb; at the same time, try to envision yourself being in the night sky, protected by the manidoog (spirits) that dwell there. The Grandfather stones will be the only light source in the dark; they will be like the Seven Stars in the sky at night. Then, once the manidoog tell you the ceremony is over, you will be like a newborn baby coming out of its mother’s womb and, at the same time, like a reborn soul returning to earth from its celestial source among the stars. Once you leave the madoodoowasiniig, crawling on hands and feet into the daylight from the east, you will be fully reborn, and ready to fulfill the most sacred of tasks.”

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Mitigwakik

Gagwedwewin - "The Petition." Artist's impression of Omishoomisan Mitigwakik, the Grandfather Water Drum. A miigis (sacred sea shell) sits on the drum top. A drumstick and a pipe lean against the Drum. The singer/petitioner is communing with the spirits while beating a Thunderbird hand drum. ©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik
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“Next, noozis,” the ogimaag continued, “you must attend to nibiiwakik, the water drum. Make sure it is still filled with a layer of the sacred nibi (water). Then stretch a wet deer hide on top of the pail and secure it with a willow hoop. The nibiiwakwik will thus become a mide-mitigwakik: a medicine “hollow log” water drum. Never forget to keep it in a bearskin casing. Then, look for a turtle shell and construct a zhiishiigwan (rattle), and look for wood in order to make a dewe’iganaatig (drumstick). Once the zhiishiigwan is filled with shoot and the dewe’iganaatig is finished, shake the zhiishiigwan and the spirits will listen. Next, hold the dewe’iganaatig in your right hand and start pounding the membrane of the mitigwakik.”

After a brief pause, the seven Sky Chiefs explained that the revitalizing sound the mitigwakik produces when struck imitates the soft and steady heartbeat of the earth. ”Its sound will remind the anishinaabeg (human beings) of their mother's heartbeat that surrounded them when still inside her womb. But remember! The mitigwakik itself is not to be looked upon as an object of worship, but a spiritual messenger that voices the collective prayers of the Anishinaabeg to the world of the spirits.” Next, the seven old chiefs told him that the mitigwakik was a Great Chiefs’ drum, and that they could help him. “You were given the gift of consciousness to help you learn, trough the mitigwakik and other items, what you need for your life on earth,” they added. "Only the drum and the rattle possess the special tones that gain the attention of the spirits who live beneath the earth and among and beyond the stars. Only the sound of the mitigwakik and the zhiishiigwan can transform your petitions into the language of the spirits who dwell above and below and beyond. Whenever you pound the water drum and shake the rattle and chant the sacred songs, we will hear your prayers from where we live in the sky - as we are the seven stars that shine straight above you.”

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Ojibwe bracelet Sweatlodge in the Sky


Ishpiming Madoodiswan ("Sweat Lodge in the Sky") bracelet of sterling silver, mounted with turquoise and red corals. Handcrafted by the author.

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Next, the Sky Chiefs gave Nimitamaan a bracelet made of zhooniyaa, the sacred silver from the depths of the Great Ojibwe Lake. The bracelet was adorned with three silver objects representing eagle feathers and a stone the color of the blue sky, crowned by seven red corals - which, they explained, came from the rocky bottom of a faraway sea in the east. “You shall wear the bracelet which has the shape of the Sweat Lodge in the night sky,” the Chiefs told him, “as a reminder of the Teachings that we passed on to you today.”

Nimitamaan put the shiny bracelet around his wrist, and as he was admiring its beauty, a bright white light blinded him; when he opened his eyes the seven ogimaag were gone. Looking up, he noticed in the far distance the large canoe that had sat in the open glade only a moment ago, and in it he discerned seven shadows of men, whom he supposed were the chiefs, returning to their abode among the uncountable stars that dotted the night sky.

At sunrise Nimitamaan packed his belongings and undertook the long journey back to the Turtle Mountain, which was where his People lived. Once there, he built a Sweat Lodge for purification, and made sure to arrange the stones used for making steam were arranged in the same pattern as that of the seven stars in the night sky. Next, he started to construct the Chiefs’ Drum and the drumstick and the Turtle Shell rattle according to the instructions that the seven Sky Spirits had given him.

When he came out of ceremony, Nimitamaan took the drum and the drumstick and the rattle to the Midewigaanan (Medicine Lodges) of his People. After he had lit his pipe and shared it with those who were present that day, he taught them the chants and medicines and rituals that the Seven Sky Chiefs had given to him and explained to them the Seven Grandfather Teachings. He showed them the silver bracelet and explained how it represented the lodge of the seven sky Chiefs. Next, he opened the bear skin bundle and took out the rattle and the water drum and demonstrated to them the proper custody of the drum. He told them that the seeds inside the rattle, which remind us of the first sound that we hear in the early morning when plants pop, symbolize the creation of the Universe. He talked about the water that was put in inside the drum. He explained why spring water was to be used for the water drums since it comes directly from the flowing veins of mother earth, and that the motion of the water was created by the moon for life of the earth's unborn miigis shells. Next, he explained to them that the water drum that sat before them encased in a bear hide was a drum of Chiefs; that these seven Chiefs had lived on earth in a distant past before they ascended to the stars. He explained that these Chiefs lived in the seven stars that resembled a Sweat Lodge or a Thunderbirds’ nest, and that sounding the drum and the rattle and chanting the sacred songs would connect the Anishinaabeg with these stars; the Sky Chiefs would hear them through the drum and rattle and the singing and help them to know what they wanted to know. The throb of the sacred water drum, he said, “will cause the sky to brighten up and the water to be calm for the person who carries the drum…”

Nimitamaan refilled his pipe and lit it carefully. At length he puffed a cloud of smoke and continued his teaching.

“Our life on earth is a reflection,” he said, “like the reflection that I saw when I looked into the water drum that the Sky Chief Being named Asin gave me, when I had my vision in the glade in the deep forest. It made me realize that the water drum and the rattles and other ceremonial items are earth things for us to use for communication with these sacred Beings in the star world…” Again, he was silent for a while and smoked his pipe with eyes closed, caught up in deep thought. Suddenly he opened his eyes, looked around the circle of listeners and said with a voice that sounded clearer than ever: “My People! These Seven Sky Beings obviously left a trail or path for us to follow when it is time for us to leave this world and take our spiritual journey to Jiibay-miikana, the River of Souls, toward waakwi, where our ancestors wait for us to return!”

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Anishinaabe Woodland art painting "The Journey"

Babaamaadiziwin ("The Journey"), ©2022 Zhaawano GiizhikVisit the website to view details.
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He added that from that day on, by looking up in the night sky during the spring and summer moons, the Grandfather water drum can be seen in the night sky as the Sweat Lodge constellation, and that each of its seven stars symbolized the stones that were being used in the Sweat Lodge ceremony. “But when the summer is over and the tree leaves turn red,” he added,” the stones of the Sweat Lodge can be seen, throughout the fall and winter, in the seven stars of the Bagonegiizhig (Hole in the Sky; the star cluster called Pleiades on Western star maps). In midwinter, when the Bagonegiizhig crosses the sky during the night, then gleams over the west-northwest sky before dawn, we will be reminded of the origin of the big Chief water drum and where our origins as human beings lie.”

He concluded by saying:” My People! Regardless of if it is spring, summer, fall, or winter, when we step out of our wiigiwaanan at night and look up, these two seven-star formations, these sacred shiny lodges in the sky, will remind us of the sweat lodge and the water drum and where we, as anishinaabeg, came from. It is where we go for remembrance and for comfort, hope, and healing!”

Hereupon the men and women of the Midewigaanan accepted the Teaching of the Grandfather Chief water drum and the rattle and began to use the drum and the rattle, and use their voices as medicine prayers. The pulsating sound of the drums emulating the sound of flowing water reached the Lodges and entered the hearts of the Medicine People - not just their ears. As soon as the flowing water chant was started, all Medicine People in the Lodges would rise and dance during the remainder of the series of chants. 

No ceremony was held without the water drums and the rattles and the songs; no ritual was performed without the cleansing medicine plant called ookomisan giizhik ("grandmother cedar"), which gave the People their centralism of their clans and lodges. From that day on the drum was treated as “Omishoomisimaa”: a Grandfather. The drum was treated with the greatest care and according to elaborate codes of respect. 

Crafted of the wood of wiigibiish (basswood), its rawhide skin stretched over the drumhead provided by a deer or an otter, its base gifted by the turtle, its rag wrap coiled around the rim contributed by snake, the water drum was “clothed” with bear hides and blankets, regularly purified with smoldering mashkodewashk (sage) and giizhik aniibiishan (cedar leaves), thanked with offerings of asemaa (tobacco), and feasted at gatherings of the community. 

One of the names that came in use for the water drum was mide-gwakik (“sacred vessel”; pronounce: mi-DEH-gwah-KICK); another name was mide-dewe'igan: literally: "the sacred instrument that makes the sound of the heart; pronounce: mi-DEH-day-WEH-ih-gun." 

 And the young man named Asin, whom Nimitamaan met in the forest and who changed back into an old Chief just before he returned to his abode in the star world? What more can be said about him? Was his part played out as soon as he and the six other Ogimaag returned to the seven-star constellation that has the shape of a Water Drum? I like to think not.

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The Journey, digipainting by Zhaawano Giizhik - detail

"The Navigator" ©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik
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As I see it, both Nimitamaan (whose name refers to the bow of a canoe) and his celestial counterpart Asin (whose name means “stone,” a metaphorical reference to the stars) were nimitama'amowininiwag, or “guides.” In a metaphorical sense, they both put themselves in the front of a canoe to show the way in remote or difficult places. In this particular context it is easy to imagine Asin as the poler who stands in front of the celestial canoe that takes the jiibayag (souls) of deceased humans toward their final destination among the stars. Just as the nibi waabo (sacred water) that forms a layer in the Great Chief Drum creates the instrument’s reverberating sound, Asin’s canoe is carried to the star world by the Universal Water that is the Jiibay Ziibi, the River of Souls nowadays often called “Milky Way”…

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Seven Grandfathers

Babaamaadiziwin ("The Journey"), detail ©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik. 

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And the protagonist of the story, Nimitamaan, whose name means “Navigator Who Sits In Front of a Canoe”? What more can be said about him?

Thanks to him, the Grandfather Chief Drum (alternately called Mitigwakik, Midegwakik, and Mide-wewe’igan, and, in a ritual context, “Gimishoomisinaan,” or “Our Grandfather,”) became an essential part of Ojibwe spiritual belief and practice …Thanks to Nimitamaan, we were gifted with Medicine and ritual and with the Seven Grandfather Teachings. And thanks to him there is no ceremony without the Drum! This is why still today someone who, through the aid of the Omishoomisimaa Water Drum communes with the Seven Stars, is called a “nimitamaan.”

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Artist's impression of a Little Boy Water Drum ©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik
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But wait, before I forget: the Grandfather Drum did not come alone! There is also a smaller water drum, called Gwiiwizens or “Little Boy,” (see the image above, my artist impression of a Little Boy drum guarded by two miigisag, sacred shells) which serves as the Grandfather’s helper. In a ritual context, the little Boy water drums are looked upon as oshkaabewisag (helpers) to the grandfather water drum.

The little water drum used in Midewiwin ceremonies is often said to have come from the Sun. But like the Big Grandfather, the Little Drum, too, relates to the Madoodiswan (Sweat Lodge constellation).

We know now that the Mitigwakik or Mide-wewe’igan is the Grandfather, or Chief water drum. The boy in the above story, called Nimitamaan, “He Who Navigates a Canoe,” gave us the water drum, which is associated with both the Sweat Lodge on earth and the 7-star Sweat Lodge constellation in the sky. For this reason, up until today a pail of water passed around in the Sweat Lodge represents the Grandfather water drum.

The B’he, or nibi, the water that is in both the Grandfather Drum and the Little Boy drum, symbolize a lake. This water, which gives the drums their sound, is obtained from a spring – which we see as the womb of Mother Earth. The sound of the drums is the sound of our Mother’s heartbeat and it carries the thoughts or prayer songs to the Mide Manidoog (Spirits presiding the Medicine Lodge) and to seven grandfathers in the night sky (the Sweat Lodge/Northern Crown constellation). And even today we call the drummer, the one who steers the vessel (which is the water drum) in order to invoke the presence of the spirits and the stars, “Nimitamaan,” after the young man who traveled great distances and was given the water drum, along with a gift of a ceremony, to help his People.

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Part 2: The Origin of the Little Water Drum

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The Ojibwe story of Nimitamaan and the Gift of the Water Drums

Mitigwakikoog Miinigoziwin ("Gift of the Water Drums") ©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik.

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We know now that the Anishinaabeg use two different types of water drums in the Midewiwin Lodge: the Grandfather (Chief) Water Drum and the Little Boy Water Drum. Both water drums help the Mideg to do their work and guide them in their spiritual journey. The Grandfather drum can be recognized by the hoop (often wrapped in cloth or – originally – in snake skin) placed at the top of the drum. Traditionally, the carriers of the Little Boy water drum, which is a smaller version of the Grandfather drum, tell their individual story as they tie their drum and finish their story when they untie it. Instead of a hoop, seven round stones are used to tie down the drumhead; the stones, which represent the earth, the Seven Grandfather Teachings, and the seven stones of the Sweat Lodge, are laced into the deer hide strips that hold the drum skin in place. The way that the cordage is tied typically creates a star pattern on the bottom of the drum; this of course, is a reference to the Sweat Lodge constellation in the night sky.

The Midewiwin Lodge is presided over by the Spirit of the Midewiwin called Mide Manidoo, in the form of the Grandfather Water Drum. The Grandfather is supported by Oshkaabewis, his ceremonial helper, often called the Little Boy Water Drum in reference to the origin story of the Midewiwin, about a bear who descended from the Sun and, in the shape of a little boy, remained for some time among the Anishinaabeg to teach them the mysteries of the Midewiwin..

You will find my version (or rather: one of several versions) of the story of the Little Boy Drum in The Boy Who Came from the Sun.

Geget sa go, according to Midewiwin belief, the sound of the Grandfather drum, whose pulsating sound reaches far and corresponds with the voices and the heartbeat of the Universe, “causes the sky to brighten up and the water to be calm for the person who carries the drum.” But the Little Boy drum, although smaller in size, is just as important, spiritually as well as symbolically. The Little Boy's voice is omnipresent and omnipotent. Its deep, dull echo with his firm tone resonates through every fiber and bone and creates harmony in the spirits of those who are open to it. The Little Boy, whose membrane is traditionally stretched over one or both open ends of a hollow log (or kettle) with the aid of seven small round stones, stands for Life. So important is this small water drum that it is said that to be a true Mide (practitioner of Midewiwin ceremonies) is to know Gwiiwizens, the Little Boy…

Besides the story of how the Sun gave the Anishinaabeg the Little Boy water drum, another, less well-known but equally beautiful tale was related to me by my friend from Mikinaakowajiing. The following narration is my own version of my friend’s story. It is a tapestry of various traditional Ojibwe tales and strands of my own dreams and imagination woven through it.

Many summers passed since Nimitamaan had acquired help from the Seven Stars using the Grandfather Water Drum they gave him. He had started a family and became a father, then a grandfather. Dash maajiikamig, but alas! His People, despite the water drum and gift of the Teachings of Medicine and Healing that he had brought them, had started to neglect the teachings and the care for the Grandfather drum. Eventually, the Great Chief Grandfather Drum fell silent. Nimitamaan foresensed that soon his People would enter another cycle of sickness, misery, and death, and he knew that without a very powerful Medicine they would soon become extinct.

 
And so it happened. Many Elders got ill and died, followed by an increasing number of infants and children, including most of Nimitamaan’s grandchildren. When his last grandson fell ill, the old man, grief-stricken, decided he had to do something. Once again, like he had done in his younger years, he went on a quest to seek answers…  

After a fast that lasted four days and nights, Nimitamaan dreamed of a large round black stone whose top was lined with a grove of cedar and willow trees and whose steep walls had magic paintings on it. In his vision, he saw that the stone sat in a bay, and he imagined it would give him access to the power and the medicine that he needed to cure his grandson. A makade-makwa (black bear) who circled around the Sun and then, in the form of a gwiiwizens (boy), descended to the earth appeared in the dream, and it told him to go out and follow its tracks. The boy told him his tracks would lead him to the edge of a shore east of the Turtle Mountain where his People lived. The name that this black stone was known by to his People was Memegwesi-waabikong: the Rock of the Little Bank Dwellers. The boy instructed him that once he found this place, he must collect seven perfectly round pebbles of the black volcanic rock that abounded the area…

On the morning of the following day, Nimitamaan, carrying his bundle and a wiigwaasi-jimaan (birchbark canoe) on his back, set foot in eastern direction and followed the tracks of the bear he had seen in his dream. After seven weeks of walking the earth and canoeing uncountable waterways, hoowah! his eyes beheld a truly beautiful scenery. Volcanic rocks, painted with numerous mysterious images of red ocher, and a multitude of scarlike slopes alternated with pretty beaches of colored sand, isolated caves, and countless coves and caverns…

Nimitamaan, who had gained wide recognition among his People as a Shaking Tent Seer and a Manao, or Healer who obtains his Medicine from the Memegwesiwag, intuitively knew that the magic place he had just encountered held the answer he had been looking for. When he drew his canoe ashore, he noticed bear paw imprints in the sand, which he assumed belonged to the sun bear/boy from his vision! The tracks pointed to the rock that he had seen in his dream, and which sat in the middle of an inlet. He intuitively understood it was the dwelling place of the Memegwesiwag, those mischievous, child-sized bank dwellers he had seen in his dreams and visions in his long life as a Medicine man!

It happened to be a warm spring day, and the water of the bay was as placid as a mirror. A soft breeze rustled gently through the spiky needles of the pine trees surrounding the water. Nothing indicated that the Mishibizhiw, whom Nimitamaan knew lto lurk somewhere close beneath the water surface, was awake.

After he had sat for a while on the beach in deep thought and smoking his pipe, he got up and collected seven perfectly round, shiny black pebbles, like the boy in his dream had told him to and put them in his medicine pouch. Next, he pulled his jiimaan into the water. The faint sound of a drum wafted across the bay, and he imagined it to be the sound of a water drum!


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Woodland Art line drawing Nimitamaan at the Place of the Black Rock
 
"Nimitamaan at the Thunder Rock Searching for Medicine" ©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik. Visit the website to view details.

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Carefully, as not to wake up the underwater spirits, he steered his jiimaan toward makade-animikii-waabikong, the black thunder rock from his dream. He drew as near to the rock as he could, – his ears filled with an increasing pulsing sound that seemed to come from deep inside it – and that was when he noticed on the rock’s surface, just above the waterline, an image of a Thunderbird and the seven stars of the Sweat Lodge constellation, painted in bright red ocher! His heart skipped a beat! “Hoowah!” he said to himself as he looked at the image, those Memegwesiwag sure possess gichi-Binesi Mashkiki (great Thunderbird Medicine)! I must have that mashkiki so I can cure my grandson’s illness and save my People from extinction!”

But then, suddenly, tayaa! coming from his left, Nimitamaan heard an ominous sound that resembled the angry, hissing sound of a wounded mountain lion, and suddenly his jiimaan started to rock on waves created by the slashing of a long spirally tail! It was covered by copper scales that shot out of the water like an eel! The tail sped through the air at alarming speeds…it was Mishibizhiw, the horned reptile that guarded the waters of the bay, angry at the intrusion of the brazen Medicine Man from Turtle Mountain!

Nimitamaan, whose canoe nearly capsized in the flood that ensued, managed to draw his gashkibidaagan (tobacco pouch) that was attached to his belt, and, his heart racing, he reached for a few handfuls of asemaa (tobacco) to pacify the raging spirit cat that now swam underneath his canoe. Mii go gichi-wiiyagaaj, but alas, although he was an expert canoeist, he failed to open his pouch in time! The waves, that rolled and surged against the rocks and cliffs with a noise like thunder, carried his canoe further and further away from the painted rock that was now - although it was still broad daylight - covered by pitch-black darkness!

Then, as he was struggling to keep his canoe from capsizing, Nimitamaan managed to pull out his bawaagan (peace pipe) from his gashkibidaagan (pipe bag) that he had taken along on his quest. With both hands he held the bawaagan in plain view for the purpose of allaying the raging anger of the underwater cat. But then, tayaa! he suddenly heard above the terrible roar of the storm a sinister sound, which, to him, resembled the whine of a flock of aaboojishtigwaanesiinhyag (dragonflies)! Next, to his right, he observed a tiny asinii-jiimaan (canoe of stone) bearing nine little hairy people no taller than wiinabozho-bikwakoon (meadow lilies)! They were all dressed in animal hides – evil tongues say they used the skins of Anishinbaabe children they used to snag from the camps…

“Hoowah!” Nimitamaan said to himself, “there is a whole lot of powerful mashkiki going on around here! Those furry little creatures must be the memegwesiwag that I have been looking for! They will surely lead me to the Thunderbird medicine that I need to save my grandson’s life!”

Although they were in possession of stone paddles, the little peoples’ asinii-jiimaan, which was as fast as lightning, moved alone, as if powered by some external force! Each passenger carried a stone pipe, and it was their childlike voices that Nimitamaan had heard above the raging storm. In unison, the little creatures chanted a song in a strange language, which, if translated in Ojibwe language would probably go as follows:

Gigaa baagwashkaagamiichigemin

Baanimaa makwenimikohing.

Oo! Apegish ginopowaahingoban.

Oo! Apegish zagaswaahingoban.

Giinawind asinii-opwaaganinaanind dizhiigwag.

Giinawind bawaaganinaanind dizhiigwag.

Asemaa binidee-eshkaage.

Asemaa biininenamishkaage.

Asemaa bizaande-eshkaage.


(“We will stir the waters

Until one remembers.

Oh! How we wish for the taste of tobacco.

Oh! How we wish for the smell of tobacco.

Our stone pipes are cold and empty.

Our ceremonial pipes are cold and empty.

Tobacco cleanses our hearts.

Tobacco cleanses our minds.

Tobacco brings peace.”)

Of his People, only Nimitamaan – who, after all, was a Manao, someone who communes with the Memegesiwag - could understand the words of their song! He quickly put his bawaagan back into the pipe sack. Then he reached again for the gashkibidaagan (tobacco pouch) that he kept on the bottom of his canoe, which was still rocking frantically on the waves. This time he managed to throw a few handfuls of the asemaa in the waves! As the tobacco floated away, Nimitamaan chanted in the language of his own People:

Asemaa niwiikaanen.

Asemaa giwiikaanenaan.

Asemaa giwiikaanisimikonaan.

(Tobacco is my friend.

Tobacco is our friend.

Tobacco makes us friends.”)

Quickly the little people in the stone canoe gathered Nimitaaman’s asemaa from the waves and filled their asinii-opwaaganag (stone pipes). Before Nimitamaan could blink twice, the storm subsided! The bay became calm and undisturbed by any ripples. Then, faster than the speed of lightning, the stone canoe with the little creatures in it glided away toward the steep rock with the painting on it. The canoe disappeared into an opening, which closed behind them, without a sound and faster than it took Nimitamaan to blink a third time. Again, he heard the sound of a drum that seemed to come from inside the rock!

Nimitamaan, determined more than ever to obtain the medicine that he knew he would find inside the rock, decided to follow the memegwesiwag into their abode. With powerful strokes the Medicine Man paddled toward the rock with the mysterious paintings on it. Assuming the opening in the painted star constellation was the entrance to the rock’s interior, he steered his vessel straight toward it and put a few handfuls of asemaa (tobacco) on a ledge that stuck out of the rock wall. Sitting erect in his canoe he chanted a sacred song of power that referred to the vision he had had on the Turtle Mountain:

 

Heya~ya~he

Heya~ya~he

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw!

Manidoo-makwa

Waakaashkaw Giizisong

Manidoo-makwa, ambe bizindoshin!

Oshkiniigiins

Waakaashkaw Giizisong

Manidoo Gwiiwizens, ambe bizindoshin!

(“Spirit Bear

Circling around the Sun

Spirit Bear! Come, listen to me!

Little boy

Circling around the Sun

Spirit boy! Come, listen to me!”)

 

Heya~ya~he

Heya~ya~he

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw!

 

Through the rock face he heard (or thought he heard) the Memegwesiwag answer his petition, even above the beat of the drum that came from inside the rock:

Dibishkoo waasmowin

Nindasiniijimaaninaan

Nindasiniijimaaninaan
 

Mazinaabikiniganan Animikii-waabikong

Nindasinii-waakaa'iganinaan,

Nigikinoo’amaage-wigamgonginaan gaye
 

Ni-binesi-mashkikinaan mashkawizimagad.

Ni-animikii-mashkikinaan aapiji-manidoowan

Gikinoowaaji-bii’igaade asiniing.
 

Biindigen niijiikiwenh,

Baaga’akokwewin gigakinoowizh

Nindinwewinaninaan gigakinoowizhigoog.
 

(“Our stone canoe

Is like the speed of lightning

Is like the speed of lightning
 

The painted cliffs at the Place of the Thunder Rock

Are our stone dwelling

As well as our teaching lodge

 

Our Thunderbird medicine is potent

Our Thunder medicine is powerful

It is written in stone

 

Come in friend,

The sound of the drum will guide you

Our voices will guide you.”)


The invisible door in the cliff wall opened, just wide enough to enable Nimitamaan to steer his canoe inside the rock. Slowly, almost tenderly, an invisible hand  lowered the canoe into the bosom of the earth. Not able to see anything in the darkness that surrounded him he suddenly heard the trickling sound of an underground stream. He smelled water. His canoe was lowered to the water! A fast current steered the canoe in the direction of a distant light. The light increased, and in the time of two breaths his canoe bumped against a ledge that protruded from what looked to him a cave wall
! In front of him, the ledge formed a wide platform that jutted out several feet above the water’s surface. Nimbly the old man jumped out of his canoe; to his relief his makizinan (moccasins) landed on rock bottom!

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Ojibwe Woodland painting Gift of the Little Boy Water Drum

Gwiiwizens Mitigwakik Miinigoziwin ("Gift of the Little Boy Drum") ©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik.

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His nostrils filled with the penetrating smell of burning giizhik aniibiishan (cedar leaves), he dimly perceived through a thick blanket of damp mist the hazy forms of the Memegwesiwag he had seen in the bay, their hairy faces shone upon by the flickering of a small campfire.

He pulled his canoe on top of the ledge. As his squinted eyes beheld the nine little men - who were dancing around the campfire, frantically shaking gourd rattles and chanting songs in high-pitched voices - he noticed seven tiny madoodoowasiniig (sweat lodge stones), glowing red with heat, were lined up in front of the fireplace, in a pattern that he recognized to be the same as the seven-star constellation in the night sky!

Nimitamaan, unafraid and not hindered by the the steaming hot vapor that filled the cave and the intense scent released by the stones and herbs, walked toward the fireplace. As he approached it the Memengwesiwag, mumbling and chattering among each other in a tongue even he did not understand, gestured toward a small, cylindrical object that sat on an elevation. The object was a hollow log, slightly tapered toward the top and it looked like it was made from sections of giizhikaandag (cedar) hollowed by charring and scraping… next to it lay a square deer hide and a curved drumstick, and a small pile of objects that the old Medicine man recognized to be miigisag (seashells).

As he looked intently at the objects, he noticed from the corner of his eye that the Memegwesiwag approached him, their chattering voices sounding increasingly agitated. They were gesturing toward his tobacco pouch that he carried around his neck! Quickly, Nimitamaan took out as much as asemaa he could hold in two hands and put it in front of the little fellows. Faster than the speed of lightning the asemaa disappeared in their own gashkibidaaganensag (little tobacco bags)! Next, Nimitamaan took the seven black pebbles from his pouch and lay it in front of the agitated little men, whose dragonfly voices had swollen to a hum that chilled him to the bone. Before he could blink twice, they picked up the stones and, still chattering, ran toward the hollow log. Nimbly they filled the log with a few thumbs of water and put the deer hide on top of it. Next, they used ropes and the seven stones to tie down the hide. To Nimitaaman, the log looked like a smaller version of a Grandfather water drum…

In a high-pitched voice he chanted a sacred song:

Heya~ya~he

Heya~ya~he

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw!

Mitigwakik, nandawiyaa,

Nimidewewe'iganim, manidoowiyaawi.

Heya~ya~he

Heya~ya~he

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw!

("I seek the water drum

Confer Mystery on my medicine drum." )

Like the screeching of a hawk flying overhead and quickly disappearing in the blue sky, the sound of Nimitamaan's song suddenly stopped. Thunderclaps and lighning blinded his ears and eyes, then graually drifted away in his ears. He woke up, surrounded by total silence. Puzzled, he looked around him. He was on the beach, his canoe a few feet away. The water of the bay was perfectly calm. The midday sun shone on the shiny black rock that, in the distance, protruded from the water, and nothing indicated there had be a storm, let alone that he had encountered the Memegwesiwag in their stone canoe who had lured him inside the rock! There was no drumming either – or it had to be the soft sloshing of the waves against it walls that he heard.

Had it all been just a dream, he wondered? But as he looked inside his jiimaan, hoowah! he realized it hadn’t been a figment of his imagination. It was all there…the little water drum, the curved drumstick…and the tobacco pouch that he wore around his neck, instead of asemaa, was filled to the rim with miigisag, the little shiny shells. He was completely out of asemaa! Remembering having offered all his tobacco to the waves and the little men inside the cave, it suddenly all made sense to him. The bear/boy from the Sun, who had appeared to him in a vision the night he began his quest, had led him into the volcanic rock in order for him to find the instrument that would save his grandson and bring his People hope…the little water drum of the Memegwesiwag, along with the shiny sea shells, which he instinctively knew represented Life and would aid his People in finding a new curing ceremony…

Miish go, and thus it happened. Nimitamaan, after taking one last look at Makade-waabikong Wiikwed, the Bay of the Black Rock, gathered his belongings and steered his canoe toward the setting sun, back to the Turtle Mountain, where his People lived. Once there, he visited his grandson, who had died during his absence. Stricken with grief, Nimitamaan climbed on top of the mountain to find a vision. After sitting there seven days and nights in seclusion, the bear from his first dream visited him and gave him instructions on how to use the water drum and the seashells that the Little People of the Black Rock had given him.

Upon returning to the village, his grandson’s parents made sure Nimitamaan 's instructions were carried out properly. This included the building of sweat lodge and, a few feet away, a bigger wiigiwaam (lodge) with two openings, an entrance directed to the east and an exit to the west, with a fire inside and a makak (basket) filled with miinan (blueberries) placed at the entrance. After this had been done, the family and friends went into the sweat lodge for purification. Next, they entered the large wiigiwaam and seated themselves around the corpse, which – save for the boy's head – was wrapped in wiigwaasan (birch bark). Next to him sat the Grandfather Water Drum and the little water drum Nimitaaman had brought from his journey east.

When they had all been sitting quietly for some time, they saw through the doorway the approach of Nimitamaan, who, covered in the hide of a black bear, walked in bear style, on hands and feet. After grabbing a handful of blueberries from the makak he placed himself before the corpse of his grandson. Pulling out his zhiishiigwan (rattle) from his niigig-midewayaan (otter skin medicine bag), he started to chant – which, to the spectators, sounded more like grunting than anything else. After a while he raised himself up on his hind legs and chanted:

“Heya~ya~he

Heya~ya~he

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw!

From up above I come, leaving footprints in the sky.

Mystic-like I came forth!

From the hollow of the earth I emerged, leaving footprints in the soil.

Mystic-like I came forth!

Across Four Seas I swam,

Mystic-like I came forth!

Seven Fires I lit along the way,

Mystic-like I came forth!

Heya~ya~he

Heya~ya~he

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw!"

He danced around his deceased grandson in a clockwise motion, clenching his midewayaan in his paw while frantically shaking his zhiishiigwan. His trembling body rhythmically swayed and wiggled to the beat of the water drum. Suddenly his midewayaan magically shot a series of miigisag (seashells) into the direction of his grandson! Next, the body of the boy began to quiver; the quivering increased as Nimitaaman continued dancing and shaking his zhiishiigwan and shooting miigisag, and he chanted:

Awenen

Dewene

Bemaaji’ag?

Who is this

Sick unto death

Whom I restore to life?

When he had passed around four times, hoowah! the boy, before the astonished looks of his family, gradually opened his eyes! As his limbs began to move the bark covering was taken off, and he stood up! He was brought back to life again!

As soon as water and a few pinches of a pounded plant remedy had been given to his grandson to complete his recovery, Nimitamaan left the lodge through the western door. After a while he re-entered through the eastern door, this time without the bear hide cover. He walked up to his grandson who had been brought back to life and said to him:

Gigete-bimaadiziwin aapidendiwan

miinawaa dash noongom omaa gidoshki-bimaadiziwin, ahaaw.

I'iw oshki-waabang. Aanjitoowin maajiishkaatoon maampii.

Mino bimaadizin, noozis!

 ("Your old life is gone

and your new life is now here, indeed!

It's a new tomorrow, change starts here.

Live well, my grandchild.")

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Nimitamaan's Healing Journey painting by Zhaawano Giizhik

 

Aabijiibaawin Ezhi-owiiyaasing ("The Resurrection") ©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik.


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For the second time Nimitamaan left the Lodge in ceremonial style, again through the western opening. Standing on a small hill he addressed his People that had gathered there, telling them that he obtained his medicine from the Memegwesiwag and through a dream of Makwa, the Bear. He told them he came from the Sky, just as they had (originally) come from the Sky, and that they must always honor the Little People and that after the meeting, they must go out and offer tobacco to the Spirits of the Sky and the Earth. He also told them about his vision quests and the quest that had led him to the bay of the black rock in the east, and the gifts of the Little Boy Drum and the miigis shells that the Little People had given him. He told them his spirit was able to perform the miracle that had happened that day but once! Soon, he said, since I am an old man, I will go home, but not before I have inducted you in the various mysteries and knowledge of medicine, medical practice, and ethics." 

Once he had said this, the People of the village – and many more who had come from wide and far to witness the miracle – crowded around him, bursting out in cries of appraisal and they chanted:


Heya~ya~he
Heya~ya~he

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw, he~he!

Heya~ya~he

Heya~ya~he

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~ya~he.

Hy~whe~yawhe~yaw, he~he!

Hereupon Nimitamaan ddressed the Anishinaabe people assembled there that day as follows, holding the little water drum high in the air:

"Haw sa! Niind Anishinaabe (Yes! I am human being!) But you shall forever remember me as a Giizhig-manidoo, a spirit from the Sky who brought you this here manidoo-gwiiwizensish (little spirit boy) who came from the Sun, and you shall remember me for performing bear magic to bring back my grandson to life. For this reason, you shall give the Little oy an honorary place in your Madoodiswanan (Sweat Lodges) and your Midewigaanan (Medicine Lodges), and its voice will sound wide and far while you are in ceremony, and you shall forever remember the Little People when you perform your sacred rites. Haw sa, the little drum will be hereafter known as Gimishoomisinaan oshkaabewis (Our Grandfather’s ceremonial helper)!"


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Nimitimaan's Journey Home Native woodland painting by Zhaawano Giizhik


Nimitimaan's Journey Home ©2022 Zhaawano GiizhikVisit the webshop to view details.
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When he had accomplished this, Nimitamaan told his People that, now his mission on earth had been fulfilled, he was to take a last trip in his jiimaan and return to the abode of his ancestors, which was the Sweat Lodge constellation in the sky, for the Anishinaabeg would have no need to fear sickness as they now possessed the Sacred Medicine Knowledge that would enable them to live and lead honest and wholesome lives. He then told them that he would now navigate his jiimaan to Bagonegiizhig - the Hole in the Sky -, onto the River of Souls. Once there he would steer his canoe toward the Seven Stars, and the bright star in the center of the Sweat Lodge constellation would be his forever dwelling place. It is from there, he told them, that he, in the capacity of ishpiming oshkaabewis (ceremonial messenger from above), would be of assistance to the Anishinaabeg while in ceremony...

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Bagonegiizhig The Hole in the Sky art

Bagonegiizhig ("The Hole in the Sky") ©2022 Zhaawano GiizhikVisit the webshop to view details.

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Giiwenh. Thus is the story of the Medicine Man named Nimitamaan who, through his visions and deeds, brought the Anishinaabeg important instructions and sacred objects – such as the water drums and the seashells, which to this day are being used when curing the sick and at sacred feasts and during the ceremonial of initiation. But most importantly, Nimitaaman inspired the People in a time of famine and despair and death to start living again according to the seven original Teachings, which to this day revolve around the notion of mino-bimaadiziwin – the Way of a Good and Wholesome Life.

Because of Nimitamaan's deeds, the berry bushes and the maple trees and the wild rice fields started to return to their former abundance and game and the fish replenished the woods and lakes and rivers again and provided hard-needed sustenance to the People. Nimitaaman thus saved the starving Anishinaabeg from extinction, and they gratefully honored the Seven Star Grandfathers and the Little People that had gifted Nimitaaman with the water drums. And up until today, the large water drum is called Omishoomisan (Grandfather) and the little water drum is called Gwiiwizens (Boy), or Gwiiwizenshish (Little Boy).

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"The Sweat Lodge, Doorway to Our Origin," ©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik.


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Although Nimitamaan left us a long, long time ago, the story of his deeds continues to live in our hearts. Some of our people of the present-day Medicine Lodges commemorate and honor him as the man who brought them the Grandfather water drum and the Little Boy drum – the "Chief" water drum and his ceremonial helper that preside over the Medicine Lodges. And even today, a person who uses the water drums to communicate with the Grandfathers in the cosmos, is called "nimitamaan" – he who puts himself in the front of a canoe.

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Waabi Azhiwi-anangoogikwe Izhinamowin painting by Zhaawano Giizik


Waabi Azhiwi-anangoogikwe Izhinamowin ("Vision of Sees Beyond the Stars Woman"), ©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik. See the website for details.

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Epilogue


One early morning in mashkiki-giizis (medicine moon; the month of June), a Waabanookwe (Medicine woman of the Dawn Lodge) of the People of Aniibiminani-ziibi** sat in front of a small wiigiwaam (birch bark shelter) on a high bluff overlooking Gichi-ziibi – a river nowadays called Red River of the North. She was known wide and far by her People as Waabi Azhiwi-anangoogik (“Sees Beyond the Stars Woman”), someone who was anangoog maamiikwaa-banjigedkwe, literally “a star gazer woman”; a woman who has great star knowledge. It was still dark; Waaban-anang, the Morning Star, glowing with a steady, silvery light, had just risen above the eastern horizon. After a fast that lasted seven days and nights, she had finally the vision she had be waiting for. It was no ordinary vision!

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The Vision Quest Native woodland painting by Zhaawano Giizhik

Makadekewein ("The Vision Quest") ©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik

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In her vision she saw herself crossing a big lake in a canoe. It was broad daylight, and the sun hid behind a gray haze of clouds. Then, suddenly, a bright blue light, much brighter than the bluest of skies, almost blinded her. It came from the direction of Mikinaak-wajiw, the Turtle Mountain west of her, where her relatives, the Turtle Mountain People, lived.

From the top of the mountain a column consisting of a swirling mass of rainbowlike colors moved upward as if it were a hurricane. Inside this spiral wave she noticed in a flash the small figure of a man sitting on top of a big miigis (seashell)! (Since Sees Beyond the Stars Woman, besides a medicine woman and star gazer was also ganawenjiged, a History Keeper of her People, she knew that in ancient times her people had followed a similar shell in the sky that led them from the boards of the Ocean in the east toward the Great Lakes area, and beyond. Intervening, leading them through their spirituality, and toward the promised land in the west, the miigis shell had earned a central place in the spiritual and medicinal practices of her People.)  - He was dressed in garments of the richest brown and wore a headdress of many waving eagle feathers on his snow-white hair. He appeared to travel through the tail-end of a trail made of ice and dust – a sight that reminded Sees Beyond the Stars Woman of a comet shooting through space. “Hoowah!" Sees Beyond the Stars Woman thought by herself. "He must be an important man!” The traveler’s face was painted with a red bear claw design and big round dots brown and red. This, along with the seashell vessel and his rich attire and waving headdress, identified him as an ogimaa (leader) and a high-ranking Mide (Medicine Man) who was on his last journey.


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Journey to Waakwi 
©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik. See the website for details.

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Then, before she could blink twice, the sky became pitch black, which made the swirling colors that surrounded the traveler look even brighter…in a flash she saw to the left and right of her -  only illuminated by a shower of jiingwanan (meteors) flashing by - the images of several mysterious creatures, among which a hare in a canoe – which she recognized as the great trickster Wenabozho –, a turtle, a loon, and a mishibizhiw, a horned underwater cat, which then disappeared as quickly as they had appeared…the turtle and the loon were obviously guiding the Ogimaa on his journey to the Path of Souls! And the trickster hare and the horned cat were obviously trying to divert him away from his destination and prevent him from entering the sky hole he was heading for!

The swirling column, which to her seemed to fall somewhere between a raging river and a hurricane, swished at tremendous speed toward seven stars forming a semi-circle, which her People called Madoodiswan, the Sweat Lodge. These stars lived in the same area in the sky where she knew the Bagonegiizhig, the Hole in the Sky star cluster appears in the fall. It was through this opening in the sky that the jiibayag (soul-spirits) of deceased humans ascended and traveled toward their destination in the Jiibay-miikana (Path of Souls). This sacred place in the sky, she knew, was aaniindi nitam anishinaabeg gaa-ondaadiziwaad: the origin of her People. It is where the Seven Teachings came from, she thought by herself, along with the mitigwakik (water drum), and the odoodemag (clans).

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Ishkwaandem ("The Portal")  ©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik. See the website for details.

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But then, tayaa! faster than she could count to three, the cosmic river disappeared through an opening which looked to her like a gigantic hole burrowed by a manidoosh (earth worm)!  She knew there must be a tunnel behind the hole, leading to another world and dimension and time. (This world, a faraway realm stretching to and beyond the stars and planets, was called Waakwi, the Land of the Deceased, where all life began.) Without a sound the wormhole, surrounded by a what looked to her like a blanket of stardust, closed behind the shell. The seashell that carried the Chief was now completely out of sight! The sky turned from black to gray, then blue, and to her surprise she was still in her canoe in the middle of the lake. The sun shone overhead and not a ripple stirred the still surface of the lake. It was as if it had never happened!

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Waase-anang, The Bright Star Woodland art print

Waase-anang ("The Bright Star") ©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik

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Suddenly, realizing she was still dreaming, she found herself on top of a high riverbank. It was night. Her canoe sat on the beach below her. When she looked up, she saw the sweat lodge-shaped pattern of the Madoodiswan directly overhead, its seven poles shining in a golden light. The grandfather stones in the sky were still glowing. She lay peacefully on her back, contemplating the Chief’s wondrous river passage through space-time she had witnessed. As she watched the shiny star lodge above her, she heard a faint sound coming from it that reminded her of a drumbeat. Then suddenly, atayaa! her glance got caught by an extraordinary bright star radiating an amazingly white glow. Never had this star, which she discerned as the third to the right in the constellation, shone so brightly! Then, her ears caught the intensifying throbbing of a water drum coming from this place! Its pulsing sound reverberated throughout the cosmos. As she was watching the star and listened to the drumbeat it finally dawned on her! The drumming was in honor of the man she had seen traveling toward the stars! Now she knew who he was. It was Nimitamaan, the highly respected medicine man from Turtle Mountain who had brought the Anishinaabeg the water drums along with Medicine and the Seven Teachings! His time on earth was up and he had returned, through the Hole in the Sky, all the way to the celestial Sweat Lodge, where he now rejoined his ancestors. The swirling river she had seen him riding on top of a seashell, had been Jiibay-ziibi, the River of Souls! The drumming she heard coming from the bright white star indicated that there was feasting and dancing in honor of his homecoming!

Slowly the dusk of the night faded away, and so did the sound of the water drum. Still pondering what she had seen and heard, the Medicine Woman from Aniibiminani-ziibi woke up from her vision. Grandfather Giizis cast his yellow rays on the river that minutes before had been basking in the silver light of his relatives, the Moon and the Morning Star. She realized she had, through her vision that – measured in earth time - had lasted no longer than it takes time to take three breaths, witnessed something extraordinary and profoundly meaningful – not just to herself, but to all her People.

Sees Beyond the Stars Woman, true to her calling of being Record Keeper and anagoog gekenimaad (astronomer) of her People, returned to her village to make preparations for a long trip east, south, west, and north. For many moons she traveled, visiting many villages of the Anishinaabeg Peoples. She even went to Waabanaki, the Dawn Land nowadays called Quebec! In each village she would summon the People to gather after sundown and standing at many campfires she would relate her vision at the Highbush Cranberry River, in which she had witnessed the Turtle Mountain chief’s wondrous journey to the Sweat Lodge in the sky. She told about the extraordinary feats of this medicine man whose name was Bowsprit, and who had brought the Anishinaabeg the water drums and the seven sacred teachings from the grandfathers from the stars. She explained to her people that this extraordinary visionary from Turtle Mountain had now returned to his birthplace in the Sweat Lodge constellation. Pointing up to the River of Souls dotted by a sea of countless stars, she would tell stories about the Bagonegiizhig, the Hole in the Sky star cluster through which the spirits travel; almost opposite of the Hole in the Sky, she said, dwells a star that is part of the Sweat Lodge constellation. This navigational star, which is the third star to the right in the Sweat Lodge when you look at it from the earth, she explained, actually consists of two stars that revolve around each other, one representing the Grandfather Water Drum and the other his helper, the Little Boy Drum.These stars*** will be forever home of Nimitimaan, the man who puts himself in front of a canoe…

So it came to pass, and such is the intriguing history of the Medicine Man Nimitimaan who, through his legendary vision quests, helped shaping his People's spiritual life by teaching them the arts of Medicine and Healing and enriching heir Medicine Lodges with the water drums...and such is the remarkable legacy of the Medicine Woman and Star Traveler Waabi Azhiwi-anangoogik, who had a vision that is still being shared around the campfires and kitchen tables, reminding us Anishinaabeg where our clans and our water drums came from and where we, as Anishinaabeg, return to when our time on aki (earth) ends...

Ahaaw sa. Mii sa ekoozid. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom. Ok, that is the end of the today's story. Thank you for listening to me. Gigiveda-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon! Mino bimaadizin! Live well! Migwechewendan anangoog gaye makwag gaye memegwesiwag gaye mitigwakikoog gaye akina gegoo ahaw! Be thankful for the stars and the bears and the little people and the water drums and for everything else alive!

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NOTES:

** Aniibiminani-ziibi: Highbush Cranberry River; the Pembina River. The Aniibiminani-ziibiwininiwag, or the Pembina band, was a historical band of Ojibweg Peoples. Aniibiminani-ziibi is a tributary of the Gichi-ziibi (Red River of the North), approximately 319 miles (513 km) long, in what is nowadays southern Manitoba and northeastern North Dakota. 

 *** Alphecca in Western astronomy. Also called Alpha Coronae Borealis (α CrB).

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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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