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Ojibwe Oral Traditions

Ojibwe Oral History, Stories and Legends

Some of my favorite stories from childhood are based in the Ojibwe oral traditions.

Ojibwe Oral Traditions
  • Nanabozho is the Ojibwe cultural hero, the son of a human mother, a spirit father. Depending on the "tense" of the story, his name can also be called Wanabozho or Wenebojo.
  • He was sent to earth by Gitchi Manitou (the Great Spirit) to teach the Ojibwe, and one of his first tasks was to name all the plants and animals.
  • Nanabozho is considered to be the founder of Midewiwin. He is also regarded as the inventor of fishing, hieroglyphs, and as the creator of the earth.

Legends about Nanabozho, also spelled Nanabosho or Nanabush, sometimes depict him as a giant godlike figure. He controlled the seasons, formed the world's natural features and taught the Ojibwa how to hunt, cultivate food, tap maple trees and use healing herbs.

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The stories and legends about Nanabozho, including the story of the world's creation, were often shared by our Native American friends and my pastor father loved to point out the similarities to the creation story, and other Nanabozho stories, to the stories of our faith. 

A short synopsis of Anishinaabe creation mythology, says that:

A beautiful woman is pushed off the moon and falls into a lake on Earth. There, people greet her, build her a wigwam, and seek out her advice. This is the story of Nokomis, her
daughter Winona, and Winona's son Nanabozho.

Native American Quotes: Wisdom from the Ojibwe and Lakota traditions.

Ojibwe, Basic: Learn to Speak and Understand Ojibwe with Pimsleur Language Programs

For many years legends were not written down but were passed down through the Ojibwe oral tradition. Missionaries and travelers in the 19th century were the first to write these legends down. You can learn much about Ojibwe art and Ojibwe oral traditions at Grand Portage National Monument.

In 1888 a folklorist wrote: "These stories are known only to the older generation… and will soon be lost to oblivion if not taken down at once."

Storytellers often travelled from one encampment to another to tell their stories. They were honored guests and were offered the best of the food available.

Besides relating the oral history and tradisions of their ancestors, the legends told of war exploits and hunting successes.

Ojibwe oral tradions and stories were also great entertainment on long winter evenings. Many storytellers would not practice their craft until after the first snowfall when the people were more likely to be gathered in one place for the winter. 

One of my favorite websites to read more about Ojibwe oral tradions and stories is called Indian Country

Visit Pipestone National Monument to learn about Lakota/Sioux traditions in Minnesota.

Visit Grand Portage National Monument to learn more about Native Americans in Minnesota.

Related Links:

Ojibwe Tribes

Ojibwe Art

Anishinabe Tribe

Native American Quotes

Making Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup Recipes

Indian Fry Bread

Minnesota Wild Rice

Minnesota Wild Game

How to Make Snowshoes

Minnesota Casinos

Back to Minnesota Native Americans

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