top of page
  • Writer's picturezhaawano

When Storytelling Becomes Transcendental: Understanding the Concept of Aadizookewin

Updated: Apr 13

Gichi-manidoo-giizis (Great Spirit Moon) (January 24, 2024)



Boozhoo indinawemaaganidog, gidinimikoo miinawaa. Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong. Hello relatives, I greet you in a good way! Welcome back in my storytelling lodge; welcome to part 11 of the series "Spirit of the Seasons."



Biboonagad noongom: It is winter. This is the time of the year for us to look at the North. In Anishinaabe tradition, it is time for biboonishiwin, or biboonishi gabeshi winter camping.

The Ojibwe word for the North is giiwedin. The North represents many things. It literally means "Coming Home." Biboon, the Winter Spirit, who covers the ground in snow and forces the plants to rest, lives in the North. In the old days, during the winter moons, Anishinaabeg people engaged in hunting and spear fishing and during the long, cold nights the parents and grandparents shared their stories and teachings with the young, recounting the history of the People and providing the children with lessons about their spiritual heritage and about bimaadiziwin (a good way of life).


Biboonishiwin is a time of going home, of remembrance and rest, of self-reflection and honoring the Elders, the pipe carriers, the lodge keepers, and the storytellers of the Nation. It is a time of looking back and passing on one's life experience onto the younger generations in a good way. Geget sa go, sure enough, it is time to gather. Now is the time for aadizookewin, or storytelling!


What can be said about our storytelling, and who was the first known true aadizookewinini (storyteller) of the Anishinaabeg?

The art of storytelling, without which the history and the identity of the Anishinaabeg as a people would never have survived until today, has always been the task of grandparents and other elderly relatives; particularly of NOOKOMISAG (grandmothers). In the old times, before our culture became increasingly swallowed up by Western "civilization," the DEBAAJIMOOJIG  and AYAADIZOOKEDJIG (respectively true-storytellers and traditional-storytellers), who usually shared these narratives in a somewhat ritualized fashion and never casually, reserved them for the long winter moons, in the evening after dinner around the campfire.

Anishinaabemowin, the Ojibwe language, has several words for "story."

The first word that comes into mind is dibaajimowin. Often translated as: "True Story." When you break up the word in three parts you get

/dib-/ = even, judge, measure;

/-aajimo/ = s/he tells, tells a story;

/win/ = a normalizer (noun forming final)

Debaajimood, one of Wenabozho's brothers whose name means "Teller of True Accounts," was the first true storyteller of the Ojibweg Peoples (Anishinaabeg). He was such an expert storyteller that he made storytelling into an art! Debaajimood, as soon as he started to tell a story, was able to turn a dibaajimowin into an aadizookan ("sacred story"). Apane gaye ogii-mashkawisidoon gii-tibaajimod 'iw gaa-izhiwebadinig: His description of an event was always very powerful!


Then, there is the concept of aadizookaan. Often translated as "traditional story" or " sacred story." When you break up aadizookaan, you get

aadizooke-/ stem of the verb aadizooke (s/he tells a sacred story) ;

/-n/ = a nominalizer

The aadizookaanan, the sacred stories, feature protagonists, or spirits, called the aadozookaanag. They are the "makers of stories." By sharing the dibaajimowinan they come bimaadizi-alive, they become sacred. They become spirits, "aadizookananag" themselves. This act of telling a sacred story is called "AADIZOOKEWIN."

Thus, sacred-storytelling is essentially a ritual invocation of the benevolent beings of the metaphysical world. Bimaadad, a certain "inactive" quality of aliveness, becomes bimaadizi. The story, by sharing it to an audience, turns into an "active" quality of aliveness. It is this sacred quality of aliveness breathed into the dibaajimowinan-turned-into-aadizookanan-stories that makes them aadizookanag. They were already alive, but, through the act of AADIZOOKEWIN, they enter the human stage; they become alive to the listeners.


Debaajimood Sharing Stories with Wenabozho's Grandmother."  ©2023-24 Zhaawano Giizhik
"Debaajimood Sharing Stories with Wenabozho's Grandmother." ©2023-24 Zhaawano Giizhik



Then there is the act of AAWECHIGEWIN: Telling a parable or lesson, often with a moral undertone. On the long, cold winter nights in the North Country, when the supernatural beings are nearby, a narrator of dibaajimowinan or stories based on personal experiences, will introduce a tale with "Ahaaw, ninga dibaajim”, meaning “Now, I will tell a true story”. But when a storyteller plans to tell a story about the aadizookaanag ("supernatural makers of stories"), he or she will utter the ritual words “Ahaaw, ningad aadizooke,” meaning, “Now, I will tell a sacred story.” With these ritual words, the aadizookwe or aadizoowinini (female or male sacred-storyteller) states that she or he, in the here and now, acts as a spokeswoman or spokesman for the manidoog (spirits) and the aadizookaanag and, at the same time, is inspired by them to create a story. The ritual words provide these narrators with spiritual guidance in telling a story – or, in some instances, in making a prophecy. As soon as the supernatural beings are called upon and enter the human stage, the sacred story in which they play the protagonist role becomes an AAWECHIGAN, a parable that can be shared whenever it is considered appropriate.

Such is the sacred legacy that Debaajimood, the first true storyteller, left us, the Anishinaabeg.

>To read more about the Ojibwe character called Debaajimood, see: Debaajimood and the Story Tree.

262 views2 comments


Jan 30

Beautiful teachings, kichi miigwech for keeping alive. 👍👌✌

Mar 28
Replying to

Gichi-miigwech, gayegiin <3

bottom of page