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Teachings of the Eagle Feather, part 37: Ojibwe Terms of Endearment

Updated: Jul 10, 2023

Namebini-giizis/Makwa-giizis (Suckerfish Moon/Bear Moon )- February 1, 2023


Terms of endearment spoken by inini (a man) to ikwe (a woman):

Niinimoshenh = My sweetheart
Nibazigim = My sweetheart (used by Eastern Ojibweg (N’Biissing/Nipissing and Misi-zaagiwininiwag/Mississauga) and Odaawaag/Odawa, especially around Manitoulin Island.
Indikwem = My woman
Indikwemijenj = My darling wife 

~~ AN OJIBWE LOVE SONG ~~ Heya~wya~whe~ H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! Heya~wya~whe~. H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! giin gimashkikiw noojimo'iwewin bimaadiziwin gi-zaagi'in nigabe bineshiin niniimoshen indikwem gaagini giin Heya~wya~whe~ H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! Heya~wya~whe~. H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! H ͤya~whe~yawhe~yaw! (yes-sey, yes-sey, yes, yes, yes! yes-sey, yes-sey, yes, yes, yes! yes-yes-yes! yes-yes-yes! yes-yes-yes! yes-yes-yes! you are medicine healing life i love you forever flying bird my sweetheart my wife forever you yes-sey, yes-sey, yes, yes, yes! yes-sey, yes-sey, yes, yes, yes! yes-yes-yes! yes-yes-yes! yes-yes-yes! yes-yes-yes! -- My personal song to Jane "High Eagle" Muskitta.


Bozhoo! Aaniin! Biindigen miinawaa nindaadizooke wigamigong; enji-zaagi'iding miinawaa gikendaasong.

(Hi! Hello! Welcome back in my Storytelling Lodge where there is love and learning.)

Today, we will take a look at two romantic Ojibwe expressions that refer to expressing a man's love to a woman: gi-zaagi'in ("I love you") and niinimoshenh ("my sweetheart").

"Gi-zaagi'in, niinimoshenh" (pronounce: gee-ZAAH-gih-in nee-nih-moh-SHEHN); " a phrase that I often use when I address my lady. "I love you, Sweetheart." She tells me I can never say it enough, and I believe her -- although I think it even more important to express my love for her through deeds and actions than through words.

Let's take a closer look at the Ojibwe words "zaagi," -- a verb that means "love" -- and "niinimooshenh" -- a term of endearment, which, in the above song, is used in the sense of "sweetheart." I happen to be very fond of these words, which, to my ears, have a beautiful, soft sound with a poetic, if not romantic, ring to it.

But do these words indeed express the level of affection that I want to express?

To answer this, we will have to take a look at the etymology of the verb "zaagi'" and the term "niinimooshenh."



When we break down "gi-zaagi'in," I love you, we find gi-, which means "you," zaagi', a verb meaning "to make someone put out; to love someone" and -in, a suffix which completes the "you" form. However, the "make someone put out" part suggest an act that is more physical than anything else, and I suspect tha tin the old days, folks preferred the -- equally nice-sounding -- verb zhawenim.

Gizhawenim: I love you.

When we break down "gizhawenim," we get gi, "you,"; zhawenim: love someone; pity someone; treasure someone; have compassion for someone; literally: pity someone in thought, bless someone in thought; and "-im," a suffix which completes the "you" form.

In other words: gizhawenim (pronounce: gih-zhah-WAY-nim) , "I love/treasure/pity you," is a think-sense-feel act. Zaagi', on the other hand, meaning love someone, treasure someone, be attached to someone; literally: make someone put out, suggests a physical act rather than thinking of someone in a purely affectionate way.

There are not many people around anymore who know this; only the old-timers remember this, which is why to them, gizahwenim is preferred when expressing one's affection to another person.

To summarize:

ZAAGI' = VERB TRANSITIVE BIMAADIZI : love someone, treasure someone, be attached to someone; literally: make someone put out. It suggests a physical act rather than thinking of someone in a purely affectionate way.

ZHAWENIM = VERB TRANSITIVE BIMAADIZI : love someone, pity someone, have compassion for someone; literally: pity someone in thought, bless someone in thought. This suggests a think-sense-feel act.

To those of you who like to know the various conjugations of the verb zaagi,' see the list at the bottom of the page.




Like I said in the above, the expression niinimoshenh (pronounce: nee-nih-moh-SHEHN) is one of my favorite Ojibwe words -- especially because I love its sound. But what does it originally mean and how, and where, in which part or parts of Anishinaabewaki (Ojibwe land), is it used?

First of all, there is no simple independent Ojibwe word for "sweetheart." The stem of the word is "iinimosheny." The n- part of niinimoshenh indicates a possessive form; "my." A personal prefix goes with the dependent noun stem (- iinimosheny-) to make a full word:

niinimoshenh my sweetheart
giinimoshenh your sweetheart
wiinimoshenh his/her sweetheart
owiinimoshenh his/her sweetheart

Since Anishinaabewaki is a vast territory we must take into account that there are many different Ojibwe dialects spoken. Which also means that there are several ways of saying "my sweetheart." "Niinimoshe" and "niinimoshenzh" can be heard in Northwest Ontario and by Western Ojibwe (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta). In other parts, such as in Gaa-zagaskwaajimekaag (Leech Lake, Minnesota), "niinimoshenh" is a common expression. But, like most Ojibwe words, there is more to the word than meets the eye. It has a deeper meaning than the romantic notion expressed in the above song. In fact, the original meaning of niinimoshenh is quite different than most people would expect. In several areas niinimoshe, or niinimoshenh, is used to denote one's cross-cousin -- a term used to describe first cousins whose related parents are of the opposite sex. In other words, the mother of one is the sister of the father of the other.

The Ojibwe Anishinaabeg people are divided into a number of odoodemag (clans; singular: odoodem) named primarily for animal totems(doodem). Five original totems were Wawaazisii (Bullhead), Baswenaazhi (Crane), Aan'aawenh (Pintail Duck), Nooke (Bear) and Moozwaanowe ("Little" Moose-tail). These clans had distinct responsibilities that worked together to care for the people, such as chieftainship, defenders, teachers, spiritual guides, and so forth. Traditionally, each band had a self-regulating council consisting of leaders of the communities' clans, with the band often identified by the principle odoodem.

Ojibwe Anishinaabe understanding of kinship is complex, and includes not only the immediate family but also the extended family. Siblings generally share the same term with parallel-cousins, because they are all part of the same odoodem.

An Ojibwe does not only speak in terms of nimishoomis (my grandfather or great-uncle) and nookomis (my grandmother or great-aunt), noos ("my father") and ninga/ingashi/ningashi/nindoodoom/nimaamaam (different names for "my mother"), ningozis/ningwis/ningwishan (different words for "my son") and indaan/nindaan/nindaanis (different words for "my daughter"), nisayenh ("my older brother"), and nishiimenh ("my younger sister or brother"); the extended family also has, for example,  nizhishenh (cross-uncle - brother of a mother), ninooshenh ("my mother's sister" or "my father's sister-in-law" - my parallel-aunt - and also "my parent's female cross-cousin."), niikaanis (male sibling of same gender), niidigikoonh (female sibling of same gender), nindawemaa (sibling of opposite gender) and - as we will see in the text below - niinimoshenh (cross-cousin of the opposite gender). The terms aayaanikaaj mishoomisag en aayaanikaaj ookomisag are used for, respectively, forefathers and foremothers.

Aanikoobijigan, in conclusion, which means either ancestor, great-grandparent, or great-grandchild, can be considered as the fundamental notion of the Ojibwe kinship system. Great-grandparents and older generations, as well as great-grandchildren and younger generations are collectively called aanikoobijigan. In the broadest sense, the term symbolizes the essence of miziwekamig izhinamowin (the Anishinaabe worldview) – namely  the emphasis on the ingterconnectedness and balance between the indinawemaaganag: All generations (of humans as well as every other living being) of present, past, and future. 

What then, you may ask, has being someone's cross-cousin has got to do with calling someone "my sweetheart"? The answer to this is that niinimoshenh means means "my sweetheart" only because of a system of arranged marriage that the Anishinaabeg used to have.

In the old days, the Anishinaabeg used to have arranged marriages that were in accordance with the clan system. Since cross-cousins don't share the same doodem/clan, a person would be arranged to be married to them. This is how "wiinimoshenh" came to mean someone's lover or sweetheart. It wasn't uncommon for an arranged marriage to skip over a generation; when this happened, a man would marry and have children with his great cross-niece. Arranged marriage only stopped recently; it was merely a few decades ago that people were still arranged to be married to their "wiinimoshenh."


Wiinimoshenh, plural wiinimoshenhyan: "sweetheart"
Niinimoshe, plural niinimosheg (Northwestern Ontario and Manitoba, Saskatchwan, and Alberta): "my sweetheart"
Niinimoshenh, plural niinimoshenhyag: "my sweetheart"
Niinimoshenzh, plural niinimoshenzhag (Northwestern Ontario and Manitoba, Saskatchwan, and Alberta: "my sweetheart"
Nibazigim, plural nibazigimag: "my sweetheart" (used by Eastern Ojibweg (N’Biissing/Nipissing and Misi-zaagiwininiwag/Mississauga) and Odaawaag/Odawa, especially around Manitoulin Island
Noodenidi, plural noodenidiwag  (verb bimaadizi intransitive inherently plural)(Minnesota): "be sweethearts to one another"


I love myself : nizaagi'idiz
I love you(sg) : gizaagi'in
I love h/h(prox) : nizaagi'aa
I love h/h(obv) : nizaagi'imaan
I love you(pl) : gizaagi'ininim
I love them : nizaagi'aag
You(sg) love me : gizaagi'
You(sg) love yourself : gizaagi'idiz
You(sg) love h/h(prox) : gizaagi'aa
You(sg) love h/h(obv) : gizaagi'imaan
You(sg) love us(ex) : gizaagi'imin
You(sg) love them : gizaagi'aag
S/he loves it: ozaagitoon
S/he loves me : nizaagi'ig
S/he loves you(sg) : gizaagi'ig
S/he loves h/h-self(prox) : zaagi'idizo
S/he loves h/h-self(obv) : ozaagi'aan
S/he loves us(ex) : nizaagi'igonaan
S/he loves us(in) : gizaagi'igonaan
S/he loves you(pl) : gizaagi'igowaa
S/he(obv) loves h/h(prox) : ozaagi'igoon
S/he(obv) loves h/h-self : zaagi'idizowan
S/he(obv) loves them(prox) : ozaagi'igowaan
It loves me : nizaagi'igon
It loves you(sg) : gizaagi'igon
It loves h/h(prox) : ozaagi'igon
It loves h/h(obv) : ozaagi'igonini
It loves us(ex) : nizaagi'igomin
It loves us(in) : gizaagi'igomin
It loves you(pl) : gizaagi'igonaawaa
It loves h/h : ozaagi'igonaawaan
We(ex) love you(sg) : gizaagi'igoo
We(ex) love h/h(prox) : nizaagi'aanaan
We(ex) love h/h(obv) : nizaagi'imaanaan
We(ex) love ourselves : niwaabandizomin
We(ex) love you(pl) : gizaagi'igoom
We(ex) love them : nizaagi'aanaanig
We(in) love h/h(prox) : gizaagi'aanaan
We(in) love h/h(obv) : gizaagi'imaanaan
We(in) love ourselves : giwaabandizomin
We(in) love them : gizaagi'aanaanig
You(pl) love me : gizaagi'im
You(pl) love them(prox) : gizaagi'aawaa
You(pl) love them(obv) : gizaagi'imaawaa
You(pl) love us(ex) : gizaagi'imin
You(pl) love them : gizaagi'aawaag
They love me : nizaagi'igoog
They love you(sg) : gizaagi'igoog
They(prox) love them(obv) : ozaagi'aawaan
They love us(ex) : nizaagi'igonaanig
They love us(in) : gizaagi'igonaanig
They love you(pl) : gizaagi'igowaag
They love themselves : zaagi'idizowag
They(in) love me : nizaagi'igonan
They(in) love you(sg) : gizaagi'igonan
They(in) love them(prox) : ozaagi'igonan
They(in) love them(obv) : ozaagi'igonini
They(in) love us(ex) : nizaagi'igomin
They(in) love us(in) : gizaagi'igomin
They(in) love you(pl) : gizaagi'igonaawaan
They(in) love them(an) : ozaagi'igonaawaan
S/he is loved : nizaagi'igoo
You(sg) are loved : gizaagi'igoo
S/he(prox) is loved : zaagi'aa
S/he(obv) is loved : zaagi'imaawan
We(ex) are loved : nizaagi'igoomin
We(in) are loved : gizaagi'igoomin
You(pl) are loved : gizaagi'igoom
They are loved : zaagi'aawag

[You(sg)] Love me! : zaagi'ishin!
[You(sg)] Love yourself! : zaagi'idizon!
[You(sg)] Love h/h(prox)! : zaagi'!
[You(sg)] Love h/h(obv)! : zaagi'im!
[You(sg)] Love it! : zaagi'in!
[You(sg)] Love us(ex)! : zaagi'ishinaan(g)!
[You(sg)] Love them! : zaagi'!
[You(sg)] Love them(in)! : zaagi'in!
Let's love h/h(prox)! : zaagi'aadaa!
Let's love h/h(obv)! : zaagi'imaadaa(nin)!
Let's love it! : zaagi'idaa!
Let's love ourselves! : waabandizodaa!
Let's love them! : zaagi'aadaanig!
Let's love them(in)! : zaagi'idaa!
[You(pl)] Love me! : zaagi'ishik!
[You(pl)] Love h/h(prox)! : zaagi'ik!
[You(pl)] Love h/h(obv)! : zaagi'imik!
[You(pl)] Love it! : zaagi'(iy)ok!
[You(pl)] Love us(ex)! : zaagi'ishinaan(g)!
[You(pl)] Love yourselves! : zaagi'idizog
[You(pl)] Love them! : zaagi'ik!
[You(pl)] Love them(in) : zaagi'(iy)ok!

Ahaaw sa. Mii sa ekoozid. Miigwech gibizindaw noongom. Ok, that's as far as it goes. Thank you for listening to me today. Gigiveda-waabamin wayiiba, I hope to see you again soon! Mino bimaadizin! Live well!


From top to bottom:

Miziweshkode ("Cosmic Fire"), ©2023 Zhaawano Giizhik

Zayaagi'iwed Niimiwin ("Lovers' Dance") ©2023 Zhaawano Giizhik

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