Reflections of the Great Lakes, part 17: Animosh and the Twins
Updated: Dec 1, 2022
Gashkadino-giizis/Baashkaakodin-giizis (Freezing Moon), November 3, 2022
Boozhoo, aaniin! Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong.
"Hello my relatives, I greet you in a good way. Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge, a place of love and knowing."
"Let's share a teaching today!"*
~~ PREFACE: THE CREATION OF TURTLE ISLAND ~~
Many strings of lives ago – when the World was still young – the Mishi-ginebigoog, the Underwater Snakes, inveterate enemies of the mischievous but good-natured semi-spirit Wenabozho, in their fervor to kill him, inundated the First World with water from the depths of the Great Lake, and he barely escaped the flood by seeking refuge in a tall pine tree on the top of a high mountain. At the same time there lived an aadizookaan, a supernatural being, residing alone in the sky. Her name was Giizhigookwe, or Sky Woman. GICHI-MANIDOO, the Great Mystery of Life, pitying her loneliness, sent a male aadizookaan to Sky Woman to keep her company. Animikii (Thunder), for that was his name, traveled to the sky lodge of Giizhigookwe and from the union that took place were born the Anishinaabeg (a twin brother and sister), whom she planned to lower on the back of a giant Mikinaak (snapping turtle). But first Giizhigookwe had to convince Mikinaak to lend his back to the re-creation of the world, because at that time the Underwater Snakes had flooded the earth below her and most animals had been drowned in the Great Flood that had hit the First World. As Sky Woman learned that a few animals had survived the flood she called to her aid the giant turtle. He came to the surface so that she could sit on his back and call others to her side. Maang (the loon), Amik (the beaver), Nigig (the otter), and Wazhashk (the little muskrat) were among her helpers.
That day, long ago, after she had descended from her sky lodge to the newly-created world in the shape of a turtle’s shell, dancing all the way down in a sacred manner, Giizhigookwe addressed the water animals as follows:
“I don't have all the powers of creation that GICHI-MANIDOO has. But I am a female spirit and I have a special gift. I have the power to recreate. I can recreate the world GICHI-MANIDOO created, but I can't do it by myself. I need your help. We had better create some land. Let someone dive deep and bring me a handful of the original soil made by GICHI-MANIDOO. The soil will be the seed I use to recreate the Earth.''
All the water animals, who loved the female spirit from the Skies, pledged to help her and all day long they took turns trying to reach the soil covered by the great depth of water - but to no avail. Nigig the otter dived down. He could not reach the bottom and just before he drowned the others pulled him back onto the Turtle’s back and revived him. Maang the loon dived, and he failed too. And so did the others. At the end of the day it was only Wazhashk the little muskrat, not used to swimming in deep water, who had not given it a try. The brave little animal decided that with no one else available to help it was up to him to do the job. He took many deep breaths and dived down and down.
As he finally came back to the surface, tayaa, what do you know! Wazhashk had clutched in his paw the soil from the bottom of the sea! Tenderly the grateful Giizhigookwe took the soil from little Wazhask’s paws, dried it and breathed life into it, then rubbed it on the turtle's back. She rubbed the soil round and round and as she did so an island took shape above the water. With the aid of Ma'iingan the Wolf, Giizhigookwe continued to move over the new soil. Ma'iingan and she walked in wider and wider circles; some say it took them 14 summers to complete the job. And so the Earth was recreated. Forever after the Anishinaabeg called this newly created world "MIKINAAKOOMINIS, " or "Turtle Island."
~~ ANIMOSH AND THE NURTURING OF THE TWINS ~~ The new island was finally complete, Giizhigookwe’s purpose on earth was nearly fulfilled, and just before she danced her last sacred dance upward into the fading light of the sky, she again summoned the awesi’ag (animals) to council and called upon them to help her nurture the boy and girl to manhood and womanhood. Since the awesi’ag were very fond of the niizhoodeg (twins) they promised Sky woman they would do everything in their power to bring comfort to them and help them survive: Animosh the dog, watching over the abinoojiiyensag (babies); Onijaani, the doe, providing them with milk to nurture them; and Ma’iingan, the wolf, bringing them freshly hunted meet so they would not starve. Makwa, the bear, in turn offered his thick curly fur to keep the infants warm, and Amik the beaver and Wazhask the muskrat volunteered to bathe the abinoojiiyensag to keep them clean. Giigoonh the fish, in turn, taught the niizhoodeg to wave their little arms and legs around, and Bineshiiyag, the birds, sang sweet lullabies to them. Meanwhile, Animosh the dog performed his babysitting job with great enthusiasm, enh, with every fiber of her being! One single sound of the twins was enough to have him jumping to his feet with ears cocked and her tail wagging. When he found out what troubled the infants, he would solve the problem or call the other animals to help him. Did the niizhoodeg need fresh moss for their cradle? Animosh would not hesitate and turned to Amik and Wazhask for help. Were the niizhoodeg hungry? Animosh would run to the great hunter Ma’iingan for fresh meat, or to Onijaani, to give her some of her nourishing milk. Did the flies and musquitos keep the abinoojiiyensag awake? Animosh asked Asabikeshikwe (spider woman) for help – or, if he would not find her at home, he himself would jump and snap at their tormentors until the abinoojiiyensag nearly split their sides laughing. Did the niizhoodeg indicate they wanted to be amused? Animosh would do all kinds of hilarious tricks to keep them busy. He would roll around on the earth rolling his eyes and wagging his tongue, then sit up and wag his tail. And he would tickle them by licking their noses, and he did so as long as it took to make them shriek with happy laughter. Then, when the abinoojiiyensag were finally quiet again he would lie down beside them and cover his eyes with his paws, and rest until he was needed again. But after a while it became clear that something was wrong with the niizhoodeg. This time it was Makwa the bear, worried about his two little protégés, who called upon all the awesi’ag to congregate and sit around the infants. “Aaniin nisayedog ashi nimisedog gaye! (Hello brothers, and you too sisters!)" Makwa said, "Like you, I am worried about the abinoojiiyensag because they cannot walk! Sure, they look strong and are obviously happy and having a good time with our brother Animosh, but alas! They cannot run and play like our own young! What do you suggest we can do to help them?" After a moment of thoughtful silence Ma’iingan spoke first. “Atayaa! Geget gi debwe! (Indeed! You are really speaking the truth!). The abinoojiiyensag are definitely not weak! They do eat the meat that I bring them each morning at daybreak." Onijaani, the soft-spoken doe, calmly agreed with Ma’iingan. “Debwe, the niizhoodeg certainly drink the fresh milk that I bring them daily." Then Amik the beaver and Wazask the muskrat exclaimed in one voice: "Tayaa! Geget gi debwe! Good golly, this is certainly true! The abinoojiiyensag definitely have a way of waving their arms and legs with great strength as they are being bathed! They even splash us until we are soaked and losing our temper! Then they laugh at us for being cranky and continue waving their legs and arms about as if nothing happened!" Hereupon Giigoonh the fish quietly chuckled, “Enh, aahaaw, Amik and Wazashk are right eh! The Anishinaabe niizhoodeg are good students, they do exactly like I taught them to do heh heh!" Giigoonh had barely finished his sentence when a gentle spring breeze swept softly over the water of the nearby lake like a welcome visitor. The breeze, sending forth catkins from the azaadiwag (poplars) that were awakening from their winter sleep, brought comfort to all the creatures of earth! As it blew through the camp where the awesi’ag had gathered, inashke! in walked the great teacher Wenabozho or Trembling Tail, also known as Misaabooz the Great Rabbit or Hare! Wenabozho had escaped the wrath of the Mishiginebig by climbing a tall tree and, after the earth was recreated, he walked throughout the land, blessing all of Creation by naming the waters, the mountains, the trees, the plants, the animals, and the birds. “Boozhoo, mino-gigizheb nisayedog miinawaa nimisedog omaa noongom!", Wenabozho spoke, "Hello, it is a good morning my elder brothers and sisters gathered here today! Today GICHI-MANIDOO sent me on a special task, to play with the niizhoodeg, the twins who Sky Woman has lowered to the newly-created earth in order to create a new human race!" Makwa the bear rose to his feet and, standing on his hind legs, he welcomed Wenabozho. Acting as a spokesperson for all awesi’ag present that day, Makwa told Wenabozho of their concern. Wenabozho listened carefully to the account Makwa gave and after a while he said: “Hoowaah! You all have taken good care of the Anishinaabeg (the Humans) indeed! What is more, you have cared so well for them that they have not learned to take care of themselves! Little ones are better off when we do not pamper them too much. We really should motivate them to undertake things by themselves instead of always handing them things on a biskitenaagan (birch bark platter). Therefore, I shall travel to the faraway land of my Father, where the sun sinks in the sea, and think of ways to help the abinoojiiyensag to learn how to walk."
~~ DANCING A RITE OF PASSAGE ~~ Wenabozho bade the council of awesi’ag farewell and journeyed to the land of the Grizzly Bears where his father E-bangishimog and his brother Maajiigawiz ruled, where there are high mountains towering to the sky and covered with a thick blanket of clouds, and there, standing in this most sacred place, he addressed GICHI-MANIDOO seeking the inspiration he needed to find a solution. Since he is a very powerful spirit, his plea was answered and he returned to Gaa-zaaga'iganikaag, the land of many lakes. Mii go, hoowaah! Thousands of memengwaag (butterflies) followed Wenabozho back to the niizhoodeg, who were still in the tender care of Animosh the dog! Upon seeing the swirling clouds of memengwaag, the eyes of the nizhoodeg began to twinkle and soon they crowed with pleasure, their little legs waving and their little arms reaching out to the fluttering creatures! But the memengwaag always fluttered just beyond the grasp of their outstretched hands…not before long, the niizhoodeg, in their efforts to catch the memengwaag, began to crawl, then to walk, and, finally, enh, even to run…
Migizi, the White-headed Eagle, circled high above the camp and uttering a mighty shriek, she dropped one of her feathers, which was caught by the twins. To celebrate this joyous occasion, Animosh danced around camp, howling of joy. Soon the niizhoodeg, holding the feather high, joined him, whooping and stomping the ground. Next, all awesi’ag present that day danced with them, and together they celebrated the legendary, magical rite of passage of the first two Anishinaabeg (spirit beings turned into beings of flesh and blood) who walked the earth...
Giiwenh, so the story goes.
* Taken from "Stories from the Land of Crane and Turtle: Wenabozho and the Butterflies" told by Zhaawano Giizhik.
Illustration: "Animosh and the Twins," illustration by Zhaawano Giizhik ©2022 Zhaawano Giizhik