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  • Writer's picturezhaawano

The Way of the Heartbeat, part 14: Wenabozho and the Painted Drum

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

Ode’imini-giizis(Strawberry Moon) / Baashkaabigonii-giizis(Blooming Moon), June 28, 2023


 


 

Weshkad - a long time ago when the world was still young – there lived a female creator in Gichi-waawiyekamig - the great round sky lodge. Her name was Giizhigookwe, or “Sky Woman.” She had been born shortly after an omnipresent and all-encompassing power called "GICHI-MANIDOO" had initiated the creation of the Great Round Sky Lodge. This creation had started with the sound of a great multitude of zhiishiigwanan, or rattles (shakers), which could best be compared with the noise of millions of hissing rattle snakes filling the Universe.

Zhiishiigwanan are the first drums known to the Anishinaabeg! These ancient sound-makers, which our Medicine People use in ceremony, carry seeds inside them; these seeds symbolize life and the first sound that we hear in the early morning when plants "pop" (shoot seeds). This makes it easy to understand that a zhiishiigwan, to us, symbolizes the creation of the cosmos.

So, the whole sky lodge was filled with this intense sound created by a great multitude of rattles. This all-pervasive. high-frequency sound that traveled throughout space in many spiraling waves, initiated a brand new Order, called Anang Akiiwan, or Galaxy: An intricate system of spirits, stars, gas, dust, and dark matter, and the force that bound it all together was wiikobidoomaagan (gravity). The solar system was born!

Sky woman, as she was very intelligent and endowed with a power akin to that of the GICHI-MANIDOO, looked around her, examining the new Order. Although it seemed almost perfect, she thought by herself that there was still something missing. No being can exist without two inherent aspects, she thought – the world needs duality. The highly dynamic noise of the rattle that had preluded creation needs another, softer and more peaceful, earthly sound to make the Universe complete! But how was she going to find this sound? “Tayaa, aaniin waa ezhichigeyaan? Ahaaw, ninoondebwaajige ji-wiidokaagoyaan: Oh my! What am I going to do? Well, I need to have a dream to help me,” she said to herself.



From the cedar tree Sky Woman fashioned a cylindrical body, with on top a deer hide which she had tanned and stretched for the occasion. Next, she hung the instrument to four tall posts made of bent willow saplings, which gave the newly made object the impression of floating above the ground. Next, she ordained her grandson Wenabozho, who at that time lived in the east with his wife, the Morning Star...


So, this is when she decided to undergo a vision quest, through which she hoped to gain insight.

After 7 days and nights of fasting she finally had the vision she had been waiting for. A voice addressed her, telling her that it was the steady, healing sound of a heartbeat that would complement the noise of the rattles. And then she was told how to construct an instrument that could make that happen.


It took Sky Woman four days to make this instrument, which was the forerunner of the big community dance drum that, countless generations later, would become the most central and precious instrument in the ceremonial lives of the Anishinaabeg Peoples. To make it, she needed materials that could only be found on the shield of a great turtle that floated through space, orbiting the Sun – and that is nowadays known as “planet earth.”

Waving a truly majestic plume of large black-tipped eagle feathers and dressed in a beautiful dress colored yellow, purple, red, and brown and that was lined with many rows of metal cones, she danced her way through a hole in the sky. Singing, she lowered herself onto the turtle shield. Once landed, she danced around the great turtle's shield, and the tinkling melody of the cones of her dress brought a sense of peace and tranquility to the land, the mountains, and the lakes and to every being that lived there. Next, she took her gashkibidaagan (tobacco pouch) out of her bundle and, still singing, walked toward a forest. With asemaa (tobacco) in hand, she asked a huge gizhikaandag (cedar tree) to gift her with his wood and the largest waawaashkeshi (deer) of the forest to gift her with her soft skin. She addressed a migizi (bald eagle) that flew over and asked him to lend her his black-tipped feathers. Then she got to work. From the cedar tree she fashioned a cylindrical body, with on top a deer hide which she had tanned and stretched for the occasion. Next, she hung the instrument to four tall posts made of bent willow saplings, which gave the newly made object the impression of floating above the ground. Next, she ordained her grandson Wenabozho, who at that time lived in the east with his wife, the Morning Star...


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