Reflections of the Great Lakes, part 9
Waabaagwabaa-giizis (Leaves Turning Moon), September 26, 2019
Boozhoo, aaniin, hello,
Welcome to part 9 of the blog series titled "Reflections of the Great Lakes."
The series features my jewelry and works of art, occasionally along with images of paintings by kindred artists.
The stories pay hommage to the spirit and fascinating beauty and majesty of GICHIGAMIIN, the Great Lakes of Turtle Island (North America), and thematically connect the jewelry and artwork displayed with the Seven Grandfather teachings of the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg People who for many generations have lived close to the Lakes' shores to survive.
Dibishkoo zhiingwaatig n'ga inaadiz
Dibishkoo asin n'ga abiitam
Dibishkoo nibi n'ga danii
"Like the pine tree would I be
Like the rock would I remain
Like the water would I stay"
"Keep us from sickness
Your medicines are potent
Good health is blessed"
(Songs to the spirits and the mysteries of the Earth; part of the annual Ritual for Long Life of the Ojibwe Medicine Society of the Waabanoowiwin)*
A different song
As I sat at my workbench creating these rings, which I titled Aki Nagamon (which is Ojibwemowin for "Earth Song"), I contemplated on the meaning of the Earth in our culture, and I realized how much the holistic view Native Peoples have on the Earth differ from the general outlook of Western, or European, thought - which is primarily characterized, and shaped, by a mixture of a scientifical approach and Judeo-Christian values. European settlers, upon arrival on Turtle Island, saw the enormous "potential" of the land in terms of economic exploitation. Although they initially had to seek help in order to survive the harsh conditions they met in this "New World," they thought they could teach the ancestors of the Anishinaabeg Peoples, who lived and had survived - and even thrived - there for many generations before the Mayflower arrived in the Cape Cod area, how to "live off the land." The cultures these newcomers encountered, however, had their own view on the earth and the lands that carried the bones of many generations of those who came before them. They were used to define the world and geography through the powers of the spirits that inhabit the land and through an extensive set of ritualized stories and ceremonies that was practiced and passed on for many generations. Above all, the design and the title of the wedding rings epitomize the sacredness of the Earth as it is understood by the Original inhabitants of Turtle Island. The rings, in short, are singing our own song of the Earth. But they are also conveying a message to those who are used to see the Earth's worth in mere economical and monetary terms: wouldn't it be time to finally start listening to the thousands of years-old experience of the original inhabitants of Turtle Island as how to show respect to the land and the traditions the land sustains?It's time these newcomers, who call themselves Americans and Canadians, learn to sing a different song.
A traditional story as design inspiration
The voices of two lovers blend with the song of Aki, our Mother the Earth
The dramatic outline of the Sleeping Giant , a rock formation that juts out on Lake Superior and forms the body of water that is Thunder Bay, inspired me into designing these unique wedding rings .
A local Ojibwe aadizookaan (traditional story) identifies the giant as Nanabijou (also called Nanabush, or Wiinabozho), who was overnight turned to stone when the secret location of a rich silver mine - now known as Silver Islet - was disclosed to European intruders...
The flowing graphic design that runs across the wedding rings reminds us of the relationship between man and Aki, the Earthmother. Not only does it represent the earth's surface, it also makes us aware of how closely interwoven we as humans are with the Earth which is our Mother.
The stylized silhouettes of the faces of two lovers rise up out of Aki, the anatomical features of their bodies joining the earth's surface in one fluid motion; thus earth and lovers become a symbolic unity. The red color of the lower part of the wedding rings’ surfaces symbolizes the fertile earth, while the yellow color of the other half of the ring shanks represents the sky world pervaded by the life-giving warmth of Giizis, Grandfather Sun.
Each day from sunrise till sundown Grandfather’s golden rays penetrate the womb of Mother Earth, cyclically and rhythmically, granting his awe-commanding power to nature and the spirit-infused world that surrounds us. The two human faces shown as mirror images of one another (like the Sleeping Giant depicted in mirror form) seem to rise out of the Earthmother; they appear to sing in unison a soundless song expressing thankfulness for the sacred life breath with which the Great Mystery infused the Universe that we are part of...
So the story goes...
Giiwenh. So goes the Teaching Story about the Song of the Earth... such is the story of the wedding rings. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidaadizookoon. Thank you for listening to my storytelling today. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon.
Click here to read the first story in the Spirit of the Great Lakes series, which centers around the incredible story of the courageous Mother Earth Water Walkers and showcases several paintings by Simone McLeod, artwork by Leland Bell, as well as a pen-and-ink drawing and a gold pendant by myself.
* Source: Basil Johnston: Ojibway Ceremonies, University of Nebraska Press - Lincoln and London, Bison Book Edition 1990, pp. 122-123.
About the author/artist and his inspiration
Zhaawano Giizhik , an American currently living in the Netherlands, was born in 1959 in North Carolina, USA. Zhaawano has Anishinaabe blood running through his veins; the doodem of his ancestors from Baawitigong (Sault Ste. Marie, Upper Michigan) is Waabizheshi, Marten. As an artist and a writer and a jewelry designer, Zhaawano draws on the oral and pictorial traditions of his ancestors. For this he calls on his manidoo-minjimandamowin, or "Spirit Memory"; which means he tries to remember the knowledge and the lessons of his ancestors. In doing so he sometimes works together with kindred artists.
To Zhaawano's 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 that they felt they were an integral part of.
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 lake's coastlines where the sky, the earth, the water, the underground and the underwater meet.
The way Zhaawano understands it, it is in these sacred places invisible to the ordinary, waking eye that his design and storyteller's inspiration originate from.