Chippewa Mythological Figures
Aayaash (also spelled Iyash, Ayashe, and other ways): An epic hero who defeats many monsters and changes the form of humans and animals to make life better. In some Ojibwe tales, Aayaash is also said to be responsible for the World Fire in which the earth was destroyed and reborn.
Animikii or Binesi (also spelled Animiki, Nimkii, Bnesi, Bineshi, and other ways) is a thunderbird, a giant mythological bird common to the northern and western tribes. Thunder is caused by the beating of their immense wings. Although thunderbirds are very powerful beings, they rarely bother humans, and were treated with reverence by Ojibwe people. Animikii, which means “thunderer,” is pronounced uh-nih-mih-kee, and Binesi, which means “great bird,” is pronounced bih-nay-sih.
Aniwye (also known as Mishi-zhigaag) was a giant man-eating skunk monster that killed people with his poisonous spray. After his defeat this monster became the origin of ordinary skunks.
Bagwajiwinini (or Puk-Wudjies): are mythological little people of the forests. Their name means “wild man” and is pronounced similar to bug-wuh-jih-wih-nih-nee or buh-gwuh-jih-nih-nee, depending on dialect. (In some communities these creatures are called Apa’iins or Pai’iins instead, which literally means “little person.”) In most Ojibwe stories, Pukwudjininees are portrayed as mischievious but generally good-natured beings.
Biboon (also known as Beboonikae or Winter-Maker) is the spirit of the North Wind, who brings winter to the land. His name is pronounced bih-boon or bih-bone, depending on dialect.
Chakabesh was a folk hero of Cree and Northern Ojibwa mythology, sometimes referred to as the Man in the Moon. His name is pronounced similar to chuh-kah-baish.
He is usually depicted as a dwarf. In some Ojibway stories Chakabesh acts in a rash or foolish way, especially tending to ignore the good advice of his older sister, but he is brave and good-hearted and never stays in trouble for long.
Gichi Manidoo (also spelled Gitchi Manitou and other ways) means “Great Spirit” in the Ojibwe language, and is the Ojibwe name for the Creator (God.) Gichi-Manidoo is a divine spirit with no human form or attributes (including gender) and is never personified in Ojibwe legends. The name is pronounced similar to gih-chee muh-nih-doh or gih-chee muh-nih-doo, depending on dialect.
Gichi-Ojiig (Great Fisher) is an animal-spirit hero who slew monsters, set the seasons in motion, and is represented as the “Big Dipper” constellation of stars.
Jiibayaabooz, according to some Ojibwe legends Jiibayaabooz was Manabozho’s brother, who was killed by evil water spirits and became the ruler of the land of the dead. His name is pronounced similar to jee-bee-ah-booze.
Mandaamin (also spelled Mondawmin, Mondamin, and other ways.) is the spirit of the corn. Unlike in most Algonquian tribes, Ojibway myths portray the corn spirit as male. His name is pronounced mun-dah-min and literally means “Corn.”
Memegwesi (also spelled Memengwesi) are small riverbank-dwelling water spirits. They are also generally benign creatures, but sometimes blow canoes astray or steal things when they are not shown proper respect.
Michabo (also spelled Michabou, Mishabooz, and other ways): This is actually just another name referring to Wenabozho– it is a French corruption of the Ojibwe word Mishaabooz, which means “Great Hare.”
Wenabozho is associated with rabbits in Algonquin and Ojibwe mythology, which is why he is sometimes called by this title.
The Ojibwe name is pronounced mih-shah-bose or mih-shah-boos; the French name is pronounced mih-shah-bo or mih-shah-boo; and the English name is usually pronounced mih-chah-bo.
Misiginebig (also known as Mishi-Ginebig or Kichikinebik) is an underwater horned serpent, common to the legends of most Algonquian tribes. Its name literally means Great Serpent, and it is said to lurk in lakes and eat humans.
Nibiinaabe is another race of water-spirits. These are shaped like mermaids, with human torsos and fish tails.
Nokomis (also spelled Nookomis): Waynaboozhoo’s wise old grandmother, who raised him. Her name just means “grandmother” in the Ojibway language, and is pronounced noh-koh-miss or noo-koh-miss, depending on dialect.
Underwater Panther (Ojibwe name Mishibizhiw): is a powerful mythological creature something like a cross between a cougar and a dragon. It is a dangerous monster who lives in deep water and causes men and women to drown.
Waagoshii-Mindimooye (Fox Old Woman) is a minor animal spirit, a wise elder who appears sometimes in the form of a fox, other times in the form of an old lady. Waagoshii-Mindimooye plays an important role in the epic of Aayaash, where she adopts the hero as her grandson and gives him advice and items of power to use in his quest.
Wenabozho (also spelled Waynaboozhoo, Nanabozho, Nanabushu, Nanabush, Manabozho, Minabozho, and several other ways.) Wenabozho is the benevolent culture hero of the Anishinaabe tribes (sometimes referred to as a “transformer” by folklorists.)
His name is spelled so many different ways partially because the Anishinabe languages were originally unwritten (so English speakers just spelled it however it sounded to them at the time), and partially because the Ojibway and Algonquin languages are spoken across a huge geographical range in both Canada and the US, and the name sounds different in different dialects.
The correct pronounciation here in Minnesota is similar to way-nuh-boo-zhoo, but in other places in the Anishinabe world it is pronounced nay-nuh-boo-zhoo, nain-boo-zhoo, nain-bozh, nay-nuh-boash, or mah-nah-boo-zhoo.
Wenabozho shares some similarities with other Algonquian heroes such as the Wabanaki Glooskap, Blackfoot Napi, and Cree Wesakechak, and many of the same stories are told in different Algonquian tribes with only the identity of the protagonist differing.
Windigo (also spelled Wiindigoo): An evil man-eating spirit. Windigos play the roles of monsters and bogeymen in some Chippewa legends; in others, Chippewa people who commit sins (especially selfishness, gluttony, or cannibalism) are turned into Windigos as punishment. It is pronounced ween-dih-goh or ween-dih-goo in the Chippewa language, depending on dialect.
Ojibwe / Chippewa Legends
This Ojibway legend tells of the Great Flood and how the sacred Turtle Mountain was formed.
Sky Woman looked down upon the waters that covered the earth after the great melting of the ice. She saw a Giant Turtle (who was called Mekinok) in the water and came down to stand upon his strong back. Then, she summoned Muskrat to dive down in the water as far as he could – to find a part of the earth. Three times he dived, but cam up empty.
The fourth time, Muskrat was gone a very long time. Sky Woman grew weary, but she waited patiently and prayed. Finally, she saw a gleam of bubbles far down in the depths. Soon, Muskrat broke the surface of the water gasping for breath, but he had a piece of mud in his paws. Sky Woman thanked Muskrat and told him that he would always have a home on the land and in the water as well.
She then took the wet dirt into the palm of her hand, dried it and blew gently, to the north, to the east, the south and the west. Whenever the dust from the dirt went, land came up around the Giant Turtle. Soon the land completely encircled Mekinok. And Mekinok became Turtle Island, the center of the world and the birthplace of the Anishinabaug, the original people.
As the land grew, even Mekinok became covered with topsoil and the Anishinabug called him Mekinok Wajiw (the mound of earth that is a turtle). Today, it is called Turtle Mountain.
They carried their canoe into the forest, turned it upside down, and hid under it. While they lay there shivering with fear and wondering what to do, they heard a crash and felt the earth tremble.
Then they heard a deep voice saying, “Neekaunssidog (brothers), don’t be afraid. I am Giant. I will not harm you.”
One day when the earth was new, Nanabozho looked out the window of his house beside the wide waterfall and realized that all of the flowers in his meadow were exactly the same off-white color. How boring! He decided to make a change, so he gathered up his paints and his paintbrushes and went out to the meadow.
Nanabozho sat down in the tall grass and arranged his red and orange and yellow and green and blue and violet paint pots next to him. Then he began to paint the flowers in his meadow in many different colors. He painted the violets dark blue and the tiger lilies orange with brown dots. He made the roses red and pink and purple. He painted the pansies in every color combination he could think of. Then he painted every single daffodil bright yellow. Nanabozho hummed happily to himself as he worked in the brilliant daylight provided by Brother Sun.
Overhead, two little bluebirds were playing games with each other. The first little bluebird would chase his friend across the meadow one way. Then they would turn around and the second bluebird would chase him back the other way. Zippity-zip went the first bluebird as he raced across the sky. Zappity-zing went the second bluebird as he chased him in the brilliant sunshine.
Occasionally, Nanabozho would shade his eyes and look up…up into the endless blue sky to watch the two little birds playing. Then he went back to work, painting yellow centers in the white daisies. Above him, the two birds decided to see how fast they could dive down to the green fields below them. The first bluebird sailed down and down, and then pulled himself up sharply just before he touched the ground. As he soared passed Nanabozho, his right wing dipped into the red paint pot. When the second bluebird dove toward the grass, his left wing grazed the orange paint pot.
Nanabozho scolded the two birds, but they kept up their game, diving down toward the grass where he sat painting and then flying back up into the sky. Soon their feet and feathers were covered with paint of all colors. Finally Nanabozho stood up and waved his arms to shoo the birds away.
Reluctantly, the bluebirds flew away from Nanabozho and his paint pots, looking for another game to play. They started chasing each other again, sailing this way and that over top of the giant waterfall that stood next to Nanabozho’s house. Zippity-zip, the first bluebird flew through the misty spray of the waterfall. The first bluebird left a long red paint streak against the sky. Zappity-zing, the second bluebird chased his friend through the mist, leaving an orange paint streak. Then the birds turned to go back the other way. This time, the first bluebird left a yellow paint streak and the second left a pretty blue-violet paint streak. As they raced back and forth, the colors grew more vivid. When Brother Sun shone on the colors, they sparkled radiantly through the mist of the waterfall.
Below them, Nanabozho looked up in delight when the brilliant colors spilled over his meadow. A gorgeous arch of red and orange and yellow and green and blue and violet shimmered in the sky above the waterfall. Nanabozho smiled at the funny little bluebirds and said: “You have made a rainbow!”
Nanabozho was so pleased that he left the rainbow permanently floating above his waterfall, its colors shimmering in the sunshine and the misting water. From that day to this, whenever Brother Sun shines his light on the rain or the mist, a beautiful rainbow forms. It is a reflection of the mighty rainbow that still stands over the waterfall at Nanabozho’s house.