A collection of sacred Anishinaabe creation stories and the spirit Nenaboozhoo,
The Trail of Nenaboozhoo and Other Creation Stories (Kegedonce Press) is the stunning result of a collaboration between Ojibwe storyteller and artist Bomgiizhik Isaac Murdoch and Michif (Métis) artist and editor Christi Belcourt. Transcribed from Murdoch’s oral storytelling, these stories preserve the history and tell of the traditional ways of life of the Anishinaabek; some appear in Anishinaabemowin as well as English, and are accompanied by remarkable illustrations by both Isaac and Christi. Below, Isaac discusses a few of his favourite images from the book.
Several of the stories in the collection refer to Jiibayaboos, one of Nenaboozhoo’s brothers, who was born as half-rabbit, half human. Jiibayaboos became the keeper of the path of souls, Jiibiy Miikan (the Milky Way). “In this image,” Isaac says, “Jiibayaboos is up in the stars in the Milky Way where he acts as a guide for those who pass away, who are going through the path of souls. His brother the wolf sometimes accompanies him on this task.”
While this image was a collaboration between Murdoch and Belcourt, its style is inspired, as is much of Murdoch’s artwork, by ancient Ojibwe pictographs.
Next is a piece by Christi, more modern in style, which appears in the story of Nenaboozhoo’s birth. It depicts his grandmother, Nokomis, falling from the moon with her medicine bag. “For many of the Anishinaabek,” Isaac explains, “we believe that we were lowered down here from the stars. I really like the story because it talks about our connection to the star world. And a lot of our medicine here on earth comes from up there.”
The following image, another in the traditional pictograph style, appears in the story of the "Fish Skin Window," in which Nenaboozhoo teaches the Anishinaabek how to make windows in their cabins out of fish skins so that they can see if their enemies are approaching from outside.
“In this story, the Anishinaabek were living in a cabin, not a wigwam,” Isaac explains. “This is interesting because it tells us that Nenaboozhoo was here after contact. In the picture you see a house with the window, above in the sky you see a line with two lines coming down and that represents the south star. And the badness is coming from the south, the enemies. Nenaboozoo is on the right. He has horns, which represent his power, his knowledge. The burbot fish is at the bottom. [Nenaboozhoo] takes the fish out of his pack and throws it against the wall of the house to make the window. Our people were actually physically using fish skins in the 1700s and 1800s. As soon as our people began to build cabins, they began using fish skins for windows.”
The last image, below, is by Christi and is also from the story of Nenaboozhoo’s birth. Nenaboozhoo was the first of four brothers to be born from the same pregnancy. Nokomis, his grandmother, kept him protected under a basket so he wouldn’t run away like his other brothers. She kept lifting the basket, and Nenaboozhoo kept turning into different animals every time. “This was how she knew that he was the most powerful of all of his brothers,” Isaac says. “He was also the most feared by the water Serpents, the water monsters.” Some of the stories in the book describe Nenaboozhoo’s conflicts with the Serpents.
All four of the images that Isaac selected here are in a special shade of red, “the Onaman colour, which is from a clay-based paint that was used by the Anishinaabek people, that they used in pictography. It was chosen [for the book] to show that that colour was very important to us. It was recognized as a power instead of a colour. They were powers, they represented a direction in the universe. The colour itself was a doorway for the spirits to come through. The colour red was a very powerful doorway to the spirit world.”
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Thanks to Patricia Campbell at Kegedonce and to Isaach Murdoch for sharing with us these striking images from The Trail of Nenaboozhoo and Other Creation Stories (Kegedonce Press), available on All Lit Up November 30th.
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