Onaabani-giizis (Hard Crust on the Snow Moon); March 19, 2018
Wenabozho and the Creation of the Path of Souls © 2012-2018 Zhaawano Giizhik
Boozhoo! Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong. Ningad-aadizooke noongom giizhigad! (Hello! Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge where legends and teaching stories are told. Let’s tell an aadizookaan (sacred story) today!)
This blog story is another episode, the fourth in a series named "Stories from the Land of Crane and Turtle." The series features teaching stories that encompass the unique worldview and cultural perspective of the Anishinaabeg Peoples.
Today's story, a Wenabozho tale , is woven around a sterling silver bracelet (see the inserted image) handcrafted in my jeweler's studio and illustrated with a painting that I did a while ago, titled "Wenabozho and the Creation of the Milky Way" (see the above image). Several images of artwork by kindred artists, some of which were slightly adapted for the occasion, were used as well to add meaning to the story and help making it visually attractive...
The story that I will relate today is about Wenabozho (“His Trembling Tail”), also known as Mishaabooz, the Great Hare. Wenabozho, who was born on an island at the outlet of Gichi-Anishinaabeg-gami (Lake Superior), lived with ookomisan (his grandmother) in a wiigiwaam¹ on the shore of the big lake. His mother, whose name was Wiininwaa (“Nourishment”), had miraculously disappeared into the sky the instant he was born, never to be seen or heard from again, so this is why his grandmother raised him.
After Wenabozho’s birth the people in the nearby summer village whispered that Wiininwaa died and disappeared from the face of the earth because she had faced the wrong wind after being warned by Nookomis not to face in such direction...
There are several theories about te origin of Wenabozho's name; it is very plausible that the name Wenabozho derives from an Ojibwe word meaning His Trembling Tail. When you break down the name that Wenabozho's grandmother used to address her grandson with ("Nanabozho"; vocative form "Nanabozh"), you have the prefix n-. short for niin which means "my," and naning, or nining, meaning "trembling," and ozow, or onzow, which is the Ojibwe word for tail. The suffix w-, as in Wenabozho, is short for wiin which is a third-person pronoun; Wenabozo, therefore, possibly means "his trembling tail." His Trembling Tail could be a reference to timidity and unwillingness to take risks or responsibility; two of many human traits that Wenabozho possesses and reflects in his - extremely complex - character.
Wenabozho loved his grandmother a great deal. He would gather misan (firewood) for ookomisan, he brought her giigoonh (fish) and wazhashkwedowag (mushrooms) and ojiibikan (wild roots) and helped her pick miinan (berries) and trap the waaboozoog (rabbits) that lived in the underbrush. A good and dutiful grandchild he was! But he also had another side. In fact, he had many sides.
Geget sago, Wenabozho was truly not a typical man. It was commonly believed that Gichi-manidoo, the Great Mystery, entrusted him with the task to teach the People, and one of his first tasks was to name all the plants and animals and to teach the Anishinaabeg the curative powers of plants and mino-bimaaadiziwin: how to live a good, long, and prosperous life. Since he was sired by E-bangishimog (the Wind Spirit of the West) and born of an anishinaabekwe (woman) and thus aabitaa-manidoo (half spirit) aabitaa-anishinaabe (half human), he possessed tremendous abilities and strengths – qualities that people nowadays would regard as extraordinary but back in the days were accepted at face value and not thought to be very unusual at all.
The reason Wenabozho was so well-loved, therefore, were not his supernatural powers, but how he used them; the Anishinaabeg loved him, not just for naming the plants and the animals, but also for introducing medicine to cure the sick and, last but not least, for his tireless efforts and inclination to help little children, the poor, and the weak.
Above illustration: Norval Morrisseau, Untitled Portrait, acrylic on canvas, 1975
There was truly not much that Wenabozho could not do in order to help his People! He had the ability to shapeshift at will into virtually any creature and form, including a rabbit or hare, a tree, or a rock! His creation of the second world after the first flooded, his role as securer of the right for the Ojibwe people to hunt and fish and as artist who showed them how to paint their dreams and visions on the rocks, and his embezzling of fire to give to his Grandmother which in turn gave fire to the Ojibwe people, are among the many things that made him the most beloved aadizookaan (supernatural character) in their aadizookaanan (sacred stories).
He conversed with every creature in the Universe. He mastered every language known among men and spirits. He even knew what the bineshiinyag (birds) were saying in their songs! There were so many things Wenabozho could do! He could run gabe-giizhig (from dawn until dusk); he could swim in the coldest of ziibiwan (rivers) and zaaga'iganan (lakes). Some say that his footsteps were so long that he could easily cross the widest gami (big lake) in one step! Ishte, some folks even claimed that they had seen him seize the lightning in his hands and that at his command terrible storms broke loose from their caves! Yet at the same time, on his command also, the gentle winds blew, the mountains became green and the flowers of spring bloomed everywhere…²
Mii gwayak, yes, this and many more things Wenabozho was capable of! All these things, and many more things, he could do so well that probably his greatest liability was his being unconscious of his many shortcomings and weaknesses…³
“What shortcomings and weaknesses are those, exactly?” you might ask. “I thought you just said Wiinabozho was a good-natured fellow and a hero to his People?”
Haw dash, well now, if you really want to know… be sure to continue reading nindinawemaaganidog…⁴
> Illustration: Wenabozho depicted from Petroglyphs Provincial Park, Ontario
¹ Wiigiwaam: domed lodge covered with sheets of wiigwaas (birchbark)
² Source: Indian Legends of Canada, Ella Elizabeth Clark, McClelland and Stewart Ltd, 1960
³ Source: Whispers of the Ancients, Tamarack Song and Moses (Amik) Beaver, p. 84
⁴ Nindinawemaaganidok: my relatives.
Ahaaw sa, okay, this is how the story begins. So one morning Ookomisan said to Wenabozho: “Listen Nanabozh (because that was how she usually addressed her grandson), very soon you will meet a gichi-minisiinoo (big warrior) from a far-away land in the south who is making his way to the great lake in order to steal zhooniyaa (the silver) that Gichi-manidoo placed in the depths of the water to be of good use to the Anishinaabeg.
“How will I know him nooko (granny)?” Wenabozho asked. “He will be tall and handsome and dressed in rich garments decorated with silver jewelry and stones the color of a clear blue sky,” Ookomisan replied. “But his most distinctive feature will be a richly decorated quiver that he carries with him holding a magic bow and arrows the color of zhooniyaa. So powerful is his medicine and so powerful his bow that he is known to shoot stars out of the night sky as if they were migrating birds. If you manage to stop this giant bowman, Nanabozh, the sacred zhooniyaa from the lake will be safe. Also, if you can make him hand over his magic bow to you, you will be forever successful in the hunt and invincible against the dreaded Wiindigoo and the Underwater Beings.”⁵
“But remember Nanabozh,” grandmother concluded, “as soon as the magic bow is in your possession, be sure not to abuse and misuse its power but instead use it wisely to benefit your People.”
Wenabozho was now very excited. He kept asking ookomisan many questions about the gichi-minisiinoo from the south – it was the bow his grandmother had told him about that particularly aroused his curiosity and stirred his imagination - but all that she told him was, “take your jimaan⁶ and cross the great lake, then continue into southeastern direction, follow the waterways along the rapids and falls of Baawitigong,⁶ then head south, then cross Naadowewi-gichigami⁶ and there, on top of a large point of land that is covered with kettle-shaped stones and overlooks the lake, you will find the big warrior. He is on his way to our lake. You best hurry. Find him and stop him.”
> Illustration: Water Edge, gouache by the late Quincy Tahoma (digitally edited/adapted to fit the story)
⁵ Wiindigoo: cannibal monster from the North. Mishiginebigoog and mizhibiziwag, serpentlike and catlike underwater spirits, guardians of the waters who control the moods of the lakes and rapids and currents. They are inveterate enemies of Wenabozho and of the Thunderbirds that live in the sky.
⁶ Jimaan: canoe
Baawitigong: Place of the rapids, present-day Saut Ste Marie
Naadowewi-gichigami: Great Rattle Snake Lake, nowadays called Lake Huron
Since Wenabozho loved his nooko very much, he did as she had told him. He jumped into his canoe, and because he had powers that went beyond human capacities it took him only a few hours before he reached the opposite shore of the big lake. It took him another day to reach the southeastern shore of the Great Rattle snake Lake! After drawing his jimaan up on the rocky shore he climbed on a high point of land that jutted into the lake. On top of the point he sat down to rest a little. Then, taayaa! from the corner of his eye he saw a shadow of something big that made his heart skip a beat. A hundred feet away from him stood one of the most impressive warriors he had ever seen in his life!
As the gichi-minisiinoo, the big warrior, was walking toward him Wenabozho (who could be self-confident and even heoric, but also surprisingly meek when caught off guard) did something that lived up to his name; he started to tremble with fear - or was it excitement? Aanish, well, whatever it was that made einabozho tremble, the minisiinoo approaching him was exactly like Ookomisan had described him!
The gichi-minisiinoo walked with big steps toward Wenabozho and looked at him in the self-confident manner of a great warrior. Then he spoke in formal, somewhat mangled, Anishinaabemowin,⁶ with a strong accent that sounded strange (even in Wenabozho’s ears!):
“Aaniin Manabozh, Mishaabooz! Asiniiwinini niin nindizhinikaaz. Bikwakininiwag niin nindoodem. Wajiiwan miinawaa wiikwajitamaazowinan aki zhaawanong niin nindoonji.”
(Greetings oh Trembling Tail, Great Rabbit! Stone Man is my name. I belong to the clan of the Arrow People⁷. I come from the land of mountains and deserts in the south).”
Wenabozho, without properly introducing himself, said to the stranger, “Daa, niwiijikiwenh geget sa onizhishi gi-mitigwaab. Shkomaa biish, ninga-gagwedaagibiinaa.” (“Well, my friend, truly handsome is your bow. Just hand it over to me, I wish to see how it pulls.”) The warrior replied, “Aa, gaawiin! Gaa wiikaa awiya nindawi’aasii.” (Ah, no! Never do I turn it over to anyone!”). But Wenabozho, who could be very persistent, tried again, “ Aa, maanoo, nijiii, gaa na gegoo ajina!” (Oh, please chum, only just for one moment!”) “Gaawiin! No!” The stranger retorted, frowning. Wenabozho, thinking it wiser not to insist any longer, then said, “Aaniish naa ningwi, aandii ezhaayan? Well then my companion, where are you heading?”⁸ He also asked the stranger how he knew his name, and what the wanted from him. Herupon the latter answered that he, like Wenabozho, spoke every language in the world and conversed with every creature in the Universe. Also, many people and spirits had already told him about the Great Hare, this great friend of the Anishinaabe Peoples who lived with his grandmother by the Great Sea called Gichigami. He informed Wenabozho that he had come to the north country on a special mission to find the silver ore buried in the Great Lake to the west, not far from where Wenabozho lived, and that he also wanted to test how brave Wenabozho was.
If Wenabozho could put him down, the stranger added, his life would be spared and the quiver filled with the magic bow and arrows would be his price; if not, his body would be chopped into pieces and thrown in the Great Rattle Snake Lake that lay in front of them, and the Anishinaabeg would be stripped of all the silver that lay buried in the great lake to the west.
“And even though you are a manidoo (spirit) in nature and essence and therefore gijichaak (your spirit) can’t be killed, I will make sure you will never again roam freely through the Universe like you used to,” the tall stranger, who clearly had a great sense of drama, added. “In order for you to prevent this you must wrestle me to death Mishaabooz; only by defeating me you will gain possession of my magic weapon and do great deeds with it that will help your People, who, I am told, depend on you for survival.”
Wenabozho's adventures, artists Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch
Wenabozho depicted from Mazinaw rock Bon Echo Provencial Park, Ontario
Pen and ink drawing by Stanley Panamick (From Nanabush Meets Mandamin, Two Bears Cultural Survival Camp)
⁶ A large point of land: Kikonaang (Kettle Point), present-day Wiikwedong, Ontario
Anishinaabemowin: the Ojibwe language
⁷ K'aa' dine'é or Arrow People: a clan of the Dine’ (Navajo)
Upon hearing Stone Man’s words Wenabozho’s mind started to work quickly on how he might escape; the strange man from the south looked like a seasoned warrior and Wenabozho feared he was no match for him. Stone Man was much bigger than Wenabozho was, armed to the teeth, and obviously in possession of special skills and magical powers that exceeded his. Then he remembered a story ookomisan had told him when he was still little, about a big stone – which the local Anishinaabeg called Anang, or Star – that was said to possess a temperamental, if not moody, nature. A long time ago this stone had fallen out of the sky and since then lay buried in the bottom of the Great Rattle Snake Lake. Wenabozho, the Great Hare, straigtened his back, looked Stone Man straight in the eye, and said,
“Ningwi, my companion, you strike me as a mighty vain fellow who has not accomplished much in his life. Courage makes a man; it is not the richness of his garment, or the glitter of his weapons, or the eloquence of his words, that makes one a true man. Had you been a man of courage, you would carry the same amount of battle scars as I do. Instead, you waste my time trying to impress me with your jewelry and fancy bow and arrow that you carry around the way a gichi-gwanaaj-binesi (peacock) struts its tail feathers. You strike poses with a rather self-absorbed attitude but your frivolous nature does not impress me nor do I think your spirit powers can rival mine. Life doesn’t consist of merriment alone. While I, Wenabozho, have challenged and used my warrior skills and magic powers to defeat many enemy warriors and monsters from the Underworld and from the cold north, you, niwiijikiwenh, have done nothing except showing off your weaponry and bragging about your big medicine. I therefore will not fight you. You are no match for me. Wa’aw mii’ow miinik waikidoo-an noongom. This is all I am going to say.”
Of course, Wenabozho’s words were like straight arrows, fast and penetrating the proud heart of the the tall and powerful warrior who came from the land of deserts and mountains to find the silver ore that lay buried in the depths of Gichi-Gami, the Great Sea of the Anishinaabe Peoples. Trembling with rage the stranger shouted at Wenabozho, “Aaniin danaa, what the heck! Name any warrior, and I will show you my strength. Name any danger and i will show you my courage. Name any spirit from the underworld or from the north country and I will show you my powerful Medicine. Name me any mighty adversary you can think of and I will kill them on the spot with my magic bow and arrow.”
“Aaw niwiijikiwenh ” Wenabozho responded. “No one has has defeated the restless and moody Anang, who is a powerful and malicious spirit living at the bottom of this here lake. I can certainly handle him; but I would like to see what you can do with your bow and arrow. Aaniin igo, anyway, if you cannot defeat Anang with your weapon, hand it over to me and I shall do it for you!”
Hereupon the warrior from the south, who was truly not a fool, grinned and said, wa wa wa Mishaaboozoons! Oh my! My, my, my Great Little Hare! Do you really think I am that naive as to hand over my bow and arrow to you? You already asked me before and my answer is still no. Anishinaabeg and manidoog alike warned me about your tricks. You’d best step aside niijii. I will do the job myself! And before Wiinabozho had time to blink twice the warrior took his silver bow and an arrow out of his quiver and shot the arrow with great force, straight into the lake. Oonyooy! The arrow, of course, awoke the angry spirit of Anang, which in turn awakened the dreaded serpents of the lake and made mizhibiziw, the horned underwater cat slash his tail, and the flood that was caused by this struck the high point of land where Wenabozho and Stone Man stood with such terrible anger and violence that poor Wenabozho was thrown to the ground!
Then Wenabozho, lying on the ground and still groggy from the forces that Stone Man’s arrow had unleashed, heard the sky open. It was his father the West Wind! Suddenly, there was horrible lightning. It was the flashing eyes of the Thunderbirds who responded to the violence from the depths of the lake. The Thunderbird’s voices boomed over the land called Kikonaan and far beyond. Hammering the western skies behind the clouds and hurling their fire arrows at the object of their anger, they swooped down, speeding at Stone Man (who stood his ground and kept shooting arrows in the lake) with their talons to kill him. Quickly Wenabozho, the Great Hare, knowing the terrible power of the animikii binesiwag, changed himself into a little rabbit and crawled inside a hollow wiigwaas (birch tree) uprooted by the violent trembling of the earth; there, he knew, he would be safe from the Thunderbirds, since they considered the birch as their relative.⁹
Aaron Paquette, acrylic on canvas, Manitou stone
Derek Harper, acrylic on canvas, title unknown
⁹ Source: Mark Sakry, Naniboujou and the Thunderbirds
Before Wenabozho could count to three, the battle between Stone Man and the Thunderbirds was over. The eyes of the animikii-binesiwag flickered off toward the heavens. Their voices faded. Wenabozho’s father rolled away the clouds and when Wenabozho peeked from his shelter in the fallen tree he noticed the lake was tranquil again and had regained its previous surface level. The stone named Anang, whose old battle spirit the Stone Man from Dinetah had conjured up by defying him with his arrows, had calmed down and sunk back to its abode on the bottom. Wenabozho looked about for Stone Man, and tayaa! Right where his antagonist had stood a few moments earlier shooting arrows in the lake, now sat a gichi-asin (big rock)! The rock had big cracks and was still smoldering from the searing fire from the sky.
Pieces of red-hot stone, which had been chipped off Stone Man’s petrified body, were flying like fireflies and still landing in the schorched-black grass in a wide circle around the rock!
Next to the smoking rock was the quiver the stranger from the south had carried on his back. It looked battered. Very quickly the Great Hare jumped out of the hollow tree and changed back to his human form and, heart throbbing in his throat, sped to the quiver; to his relief he found the beautiful silver bow and arrows to still be intact!
As he carefully took the shiny bow out of the dented quiver he saw from the corner of his eye that the cracks in the smoldering boulder were filled with the sky-blue stone that his grandmother had told him about and that he had seen the Stone Man from the south carry as adornments in his ears and strung around his neck and wrists. Since he, apart from being very cunning and resourceful, possessed great artistic skills (in fact he could be or do anything he wanted), Wenabozho took out a hard-bladed knife that he carried in his belt and expertly started cutting the blue stone out of the cracks in the scorched boulder. These nuggets he crafly fashioned into a set of earrings, a bracelet, and a necklace, which he then adorned himself with.
Pleased with the result, Wenabozho picked up the bow and, deciding he should personalize his newly attained price, carved a stylized arrow flanked by arrow tips in it, which he then inlaid with pieces of the sky-blue stone. The arrow he gave two tips that pointed into opposite directions, symbolizing his man-spirit nature. As he looked at the result and, being mighty cheerful now, he started to sing to the bow and said, ambe! Anishinaabewishimon! (Come on! Dance Native style!). The bow hereupon started to dance in front of Wenabozho’s eyes, who began to coo like an abinoojiins (baby)! After playing a while with his new weapon the Great Hare regained his serious demeanor and he started to test the spring of the bow, and when he noticed it pulled finely, do some target practice on the kettle-shaped rocks that lay around him. To his surprise, hoowah! the arrow points effortlessly penetrated the hard rocks, silent witnesses of the once mighty warrior whom Ookomisan had put on his path…
Of course, Wenabozho being Wenabozho, he wouldn’t be himself if he heeded Ookomisan’s warning…
Feeling revived, his heart filled with confidence and longing to see his grandmother and tell her about his adventure with Stone Man, Wenabozho the Great Hare steered his jimaan across the Great Rattle Snake Lake and as soon as he had reached the northwestern shore, a gete-mikinaak (old snapping turtle) crossed his path. It was obvious, judging from the expression on his ancient face that this grandfather turtle was sulking. “Boozhoo nimishoo! Hello grandfather!” Wenabozho, who was still in hight spirits, said to the turtle, “you don’t look very happy to see me! What is the reason of your sadness?” “Aa, Mishaabooz (Great Hare),” said the turtle, who still looked as if somebody had rained on his parade, “it is all YOUR fault! The Great Mystery gifted you with powerful magic to give special powers and attributes to the animals and plants. Geget, indeed, when you helped creating aki (the earth) and called together all the birds and animals so as to give everyone their duty, you really outdid yourself. You told amik the beaver to build dams, aamoog the bees to make honey and baapaaseg the woodpeckers to play forest music; and so it went until all bineshiinhyiig (birds) and awensiig (animals) and giigoonhyag (fish) had been given their duties. However, you forgot to give ME anything, for when you gathered all bineshiinhyiig and awensiig and giigoonhyag I was swimming far below the lake surface and could not hear! This happened long ago but since I am a turtle I never forget anything. But now it is too late, and I will be forever angry at the world, and with you in particular, for the wrong that was done to me. Baamaapii (Adieu).”
Without further ado, the old turtle grandfather sank beneath the surface of the lake to sulk some more. Wenabozho, realizing the old turtle was truly very angry with him and fearing his stubborn and vindictive nature might cause problems, decided to make camp on the shore of the lake and see what would happen. For two days and nights nothing happened. Wenabozho killed time by playing with his magic bow, and during the second night, as he was making his bow dance, he suddenly got an idea. “Since I like to play at night and the nights are so dark, and since I am a mighty creator, why don’t I brighten up the night with a few more stars?” he said to himself. He decided to test the magic power of the bow. The moment he started to shoot arrows in the air, owa! new stars appeared in the night sky! He created 10 new stars! But Wenabozho would not be Wenabozho if he had thought that sufficed. Still not satisfied, he reached for an eleventh arrow…but then his heart sank, as he realized he was running out of arrows fast. “Tayaa” he said to himself, “now this is what you call a dilemma eh! The sky is still too dark for my taste, but how can I create more stars without sacrificing more arrows?”
On the morning of the third day something happened that Wenabozho had already expected would happen; the gete-mikinaak, who was still angry for being left out by Wenabozho when he assigned each animal a specific duty, upon seeing a passing jimaan, shot to the surface of the lake. With the force of a tidal wave he upset the canoe, and the surprised Anishinaabe inini was knocked overboard!
The poor man swam for his life to the shore and as Wenabozho watched the turtle chase the Ojibwe he suddenly hit on a brilliant idea…he took the bow and one of the few remaining arrows out of the quiver, jumped into his canoe and quickly paddled into the direction of the turtle chasing the Anishinaabe and, when he was a few feet from the angry animal, he took a handful “anang-bingwiin” (stardust) that he kept in the magic medicine pouch that he carried around his neck and sprayed it on the water. Next, shouting on the top of lungs, hisht! Mikinaak!, he aimed at the turtle.
Mishi-mikinaak, upon hearing Wenabozho’s booming voice and seeing him aiming at him, quickly dove into the water and was narrowly missed by Wenabozho’s arrow! As Wenabozho had anticipated, the Great Turtle, as he was diving, flung his mighty tail up in the air, and in doing this, atayaa! a great fontain of water was created! The anang-bingwiin turned the spray of water that was shot high into the sky into millions of stars…
Thus jiibay-miikana, the path of souls (Milky way), was created by Wenabozho, with the aid of Mikinaak the Mud Turtle (whose name literally means, "Making a Spirit Roadway")!… And from that day on, on clear nights, the Anishinaabeg, when they look up in the northern sky, observe Mikinaak the moody turtle from this story sitting halfway between Gaa-biboonikaan (Orion's Belt) and Giiwedin Anang (Polaris). And even today the Anishinaabeg remember that the celestial turtle (called Capella on the Western star maps) that shines high up in the night sky, is the teacher and interpreter of the Shaking Tent ceremony and represents their (Snapping) Turtle Clan on earth...
Wolf Storytellers Productions Inc.: "Wisakejak"
Zhaawano Giizhik: "Wenabozho and the Creation of the Path of Souls (Milky Way)"
Mighty pleased with himself, Wenabozho, the Great Creator, commenced his journey back to the shore of the big lake of the Anishinaabeg Peoples where Ookomisan, his grandmother, lived. Being true to his playful and adventurous nature, however, he took his time and ample of detours. From lake to lake, down rushing rivers, across hills and mountains and forests thick and thin, past cascades, and across the swampy marshlands he traveled. In the daytime, after drawing his jimaan up on the beach of lakes and rivers where he decided to stay overnight, or sometimes for a couple of days, he played with his silver-and-turquoise bow and used for target practice the countless fish in the waters and birds in the sky and at night he shot at the stars that now illuminated the once so dark night sky. In order to replenish his supply of arrows he looked for the strongest cedar trees whose wood he then expertly crafted into arrow shafts, which he then tipped with chipped points made of the blue stone that he carried with him, and fletched with sections of eagle feathers that he found on the beach. Some arrows he provided with a blunted end which he used for hunting birds and small game.
Then, one day, after many suns of travelling and many night-suns of shooting at the stars, Wenabozho paddled his canoe along the shore of the lake, toward the western end where the lake narrows at the approach to Gichi-gami, the Great Lake. He decided to spend the night on the north shore of Ishkonigan-minis (Sugar Island), which is not far from the rapids and cascades of Baawiting (the place of the rapids on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula).
The travelling and star-shooting had made the Great Hare hungry, and since he had a big appetite and didn’t feel like spending too much of his precious arrows on small game, he pondered ways to fill his empty stomach with the least possible effort.
Suddenly, he heard a great commotion overhead! He looked up and saw a flock of ikakoog (geese), wheeling overhead preparing to land on the bay in order to replenish their reserves before continuing on their journey south. With a great flurry and folding of wings the waterbirds landed on the water! Wenabozho, hurrying to the shore, felt his mouth watering at the thought of sinking his teeth in that delicious bird meat. He was so hungry that he could eat at least 30 ikakoog!
Realizing that if he dashed among them he would catch only one or two, he had tot think of a scheme to capture as many ikagoog as possible. Quietly, not letting the ikagoog out of his eyesight, Wenabozho went back into the forest. Here, he sought out a tall giizhik (cedar) and he peeled off strips of its bark. This he used to make a long rope. Then he slowly walked back to the shore and, after he laid down the quiver with bow and arrows on the beach, he slipped quietly into the water, being careful not to disturb the weary ikagoog. Quietly, he started to swim underwater toward the birds and once he was under them he carefully tied their legs together with his cedar rope. He made sure he tied each ikagoo to the next one, hoping he could pull them up all at once and drag the whole flock to the shore.
Initially, Wenabozho carried out his plan so cunningly and swiftly that the geese did not notice what he was doing. But, gichi-wiiyagaaj, bummer! Wenabozho wouldn’t be Wenabozho if his legendary greed didn’t get the best of him! True to his nature he just couldn’t be happy with a two or three geese! Of course he had to to tie up the whole flock of ikagoog!
Even supernatural heroes need to breathe once in a while, so moments before he had finished his job, he had to come up for air. This made such a loud whoosh that the ikagoog became alarmed! The ogimaa (leader) of the flock, whose legs happened to be tied to the middle of Wiinabozho’s rope, was the first to fly up and before Wenabozho could blink his eyes twice, the rest of the flock followed, and because they were tied togeher, oonyooy! they formed a V, and poor Wenabozho found himself dangling at one end!
Wenabozho, panicking, shouted Aieeeeeeeee! Niisnishing! Niisnishing daga! let me down! let me down please! but his shouting only made the geese beat the air more desperately with their strong wings. Realizing the hopelessness of the situation he had gotten himself in, Wenabozho let go of the rope when the ikagoog flew over a stretch of soft, swampy ground. With a loud thud he landed in a bed of oozing mud while the ikagoog continued on their way – as far away from their tormentor as possible.
Wild geese have been flying in a V formation ever since, as you can see if you look up into the autumn sky when they go calling past. And when you listen carefully you will hear a note of laughter in their cries as they mock Wenabozho for his foolish attempt to deceive them...
Daphne Odjig: Nanabush and the Ducks, acrylic
Illustration: digitally edited adaptation of a cover illustration of Nanabozho and the Geese. From the series: Trickster Tales 64 Traditional Stories From First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Peoples of Canada.
Muddy, frustrated, and hungry, and also realizing that maybe one or two geese – instead of a whole bunch of them, let alone a complete flock - had been sufficient for him to feast on, Wenabozho picked up his bow and arrows where he had left them and decided to walk back into the island’s thick forest of cedars and pine to look for a deer, elk, or moose. After an hour walk he came to a big clearing. It was there that he saw a giant moose, the biggest ayaabe (bull) he had ever seen in his entire life, come out of the trees across the clearing. Mishi-mooz saw Wenabozho too and said to himself: moowich! shit! There’s that son of a bitch Mishaabooz, covered in mud! I suppose I ought to make tracks or that sly two-legged bully of a hare is going to talk to me! Hereupon Michi-mooz started trodding away, and not without a reason, because sure enough Wiinabozho - who had already forgotten about the painful lesson the ikagoog had taught him - called out to him, “Ah niikaan ayaabe, oh brother bull, hold up for a minute, I want to have a little chat with you!”
Mishi-mooz stopped right where he was, and as soon as Wenabozho caught up with him he said, “How come you’re always trying to avoid me niijii? Don’t you ever want to talk to me? Are you scared of me? Am I not to be trusted?” Mishi-mooz, who didn’t trust Wenabozho one bit, held his breath and said nothing. Then Wenabozho, pretending he was out of breath, said, “tayaa! oh boy! You should have seen the place where I just came from! There’s folks killing each other with bows and arrows! It’s just too terrible for words what I just experienced.” And as he was talking, Wenabozho strung an arrow into his bow, and swinging his bow around from left to right and from right to left he said, “Those folks are aiming over this way! And they’re aiming over that way!” Suddenly he aimed his arrow right at the big ayaabe, and before the giant animal could jump away, Wenabozho shot him, straight into his heart. As the moose fell to the ground, dying, he thought by himself, “sha naa, dammit! I knew I shouldn’t have trusted that giiminijaagan (bastard) Mishaabooz!”
The Great Hunter Wenabozho had deceived and shot the big moose! He was so mighty pleased about himself and his great hunting skills! He congratulated himself for being so clever and said, “Tayaa! I’m going have plenty to eat for a while and I can save my precious arrows for target-shooting at the stars!” But of course, being Wenabozho, he wanted to eat as much of the great heap of food that was in front of him right then and there! So without much further ado our hero took out his knife and started to cut up the mishi-ayaabe.
A digitized fusion of two images from the "Wisakejak" series of Wolf Storytellers Productions Inc, manipulated to fit the story
Pen and ink drawing of an Ojibwe bowman
Being an expert hunter, he first looked for a big sheet of wiigwaas (birch bark) which he then put down on the ground. Then he cut up all the different parts of mooz and spread the chunks of moozowiiyaas (meat) on the birch bark. Next, he started a fire. He made a spit out of a slender tree branch, stuck it through a big prime chunk of meat and placed the meat over the red-hot fire. The fat he had cut off the meat he strung up in the lower branches of a nearby zhingob (spruce) tree.
Wenabozho, the Great Hunter, worked up quite an appetite! He could hardly wait for that nice piece of meat to get done on the fire! Finally, it was smelling good and his stomach was rumbling away. “Tayaa! I can’t wait!” he said to himself. When it was done he took the meat off the spit and, his mouth watering, sat down to have himself a real nice meal! But then, ay ay ay, alas! As he was just ready to chomp into his first bite, there was a creaking noise coming from somewhere… Oh it was truly a terrible noise! He looked around and not able to find out where it came from, he shrugged his shoulders and said "Ay ay ay I wonder if that noise means something bad is going to happen! But anyway I’m too hungry to care!” And as he was already to take his first bite again, then there was that terrible noise again! “Tci?n, tci?n!" was the way it sounded.
Wenabozho stopped again and looked around and now he could hear that it was coming from the spruce tree, where he had hung all that fat. Being really annoyed now he growled “Ishte, bizaan daga! Geget sa gidoombiigis!” “Now, do keep silent! Really, too much of a noise you are making!” But alas, louder and louder grew the noise of the creaking. When Wenabozho looked closer to determine the source of the terrible sound that ruined his appetite, he noticed it came from way up in the upper branches of the tree. Not realizing it was the wind that caused two branches to move around and rub together, he figured that whatever it was that caused the noise, he’d better appease it by a food offer. He sliced off a little bit of fatty tenderloin, and, after he slung his bow over his shoulder he climbed up into the tree, and as he placed the fat where he thought the noise was coming from (right in there where the two branches were rubbing together), he said tot he creaking noise, “Haw dash! Owe gaye giin miijin.” (“Well now! This too must you eat!”)
Of course, as he was putting down the food a big gust of wind came up and moved the branches with such force that he lost his balance! As he fell down, just before he hit the ground, his bow that he carried on his back got stuck between the lower branches and he found himself helplessly dangling from the tree, his feet unable to touch the ground! Try as he might, his bow was seriously stuck and there was no way he could free himself! All he could do now was wait until the wind was going to come up again and make the branches let go of his bow…
He hung there for a great while, and as he was hanging up there, swinging back and forth in the wind, meanwhile repenting his sins while his tummy made terrible grunting noises, he noticed to his dismay that the smell from the moose meat that he had cooked and put out had attracted all kind of awesiinhyag (animals) to his camp! All that poor Wenabozho could do was to look down from where he was hanging and watch all the ma’iinganag (wolves), gwiingwa’aageg (wolverines), ojiigag (fishers), waabizheshiwag (martens), and waagoshag (foxes) – yes, even the waawaabiganoojiinyag (mice) - feast on the meat he had prepared and arrayed with such great care! Atayaa! As they feasted he yelled at them and cursed and threatened them, but to no avail! The awesiinhyag laughed at poor Wenabozho! So many times he had played tricks on them, but this time the joke was on him! So they had a good feast and teased him, and said “Giga-waabamin Mishaabooz! See you later Great Hare!”
Above illustration: Joshim Kakegamic, "Smoking the Meat" acrylic on canvas
When the wolves, wolverines, fishers, martens, and foxes were long gone and only a handful of mice toddled around the camp searching for left-overs, the wind came up again and Wenabozho’s bow was released from between the entangled mass of branches and he finally managed to free himself from his tight spot. As he walked around the tree he saw to his horror that everywhere he looked were moozoganan (moose bones), picked clean by the animals. Even the moozaanow (tail) was gone! All that was left was mishi-mooz’s head!
Trembling Tail looked at the big skull and he was so starved by then that he could eat just about anything! So he tried picking it up, and he gnawed on the ojaash (nose) of the big head. Ay ay ay that wasn’t very good! He didn’t like that so he turned the moose head around, and he looked inside of there. He noticed there were some nice looking brains still way in there inside the moose head! And he said to himself, “Tayaa, oh boy! Those look good!”
And he tried to stick his hand in there, but his fingers wouldn’t reach it. He tried sticking his tongue in there as far as he could - he just couldn’t reach those fine looking juicy brains that were in there inside that moose head! He said, “Sha naa! How am I going to get those out of there?” Then, as he noticed the ookweg (maggots) had eaten away the moose’s eyes he took his bow and stuck it in one of the eye sockets, poking around in there hoping to winkle out those nice juicy brains. But oonyooy! Again the bow got stuck! This time inside the big moose’s head! Wiinabozho, patience not being his strong point, braced his foot on the moose’s head for support as he, grunting and sighing, tried to wrench it loose. He felt the bow slowly begin to give, but it was too slow to his taste, and, being hot-tempered as usual, and unaware of his muscle strength that was quite extraordinary, he started to wrench more forcefully, but then, tayaa! the bow – although it was very powerful and could bear a great burden - broke in two pieces and poor Wenabozho fell backwards, iyoo! flat on his butt!
For a while he sat there, dazed and confused, looking at his broken bow, and it slowly dawned on him that his magic bow that he had obtained from the tall stranger from the South was damaged beyond repair…tayaa, what will nookomis say? he thought to himself. “If you can make the gichi-ogimaa from the South hand over the magic bow to you, you will be forever successful in the hunt and invincible against the dreaded Wiindigoo and the Underwater Beings,” she had told him… Maybe I best not tell her about the bow, he said to himself…
Then he noticed his growling stomach, and he thought to himself, “the day is almost over, I must find a way to get to those moose brains or I will starve and never see nookomis again.” More desperate than ever Wiinabozho, the Great Hunter, looked down and there he saw three waawaabiganoojiinhyag, little mice, going along in the grass. “Boozhoo niikaanidok” he said to the mice, “Hello cousins!” “Can you help me?” he said. “I need some help!”
The mice stopped right where they were and glanced up to Wiinabozho, who still sat there in the grass, looking desperate and defeated because the trauma he had just aquired (his magic silver-and-turquoise bow breaking in two pieces) made him feel powerless; it seemed as if his supernatural powers had left him just when it mattered the most! Ay ay ay! He could not even change himself into a hare anymore like he used to! Or into a little rabbit or mouse for that matter!
“Aaniish, well, we are just three little waawaabiganoojiinhyag, what are we supposed to do Mishaabooz? Gaawiin geget! We can’t help you! You know we're too small!” one of the mice said. Wenabozho, cunning like always, responded, “Geget niikaan, gidaa-gashkitoonaawaa na gaye niin i’iw ji-iniginiyaan eyaniginiyeg? You have some magic you can do cousin! Surely you can make me small like you are?” And the mouse said, “Aa, gaawiin geget! I don’t think so! Ozaam gi-mindid Mishaabooz, you are just too big, Great Hare; I could never make you as small as I am!” But the mighty hunter and warrior Wenabozho, who was known all over Turtle Island to have battled and defeated many powerful enemies and monsters that dwelled in, on, above, and underneath the earth and the lakes, said in his most whiny voice, “Aa, daga, daga! Oh, please, please! I’ll do anything! Please help me to get into the head of the moose!”
Waawaabiganoojiinh, the little mouse, started to pity the great Wenabozho and he said, “Ahaaw isa, all right then. My brothers and I will use our mouse magic and make your head small; maybe then you would be able to reach those brains! Aaniin igo! However! You have to remember that you can’t stick your head too far in that skull or move around too much in there or else the spell is going to be broken!” “Geget, geget, booshke giin! Yeah, yeah, whatever! Whatever it takes!” said Wenabozho, who now grew really impatient. The little waawaabiganoojiinhyag then worked their magic and Wenabozho’s head became real small. He then stuck his head through the opening in the bottom of the skull. He stuck it in there as far as it would go and the little mouse warned him once again, “Bekaa go wiisinin, make sure to eat slowly.”
Above illustration: Norval Morrisseau, "Three Blind Mice" acrylic on canvas, 1972
Wenabozho tried to get in the moose head as far as he could, stretching his neck to get his head in there first. “Gego ombikweniken,” he heard the mouse saying, “Do not lift your head!” But of course Wenabozho would not be Wenabozho if he had heeded Waawaabiganoojiinh’s warnings, and being greedy as usual, he lifted his head too high in his attempt to reach those juicy moose brains. And all of a sudden, his head got big again! Wenabozho’s head was stuck fast inside of that moose head! Try as he might, his big head was seriously stuck and there was no way he could free himself!
Trembling Tail, now panicking, got up off the ground as fast as he could, and he lifted the big moose head up! That made the Waawaabiganoojiinhyag giggle, it was truly an odd sight to behold! Wenabozho, not knowing where he was going, tried hard to keep the moose head from falling over; then, as he was stumbling around like a headless chicken (or rather, a mooseheaded demi-spirit), bang! He ran into something.
“Awenen giin?” he said. “Who are you?” To this he was answered, “Always on the ridge do I stand.” “Aa,” Wenabozho said, ”You must be Wiigwaas (birch tree).” “Giiyak’go!” answered the birch, “Niin wiigwaas sa.” A birch tree it was. And Wenabozho said, “A’aam zha, miigwech, okay, thanks.” He stumbled along trying to keep up to the big heavy moose head, and bang! He ran into something else! He almost got knocked right over backwards! He got back up and said, “Awenen giin?” And to this he was answered “Always on the hillside do I stand.” And Wenabozho said, “Aa! You must be Zhingob (pine tree) then!” “Giiyak’go! That’s me, niin zhingob sa,” said the pine tree. “A’aam zha, a’aam zha, onjida,” mumbled Wenabozho, “okay, okay, thank you greatly.”
He stumbled on, and this time he felt like he was running down a hill. Faster and faster he went! He could hardly keep up with that big heavy moose head, and then, bang! Once again he hit something! This time he got knocked right over backwards! He almost got knocked right out! He said, “Aaniin danaa, awenen giin?? What the heck! Who are you??” And to this he was answered, “Always by the water do I stand.” “Oh well you must be Maanazaadi (balsam poplar) then”, said Wenabozho.” “Giiyak’go! That’s me, niin azaadi sa,” replied the poplar tree. “Mii sa besho jiigibiig indayaamidog,” answered Wenabozho, “Then close to the edge of a stream or lake must I be.” “Enh geget sa go noozis” replied the poplar, “Certainly so, my grandchild.” “Miigwech nimishoomis, thank you my grandfather,” Wenabozho said, “Nimaamendam, excuse me, but I must keep going.”
Above illustration: "Tall Straight Poplar" by Carl Ray
By now Wenabozho realized he was going out into the water of the bay, and not only that, he was going deeper and deeper! As he was desperately swimming and paddling to keep the moose head up and keep from falling over, he heard somebody calling from a distance away. It happened to be that on that day, some gogoonyikewininiwag (fishermen) armed with spears headed out into the lake into their canoes to hunt for Name (sturgeon).
“Ha!” Wenabozho heard them shout, “Nashke gosha ezhinaagozid wa’aw name. Wadakani’ind igo moozong ezhinaagozinid wadakani! Hey! Look at how this sturgeon looks! He has horns like a moose, he has horns like him!” Wenabozho heard the fishermen come closer and he tried to paddle and swim as far and fast as he could away from the approaching canoes, and then one of the gogoonyikewinini-wag shouted,“Let’s go get him!” And before he knew it, they speared him! A big spear almost penetrated the moose’s head! Ay ay ay!
Now, all the gogoonyikewininiwag in their canoes surrounded poor Wenabozho, and they said, “Hoowah! It really does have horns! So this adizookanaa giigoonh, this magic fish spirit is a manidooname (sacred sturgeon)! We’d better let him go his way!”
Then the men smoked, and put asemaa (tobacco) on the water. After they smoked they went their separate ways, leaving Wiinabozho, who kept his breath and tried to move as little as possible until the gogoonyikewininiwag were out of sight. Then, when he thought he was safe, he swam and paddled on, hoping he could make it to the other side of the lake.
As he was floundering along, ay ay ay! He noticed that another group of Anishinaabeg, who were out hunting moose, approached him in their canoes, and he heard them say, “Hey look at that mishi-mooz out there on the water! Someone threw a spear in its head! Let’s go get him! Tayaa! We’re going to have some mino-moozowiiyaas to eat today! Tayaa!”
Quickly Wenabozho turned about and swam for his life, back into the direction of the island, and just when he thought he couldn’t go any further, he felt ground under his feet. Out of breath he stumbled onto the island shore. The nandomoozwewininiwag (moose hunters) who had chased him in their canoes saw to their amusement the moose head housed no one else than Wenabozho, their beloved spirit hero! The nandomoozwewininiwag cheered at Wenabozho and they had a big laugh! But Wenabozho, the Great Hare and hero of the Anishinaabeg Peoples, he kept on running, but gichi-wiiyaagaaj! He slipped on some slippery rocks! He fell, and the moose head hit a big rock and split right open! Finally he could see again!
Wenabozho, who never before in his life had been so tired and humiliated, as he stumbled ahead on the shore, started to laugh! He said, Waahowaa! We’re going to have some mino-moozowiiyaas (good moose meat) today! – Ishte! Gaawiin ningodano Wiinabozh – Aha! I don’t think so Wiinabozho! Ay ay ay! Nibagandiz! I am a stupid! What will Nookomis say! Ay ay ay! What will Nookomis say!
Above illustration: Wenabozho inside the Moose head - Detail of Jackson Beardy's “Nanabush Catches the Eagle” (1972), acrylic on board.
And as he was running he shapeshifted himself into a big hare so he could run even faster. He ran right through shrubs and bushes that lined the river and he was is such a hurry to return to Nookomis’s camp that he didn’t notice a big makade-noozhek (black female bear) that was squatting down in the bushes, eating berries. When he bumped into something soft and furry it was too late…the bear, annoyed at the disturbance, the moment she realized it was Wenabozho who had run into her, remembered how the Great Hare had once, rather discourteously, roused her from her winter sleep and whacked her nose, now grew really angry at the unpleasant memory. Growling with anger she began to chase Wenabozho as fast as her bulk permitted! With makade-makwa close behind him, the Great Hare, his nose quivering and his long ears flying, raced along the bank of the river in the direction of the Great Lake whose water he saw shimmering in the distance. He quickly grabbed a handful of stones and threw them out into the water of Gichi-gamin. Using the little magic power he had left, he made the stones grow larger and before his eyes they multiplied and turned into a long bridge of stepping stones across the great lake!
Quickly Wenabozho skipped to the other side and once he was sure he had left the angry makade-makwa behind him, Wenabozho sighed with relief at the narrow escape. Of course, Wenabozho being Wenabozho, he was mighty pleased with his own cunning tricks - but still he kept on running; he ran and he ran and ran, exclaiming, Ay ay ay! Nibagandiz! I am an idiot! I wish I had my magic bow! What will Nookomis say! Ay ay ay! What will Nookomis say! until he finally reached Ookomisan’s camp…
> Above illustration: Carl Ray, Anishinaabe Bear, acrylic and ink on paper, 1976
 Makade-makwa: a black bear
Mii sa ekoozid. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom mii dash gidibaajimotoon wa’aw aadizookaan. And that is the end of the story. Thank you for listening to me today, for allowing me to relate to you this traditional tale. Giga-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon.
Mino bimaadizin! Live well! Migwechewendan akina gegoo ahaw! Be thankful for everything!
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 a second- generation Woodland artist who writes stories and creates graphic art and jewelry designs, 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 MAZINAAJIMOWIN 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.
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