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Star Stories, part 18: The Boy Who Came From the Sun

Updated: Sep 25


 

Zaagibagaa-giizis (Budding Moon)/Namebine-giizis (Suckerfish Moon), May 15, 2022

__________________________________________________________________________




 

THE SPIRIT BOY WHO LIVED IN THE SUN


Boozhoo indinawemaaganidog, gidinimikoo miinawaa. 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 where there is love and learning.


I dedicate today's story to nishiim (my younger brother) Bryce Morison, an Elder, spiritual teacher, and talented artist from Manitoba whose spirit name is Gᐐᐎᓭᐣᐢ Gᐄᓯᓱᐣg ("Little Boy in the Sun"). The story is about the origin of Gwiiwizens, "the Little Boy" – which is how, in the Midewiwin Lodge of the Anishinaabe Peoples, the little water drum is called. The little water drum is oshkaabewis, or "ceremonial helper" of the greater water drum, called Omishoomisan ("Grandfather").


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…


Nahaaw! Ningad-aawechige noongom ! Ok, Let's tell a teaching story now!


There was once a manidoo-gwiiwizens (spirit boy) that lived in a wiigiwaam (wigwam) high up in the sky. He was known by the name of Makoons, Little Bear. He shared the wiigiwaam, which was round and made of stardust and fire and rays of light, with his father, who was none other than Giizis (the Sun), grandfather of all Life on earth. His mother, who was none other than Dibik-giizis (the Moon), grandmother of all life on earth, had left his father and had walked away to a faraway place. His father and his mother lived on opposite sides of the Universe and they barely communicated with each other any more. When his father awoke in the morning, his mother went to bed, and vice versa. They did this so as to avoid running into each other.


Makoons loved his father, despite his hot temper, a great deal. When he was not spending time in the nearby giizhigomakwaanzh (sky den) of his uncle, Gichi Makwa, the Great Bear [1]who was a great ayaadizooked (storyteller) and taught him evertyhing he needed to know to become a great mashkikiiwinini (medicine man), he would gather misan (firewood) for him and he helped him to gather food by catching Thunderbirds and trapping anangoog (stars) that lived in wiigiwaaman along Binesiwi-miikana, a large road that meandered through the Galaxy. A good and dutiful sun he was! But he also had another side. In fact, he had many sides.


Gaawiin, Makoons was truly not a typical spirit. He was a makwa manidoo, a bear spirit. It was commonly believed that Gichi-manidoo, the Great Mystery, entrusted him with many bear tasks. Since he was given birth to by the Sun and the Moon he possessed tremendous abilities and strengths – qualities that nowadays would be regarded as extraordinary but back in the days were accepted at face value and not thought to be very unusual at all.


The reason Makoons was so well-loved, therefore, were not his supernatural powers, but how he used them; the manidoog loved him, not just for helping out his father, but also for his tireless efforts and inclination to help others. Because he was so emphatic, and on top of that a very curious spirit who traveled long distances to see if he could be of help to others, Makoons spoke to many spirits. This is how he was informed that the anishinaabeg (humans) on earth were in a bad shape. Because they had forgotten to live according to the teachings of their ancestors and were no longer able to make use of the riches the land and the water had to offer them, they had become subject to sickness, misery, and death. Makoons, who regarded himself as their father, took pity on them, and realized that unless he provided them with Sacred Medicine they would soon become extinct...


When he told his father about what he had seen on earth, the latter told him that he should go and help the human beings out. "I will be fine," he told his son, "don't worry about me. As long as you make sure you return to me after your deeds on earth are done, we need you here."

 

Dance Around the Sun bolo tie designed by Zhaawano Giizhik

Giiwitaa'ose Giizis ("Walks Around the Sun"), sterling silver and 14K gold bolo tie set with hand-cut natural Kingman turquoise and red corals, designed and handcrafted by Zhaawano Giizhik. The stylized bear paws and twisted-wire-and-balls-and-red-coral design positioned around the center stone represent the Little spirit Boy's journey across the sky. Click on image to view details of the bolo tie.

 

JOURNEY TO THE EARTH


No sooner said than done; Makoons filled his makwayaani-midewayaan (bearskin bundle) with makomashkiki (bear medicine), and off he went. After a four-day journey through the galaxy and different layers of sky he arrived on earth, on the shore of a great salt water sea. Here he encountered a Binesi (Thunderbird) in the form of a gichi-ikwe (a very old woman). The woman told him that he must head westward, and that soon, while crossing a great river which drains the waters of a chain of Great freshwater Seas, he would encounter a mikinaak (snapping turtle) whose tail would point him into the direction of a place where food grew in the lakes and streams. Here, the woman in his dream explained to him, he would find the anishinaabeg who had forgotten the old teachings and who now lived in darkness and misery. It would be a long journey, she warned him; he would encounter several mikinaako-minisensing (turtle-shaped islands) before reaching this land. She also told him that along the way he must stop seven times, and light seven fires, and that he must collect as much as miigisag (sea shells) as possible and use them as teaching tools and healing objects once he arrived at his destination. He would also meet a nigig (otter) along the way, she told him; this otter would help him to dive up seven perfectly round stones from the bottom of the sea, which would be instrumental in creating a healing tool for the starving Anishinaabeg...


Makoon's mother and all of his star relatives went to sleep, and as soon as his uncle the morning star had dimmed his light and his father started to set the sea ablaze with his purple radiance, he knew it was time to go. Before the Thunderbird woman bade him maajaashin (goodbye), she told Makoons about the existence of an island northeast of an island named Spirit Rocky Island,[2] which was the last turtle-shaped island awaiting him at the end of the journey. When you reach this area, she added, you will see all around you grass growing on water as far the eyes can see; then you will know your journey is completed.[3]

 

Mishi-mikinaak

Izhimikinaakaabinakwe ("Dream of Turtle Woman"), line art drawing by Zhaawano Giizhik . The female figure depicted inside the Great sea Turtle represents the Thunderbird Turtle Dream woman in the story; above her the Great Lakes are depicted with Baawitigong (Sault Ste. Marie; the fifth stopping place in Makoon's journey) in the center and the flying Sandhill Crane, who was sent down to show the way to this beautiful place of waterfalls and rapids. ©2010 Zhaawano Giizhik.

 

THE FIRST, SECOND, AND THIRD FIRE


Determined to find this place that the Thunderbird woman had described to him, Makoons crossed a wide river called Gichigami-ziibi. [4] Mii sa iitog o ke-mada'atooyaan (“This must be the road along which I am to journey”) he thought by himself. Then, like the gichi-ikwe had predicted, he encountered a large sea turtle. The turtle's head faced the setting sun and its tail pointed in the direction of the rising sun. Diving beneath the river's surface Makoons continued his journey and soon he reached the first of four freshwater seas that he must cross.[5] When he reached a place called Mooniyaang [6] he saw the first turtle-shaped island. Once there, he lit a fire on its beach and collected a pawful of miigisoog like he had been told to do. Next, he swam to a place called Animikiiwaabad (or Wayaanag-gakaabikaa, the Place of the Thunder Waters, present-day Niagara Falls) where he encountered the second island the shape of a turtle and beyond, to a place where two lakes were connected by a narrow river. Here, at Waawiyaataanong (present-day Detroit in Michigan), he rested and collected a pawful of seashells. It was here that he lit the third fire in his journey west.

 

Bruce Morrisseau

Manidoo Makwa Gikendamaazo Manidoowini-minising ("Spirit Bear Discovers Spirit Island") ©2021 Zhaawano Giizhik.

 

THE FOURTH FIRE


That night as he rested on the beach by the third fire he had started on his journey, he had a dream. In it, he pushed a giizhikaatig (cedar tree) through the four worlds, after which he entered a a huge body of water. After a few days of swimming due north, still dreaming, he encountered a series of small islands, which he used as stepping stones. As he was jumping from island to island he suddenly heard a sound that appeared to him as if it were happy laughter! Then he heard a voice echoing in his mind, repeating over and over the phrase Noos, bawaajigewinan waasa izhaamigadon, bawaajigewinan waasa izhaamigadon ("My father, dreams go far, dreams go far!")


Makoons stopped in his tracks and looked into the direction where the sound came from. Awenesh wa’aw beminizha’ogwen. Manidoowigwen ("Who is this that must be following me?! It must be a spirit!"), he thought. Squinting his eyes he perceived a dark, slender, fast-moving object on the surface of the sea to the east, and then in all four directions; and then, within the blink of an eye, the directions were brought together in what appeared to him to be a huge madoodiswan (purification, or sweat lodge)! The madoodiswan was a large island, abundant with countess beaches and inland lakes and remote places where many spirits dwelled,[7] and he understood that it was time to light a fire for the second time in his journey. It was on this sacred island, where sky, water, and land came together, that he saw the object of his curiosity: a nigig ,[8] playing in a bay near a manidoo-owaanzh (spirit cave).[9]


Makoons, understanding and appreciating the magic phenomenon he witnessed before his very eyes, still dreaming, swam into the direction of the friendly and playful slider, and asked him to aid him in finding seven small, round stones the Thunderbird woman had told him about. Together they dove beneath the bay's surface toward the cave where the Underwater manidoo lived and started to search, but not before they gifted him presents that appeased him. Here, at the bottom of the cave, they found seven perfectly round stones, which Makoons put in his bundle where he kept the miigis shells. Hereupon the two new friends swam to the beach, where Makoons lit his fourth fire...


 

Josh Kakegamic
"Demolish (Wiindigoo)," acrylic by the late Anishinini artist Joshim Kakegamic.

 

THE EVIL WIINDIGOO FROM THE UNDERWATER CAVE AT THE BURNT BLUFF


He woke up as soon as his father illuminated the eastern sky; his new-found friend the otter was still asleep and snoring unabashedly, seemingly exhausted by his monkying around the previous day. He wondered if he was still dreaming. As soon as the fire had died down he woke up his snoring friend. After they had breakfast nigig told him about a mysterious cave a few days travelling to the southwest, home of a wiindigoo (cannibal spirit) who terrorized the hungry anishinaabeg (human beings) who lived in its vicinity.[10] This spirit was a former Anishinaabewinini ( Ojibwe man) who, at the brink of starvation, had fallen prey to an evil spirit that changed him into a cannibal. Now a maji-manidoo himself, he lived in an underwater cave[11] and fed himself on the People of the Bearfoot Nation, relatives of the Ojibweg, a nation that lived to the north...


Makoons, who regarded himself to be the father of all anishinaabeg, decided to go there and see this cannibal with his own eyes. After bidding his friend apane bimaadizin (farewell: literally, "continually live"), he packed his belongings and walked due west, then south, along the coast of a big body of water.[12]Soon enough, he saw people running with terror in their eyes. As he was a very curious spirit, Makoons walked into the direction of the commotion. A terrible roar stopped him in his tracks. A hideous monster stood on a high cliff, its huge shadow shrouding the land. The earth beneath its feet rumbled and a voice like thunder rolled across the bay. With repulsion Makoons examined the monster. The giant cave dweller before him was gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tautly over its bones. With its bones pushing out against its skin, its complexion the ash gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into their sockets, he looked to him like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave.…[13]


With an ear-deafening sound that reverberated across the very ground Makoons stood on, the monster, who apparently used makwag (bears) as a metaphor for humans, bellowed: “Shkozin, ondaashaan makoonsag. Wewiib, wewiib, ambesa, ambe omaa bi-izhaan. Nimaapiji-bakade noongom. (Wake up!! Come here, bear cubs! Hurry, hurry, come on, come here! I am terribly hungry today!)


Now, it happened that Makoons was a very friendly spirit with the quiet wisdom of his mother, the moon. But he also had the fiery temper of his father! So without thinking twice, his war club clenched in his right hand, he raced toward the giant wiindigoo and, before the surprised monster had time to react, he split its skull open and with his bare hands tore its heart – which was nothing but a clump of ice! – out of his chest. The cliff he had stood on colored red, and the cave-dwelling monster's heart fell into the beach, which immediately caused its water level to rise. Next, wa taasayaa!! when Makoons tossed the monster's brains into the water, they turned into adikamekwag (whitefish)...


As soon as the starving People of the Bearfoot Nation noticed that their tormentor could do them no more harm, those that had survived his attacks left their hiding places and walked up to Makoons, clasping his hands in gratitude. They thanked him for killing the monster and for gifting them with food in the form of abundant shoals of whitefish that now flashed their silvery tails in the waves of the bay. They told him they would always remember him by the honorary title of Nanaandawiiwe ("He Heals People"). Makoons, who only spoke a little of the dialect of his newly made friends, nodded shyly and mumbled "ahaaw, baamaapii" and after having wiped off the wiindigoo's blood off his war club, he continued his way, in search of the fifth resting place that he suspected lay north to him.


 

The Seven Fires Journey
Makoon's westward journey marked by seven fires, pen-and-ink drawing by Zhaawano Giizhik. ©2021 Zhaawano Giizhik

 

MAP LEGEND:


1. Mooniyaang: present-day Montreal.

2. Wayaanag-gakaabikaa ("Concave Waterfalls"): the Niagara Falls

3. Gichigamiiwi-ziibi, the Great Lake River, present-day Detroit River (MI/ON), near Waawiyaataanong or "Round Place" (present-day city of Detroit).

4. Manidoowini-minising, or "Spirit Island" (present-day Manitoulin Island, Ontario)

5. Baawitigong ("Place of the Cascading Rapids," present-day Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Ontario)

6. Manidoo-minisaabik ("Spirit-rocky island": near present-day Duluth, Minnesota)

7. Mooningwane-kaaning-minis ("Place of the Yellow-shafted Flicker," La Pointe on present-day Madeline Island, Wisconsin)

A. Animikii-wajiw, the Thunder Mountain (present-day Mount McKay, Ontario)

B. Wiisaakode-giishkadinaang ("At the Burnt Bluff") near Mako-wiikwedong ("At the Bay of the Bear"), present-day Bay de Noc in Upper Michigan.

 

THE FIFTH FIRE


Three sun-ups it took him to find the place where he were to to lit a fire for the fifth time. An ajijaak (sandhill crane) sounded its mighty voice and its echo, reverberating across the water of a great river, drew him toward the most beautiful place he had ever laid eyes on; large stretches of trees and vegetation lined the banks of a Great Sea River as far as his eyes could see and the laughing waters of uncountable rapids and the waterfalls enchanted his ears. The crane that had led him there circled four times above the rapids and perched on a hill overlooking a settlement of many anishinaabeg. Never before had he seen so many anishinaabeg in one place! [14]


Not before long he learned that these people, who called themselves baawitigowininiwag ("People of the Place of the Rapids"), as were their relatives to the south and west, were subject to strife and turmoil. Although the area was naturally rich, abundantly providing food from the rivers, lakes, and woods, a long chain of past skirmishes with surrounding tribes drenching the soil with the blood of their warriors had made them forget about the teachings of the ancestors. The notion of bimaadiziwn (how to live a life of love and caring for each other) no longer lived in their hearts. As a result, the multitude of fish and game and berries dwindled in alarming rates and starvation and disease struck the town by the rapids hard. As if that weren't bad enough, the villagers, like their relatives to the south had been, were under daily attack of a wiindigoo, a cave-dwelling giant from the north, who took great pleasure in running around town each dawn and eating their abinoojiinhyag (children). Wiindigoog always seemed to thrive in times of scarcity and famine!


Makoons, who had clearly descended to Earth on a mission to help the humans which he regarded as his children, appeared before the people of the town and those of a nearby island in human form, explaining to them who he was and why he had come. Next, he lit a fire. Then he built a madoodiswan (sweat lodge), grandfather stones were heated, and everyone present was led into the lodge, which represented a mother's womb. When the ceremony was over he told each person who came out of the lodge that they were reborn:


Inawemaagan,

Bichiinag giwii-maajiibimaadis.

Mino bimaadizin.

Miigwechewendan gimaamaa aki.

Miigwechewendan gookomis dibiki--giizis

Miigwechewendan gimishoomis giizis

Miigwechewendan noodinoon gaye mitgoog gaye asinig

Miigwechewendan nibi gaye animikiig gaye gimiwan

Miigwechewendan makwag gaye aamoog gaye giigoonyag

Migwechewendan akina gegoo ahaw.


(My relative!

At last you are at the beginning of your life.

Live well!

Be thankful for your mother the earth

Be thankful for your grandmother the moon

Be thankful for your grandfather the sun

Be thankful for the winds, the trees, the rocks

Be thankful for the water, the thunder grandfathers, the rain

Be thankful for the bears, the bees, the fish

Be thankful for everything alive!)


That night, he went to the marshes and swamps north of town to find the wiindigoo. All he had to was follow his nose, and when the stench of rotten flesh became unbearable, he knew he had found the cave that housed the giant. Ambe, ningadishaa ("Well now, I will go there") he said to himself. He chanted a song:


Heya~ya~he

Heya~ya~he

H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw.

Heya~ya~he~.

Heya~ya~he~.

H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw!

Gii-ishkwaa-gimiwang

Nookaabaawe aki.

Mii apii mookiiwaad,

Mooseg miinawaa zaskwaajimenhyag.

(Heya~ya~he

Heya~ya~he

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw.

Heya~ya~he~.

Heya~ya~he~.

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw!

When the rain is over

The earth gets soft.

That's when they come out,

The worms and leeches.)


When the wiindigoo, still sleeping, heard Makoons ridiculing him in song, he stormed out of his cave, roaring with anger. Makoons, who had positioned himself at the entrance with his war club raised high, smashed the Giant's brains in with one mighty blow. Then, when the monster lay squirming on the ground, he cut out its heart of ice and watched it turn into a pool of water. Next , he collected the monster's brains and walked back to town and, before the eyes of the surprised villagers, tossed them into the sea river.


"My relatives!" he shouted. "If you follow the instructions I have given you the other day on how to reach a state of mino-bimaadiziwin and make sure to remain steadfast on the good red road, soon the river will be replenished with uncountable shoals of adikamekwag, and soon the four-legged and many-legged that need the river and the vegetation of its banks to survive will return! Not before long your giigoonyikewininiwag (fishermen) will set out again in their jiimaanan to spear the whitefish in the river, and no longer will your children's bellies be empty. Aanish, iidog ji-ishaan miinawaa (“Now, it seems that I shall have to be on my way again”).


 

Norval Morrisseau Fire Spirit
"Fire Spirit," acrylic on canvas by the late Ojibwe artist Miskwwabik Animikii (Norval Morrisseau).

 

THE SIXTH FIRE


And on he went, heading north, then west, in search of the land where food grows on water. Six days he swam a great body of water that stretched as far as the eyes could see[15]into the direction where with each passing day his father sank behind the horizon and his uncle rose in the evening sky.[16] To his right he noticed a flat-top mountain that seemed to rise out of the water of a large bay,[17] and from it he saw lightning, and ear-deafening thunderclaps rumbled across the lake. Wa! Onzaam niibiwa ishkode wi'iw wajing ("Hole smokes! Too much fire on that mountain!") he said to himself, "no need to light another one," and on he went, until he encountered a rocky island in a bay[18] here, for the first time during his trip Makoons saw fields of manoomin (wild rice), as had been predicted by the Thunderbird woman in the Land of Dawn. He knew it was time for him to light the sixth fire. Soon, he said to himself, he would meet the people whom he had decided to heal with his Medicine when he still lived with his father in the sky! Haw dash. Well now! That's what he did; after building a fire and collecting more miigisag (shells) on the beach, Makoons once again dove under the surface of the great water and swam in northeastern direction, only to surface at the seventh and last turtle-shaped island awaiting them at the end of the journey. [19]


 

Giizhigong Gichi-makwa
Gichi Makwa, the Great Sky Bear, illustration by Zhaawano Giizhik ©2021 Zhaawano Giizhik

 

THE SEVENTH FIRE


As Makoons waded toward the beach he noticed a large miigis sitting on the colored pebbles. Its shiny back, reflecting back the rays of his father who was perched high in the blue midday sky, blessed the world with light, life, and wisdom. He knew it was a sign of life from his father, and more than ever determined to perform a good deed, Makoons sat on the beach and lit the seventh and last fire.


In search of the people he had heard about while still in the sky land, Makoons swam to the mainland. For days he walked until he reached a beautiful wooded country where the muskrat lived.[20] Binaakwii-giizis, the moon of the falling leaves would soon end to make way for ishpiming ozhishenyan (his cross-uncle from above).[21] The forest was colored red with the blood of his favorite ishpiming omishoomeyan (parallel uncle from above)[22], Gichi-makwa, who every fall gets chased by hunters who shoot arrows at him; once he comes low to the horizon, drops of blood fall from his punctured tail on the tree leaves.


 


 

THE BOY WHO FELL ILL


Walking in the form of an oshkiniigiins (human boy) through the painted land, Makoons encountered a small family that consisted of a mother and a father and their young son, who was ill. The parents immediately took a liking in Makoons and decided to adopt him. They told him that they were hungry and had left their oodena (village) by the great lake[23] in search of game. Makoons, who took pity on his companions, went into the woods and killed plenty of game in order for them to gain strength. But alas, the little boy was too weak and he died. Grief-stricken his parents covered his body in sheets of wiigwaas (birch bark) and decided to return to the village and bury his body there. As they undertook the journey back to the Great Lake where they had left their relatives behind they would stop to make camp at nightfall, and when they did this they erected poles upon which the body of their deceased son was placed to prevent the wolves and vultures from devouring it.


On the second evening as they set up camp Makoons, who had truly a big heart, told his adopterd parents that he pitied them and wanted to help bring their beloved son back to life. The parents looked at him in disbelief, but then the mother, who realized their adopted son was no ordinary being, asked him how that could be accomplished. "We must break up camp, Inga (my mother), and walk all night and make sure to reach it when my celestial father rises. Once there we shall get the women to make a wiigiwaam (lodge) covered with wiigwaasan (birch bark sheets) and apakweshkwayan (cattail mats).


 

The Midewiwin Bear Healer and the Little Boy Drum
Nenaandawi'iwed ("The Healer"), artwork by Zhaawano Giizhik ©2021 Zhaawano Giizhik.

 

THE HEALING CEREMONY


They reached the village by the lake at sunrise and the parents made sure Makoon's instructions were carried out properly. This included the building of a 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 baate-miinan (dried blueberries) placed at the entrance. After this had been done, the family and friends went into the newly erected wiigiwaam and seated themselves around the corpse, which – save for the boy's head – was wrapped in wiigwaasan. A small water drum, its membrane tied down with the seven round pebbles Makoons had brought from his journey, stood nearby. When they had all been sitting quietly for some time, they saw through the doorway the approach of Makoons, who entered in the shape of a bear. After grabbing a handful of blueberries from the makak he placed himself before the corpse of the boy. Pulling out a zhiishiigwan (rattle) from his biinjigwasan (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!"


As he danced around the deceased boy in a clockwise motion, frantically shaking his zhiishiigwan, his trembling body rhythmically swayed and wiggled to the imaginary beat of a drum. Suddenly the rattle magically shot a series of miigisag (seashells) into the direction of the deceased boy! Next, the body of the boy began to quiver; the quivering increased as Makoons 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, atayaa! 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!


 

Manidoo-gwiiwizens niigiwin (Birth of the Little Boy")
Manidoo-gwiiwizens Niigiwin (Birth of the Little Boy"), artwork by Zhaawano Giizhik ©2021 Zhaawano Giizhik.

 

THE GIFT OF MEDICINE AND ETHICS


As soon as water and a few pinches of a pounded plant remedy had been given to the boy to complete his recovery, the bear left the lodge through the western door. After a while he re-entered through the eastern door, this time in human form. He walked up to the boy 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, nishiim!

("Your old life is gone

and your new life is now here, yes!

It's a new tomorrow, change starts here.

Live well, my younger brother.")


Next, Makoons turned to the boy's father and said to him:


Noos gaawiin anishinaabewisii, ayaawiyaan manidoo ningwizis.

Bi-mayaa-miniik niiji-manidoo mayaa zhigwa ji-gi-aawiyan.

Noose, zhigwa asemaa ji-atooyeg.

E-mikondem mii eta aabiding ji-gashkitood wenji-bimaadizid omaa agaawaa bimaadizid mii omaa;

niijii-manidoo mayaa zhigwa ji-giiweyaan.


This translates freely as follows:[24]


My father! I come from the Sky. I am a spirit. And so are you!

Now, you, being also a spirit, shall put out tobacco.

My spirit was able to perform this miracle before your eyes but once!

Soon, I will go home, but not before I have inducted you and your People in the various mysteries and noble 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 to witness the miracle – crowded around him, bursting out in cries of appraisal and they addressed him, chanting:


Heya~ya~he

Heya~ya~he

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw!


Manidoo-makwa, gaabinaagozid.

Manidoo-makwa, bigizhaaweni mishinaan!

Manidoo-makwa, gaabinaagozid.

Manidoo-makwa, bigizhaaweni mishinaan!


Heya~ya~he

Heya~ya~he

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw!



("Heya~ya~he

Heya~ya~he

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw!


Spirit Bear appears here.

Spirit Bear! Come, have zeal for us!

Spirit Bear appears here.

Spirit Bear! Come, have zeal for us!


Heya~ya~he

Heya~ya~he

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~ya~he.

Heya~whe~yawhe~yaw!")


Hereupon Makoons addressed the Anishinaabe people assembled there that day as follows:


"Ahaaw! Niin manidoo-makwa! Niin goos! (Yes! I am a spirit bear! I am your father!) But you shall forever remember me as manidoo-gwiiwizens (a little spirit boy) who came from the Sun and performed bear magic in order to bring back one of your People to life. For this reason you shall give me an honorary place in your Midewigaan (Medicine Lodge), and my voice will sound wide and far while you are in ceremony, and you shall remember me when you perform your sacred rites. I will be hereafter known as oshkaabewis (ceremonial helper)!"


He then remained among the Anishinaabeg for a while and taught them how to build a madoodiswan (sweat lodge) and presented them with the gifts of ceremony and rituals and ethics, thus laying the foundation for the two Sacred Medicine Lodges of the Anishinaabeg Peoples.[25]


When he had accomplished this, he told his adopted father and mother that, now his mission on earth had been fulfilled, he was to return to the abode of his father, the Sun, 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 return to his SunFather in the Sky, from where he, in the capacity of ishpiming oshkaabewis (ceremonial messenger from above), would be of assistance to the Anishinaabeg while in ceremony...


 

The Little Boy Drum of the Midewiwin
Spirit of the Little Boy, pen on paper drawing by Zhaawano Giizhik © Zhaawano Giizhik

 

THE VOICE OF THE LITTLE BOY DRUM


Giiwenh. Thus is the story of the little boy who came from the Sun and who offered the Anishinaabeg during his short stay on aki important instructions and sacred objects – such as the miigisag and the zhiishiigwan, which to this day are being used when curing the sick and at sacred feasts and during the ceremonial of initiation. But most importantly, he inspired the People to start living again according to the (long forgotten) teachings that revolved around the notion of mino-bimaadiziwin – the Way of a Good and Wholesome Life. Because of this 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. He thus saved the starving Anishinaabeg from extinction, and they gratefully honored him in the form of a water drum, which they called gwiiwizens (little boy), or, in a purely ritual context, oshkaabewis (ceremonial helper).


Although he visited us a long, long time ago the boy who came from the Sun continues to live in our hearts. The people of the present-day Medicine Lodges commemorate and honor him as the helper to the Grandfather water drum – the "Chief" water drum that presides over the present-day Midewiwin Lodge.[26] Mide people traditionally believe that the Little Boy points the way to the Grandfather, but when the Grandfather comes, darkness flees before him, and the whole world, the whole sky is enlightened...

 

Birth of the Little Boy in the Sun
"Birth of the Little Boy in the Sun" (detail). The Grandfather water drum is depicted in the foreground.

Gwiiwizens the Little Boy Water Drum of the Midewiwin
Artist impression of Gwiiwizens midewewe'igan, the Little Boy Oshkaabewis water drum and two mide-miigisag (sacred shells). ©2021 Zhaawano Giizhik

 

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 of the open ends of the hollow log (or kettle) with the aid of the seven small round stones that Makoons – in our story – collected during his journey across the 5 Great Lakes, stands for Life. It is said that to be a true Mide is to know the Little Boy. ..


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 giizis gaye makwag gaye mitigwakikoog gaye akina gegoo ahaw! Be thankful for the Sun and the bears and the drums and for everything else alive!


 

Makwa Waakaashkaw Giizisong ("Bear Circles Around the Sun"). Bandana (neckerchief) slide set with hand-cut natural Kingman turquoise and red corals, designed and handcrafted by Zhaawano Giizhik. The stylized bear paws and twisted-wire-and-balls-and-red-coral design positioned around the center stone represent the Little spirit Boy's journey across the sky. Click on image to view details of the slide.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Traditionaly, Giizhigomakwag, or Giizhigong Makwag, the Sky Bears or Bears-Above, are deemed eternal while Akiimakwag, the bears that live on Earth, die of sickness or old age or at the hands of hunters and return as manidoog (spirits) to giizhigong, the Sky World, from where they descended when born in their giizhigomakwaanzhwan (sky dens). Thus, the life cycle of the earthly bears reflected and paralleled the seasonal rotation of the great sky bear – in the form of cluster of seven stars – around Giiwedanang (the Returning Home Star, or North Star). What happened in the Sky World – phenomenons that were expressed in the sacred star stories told to the young – foretold (and thus complemented) events that would take place on the Earth. The bear that dwells in the sky cared for the earth from its giizhiig wiigiwaaman (sky lodges) and the earthly bears reflected the movements of their cousin in the sky by digging for medicinal plants in the Earth in spring and summer; and also by finding a resting place in the earth's bosom when it was time to hibernate. Yet vice versa, the Earth Bears also care for the sky! Since the first humans (a twin) came from the sky, earthly bears by extension still care for and look after their descendants, the Anishinaabeg. Source: Our Clans Among the Stars, Chapter 1.

[2] Makoon's seventh and final stop would be in the area of Mooningwane-kaaning-minis (meaning the place of the yellow-shafted flicker) La Pointe on present-day Madeline Island, Wisconsin and, in our story, it was here, a little inland of this island that he encountered the family of the boy who fell ill and died.

[3] Grass growing on water: manoomin, the wild rice. See: The Spirit of Manoomin.

[4] Gichigami-ziibi, the Sea River, present-day St. Lawrence River.

[5] Gichi-zaaga’egan (Big Lake): present-day Lake Ontario. Also called Niigani-gichigami (Leading Sea).

[6] Mooniyaang: in gichi-ziibi, the Big river (present-day Ottawa River), near the present-day city of Montreal.

[7] Manidoowini-minising, or Spirit Island: present-day Manitoulin Island, located in Gichi-aazhoogami-gichigami (Great Crosswaters Sea) - present-day Lake Huron. Also called: Odaawaa-minis (Odawa Island).

[8] To this day, Nigig's characteristics, like his playfulness, craftiness, adaptability, industriousness, and his adventurous and autonomous nature, are still core aspects of the teachings and the leadership of the Midewiwin Lodge. Nigig symbolizes new life, and all of life is seen as an extension of his magical power. Just as from time immemorial the Anishinaabeg have drawn on the resources of both land and water to survive, so too the Otter, being one of their most important mediators between the physical world and the spirit world, lives in both environments, and the People have always tried to emulate his talent for moving through both worlds with ease, playfulness, and humor.

[9] The Odaawaa Anishinaabe name for this cave, Manidoowaaling, gave its (Frenchified/Anglicised) name to Manitoulin Island where it is located. By the 19th century, the Odaawaa "l" was pronounced as "n". The same word with a newer pronunciation is used for the town Manitowaning (19th-century Odawa "Manidoowaaning"), which is located on Manitoulin Island near the underwater cave where legend has it that the spirit dwells, in Manitowaning Bay.

[10] These Anishinaabeg, a tribe that was closely related to the Mamaceqtaw (Menominee) but eventually became absorbed by other Nations (probably the Mamaceqtaw, and by the nooke/bear clan of the Ojibweg), identified themselves as Nookezid, or "Tender-foot" (Bearfoot) nation. This name was corrupted by the French into Noquet.

[11] These Anishinaabeg, a tribe that was closely related to the Mamaceqtaw (Menominee) but eventually became absorbed by other Nations (probably the Mamaceqtaw, and by the nooke/bear clan of the Ojibweg), identified themselves as Nookezid, or "Tender-foot" (Bearfoot) nation. This name was corrupted by the French into Noquet.

[12] Mishigami (Great Lake) or Miiskogami (Sweet/Freshwater) Lake: present-day Lake Michigan. Another name for this freshwater lake is Ininwewi-gichigami (Illinois’ Sea).

[13] Source: Basil Johnston.

[14] Baawitigong ("Place of the Cascading Rapids"), present-day Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan/Ontario: originally a portage around gichigami-ziibi, the Sea River (present-day Ste. Marys River). The Ojibwe name for the area around this economical and political center of Anishinaabe Aki (Ojibwe country) is Baawiting ("cascading rapids").

[15] Gichi-gami - Lake Superior.

[16] Nigaabii-anang, the Star of the West: the Evening Star. [17] A reference to Animikii-wajiw, the Thunder Mountain at Gaa-ministigweyaag (Place of Islanded River, present-day Thunder Bay). This table mountain, home of the Binesiwag (Thunderbirds), is called Mount McKay by non-Natives.

[18] Manidoo-minisaabik (Spirit Island; literally, "Spirit-rocky island"); not far from Onigamiinsing “at the little portage": present-day Duluth in Minnesota. [19] Mooningwane-kaaning-minis ("Place of the Yellow-shafted Flicker") La Pointe on present-day Madeline Island, Wisconsin. [20] Wiishkoonsing, or "Muskrat Lodge Place"; present-day Wisconsin. [21] Gaa-biboonikaan, the bringer of winter. [22] Omishoomeyan: parallel uncle (a father's brother; a stepfather). [23] Gichigami, the Great Lake (Superior). [24] The literal translation is: "My father is not a human. I, a son, am a Spirit. Just as - my fellow Spirit - you now are. Father! Now, you shall put out tobacco. Recalling that he could do this only once in order to barely live here, thus he lived here; my fellow Spirit, so now, I must go home." Source: Gwiiwizens wedizhichigewinid—Deeds of a Little-boy, as passed down by 19th century Misi-zaaga'iganiing (Mille Lacs) ogimaa (chief) Bayezhig. See: Spirit of the Three Fires.

[25] The two main Medicine Lodges of the Anishinaabeg: Midewiwin and Waabanoowiwin.

[26] The Anishinaabeg traditionally use two different types of Waterdrums in the Midewiwin Lodge: the Grandfather Drum and the Little Boy Waterdrum. The Grandfather drum can be recognized by the hoop placed at the top of the drum, while the Little Boy Waterdrum is tied together with seven small, round stones. In Midewiwin practice, the Grandfather is symbolically supported by OSHKAABEWIS, his ceremonial helper, called the Litle Boy Water Drum in reference to the origin story of the Midewiwin, about a little bear boy who descended from the Sun and remained for some time among the Anishinaabeg to teach them the mysteries of the Midewiwin. To read more about this topic, see: The Sound of the Mide Drum.


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