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Legendary Native American Figures: Nanabozho (Nanabush)

Name: Nanabozho
Tribal affiliation: Ojibway, Algonquin, Ottawa, Menominee, Potawatomi
Alternate spellings: Wenabozho, Wenaboozhoo, Waynaboozhoo, Wenebojo, Nanaboozhoo, Nanabojo, Nanabushu, Nanabush, Nanapush, Nenabush, Nenabozho, Nanabosho, Manabush, Winabojo, Manabozho, Manibozho, Nanahboozho, Minabozho, Manabus, Manibush, Manabozh, Manabozo, Manabozho, Manabusch, Manabush, Manabus, Menabosho, Nanaboojoo, Nanaboozhoo, Nanaboso, Nanabosho, Nenabuc, Amenapush, Ne-Naw-bo-zhoo, Kwi-wi-sens Nenaw-bo-zhoo
Pronunciation: Varies by dialect: way-nuh-boo-zhoo, nuh-nuh-boo-zhoo, nain-boo-zhoo, muh-nah-boash, or mah-nah-boo-zhoo
Also known as: Michabo, Michabou, Michabous, Michaboo, Mishabo, Michabo, Misabos, Misabooz, Messou
Type: Culture hero, Transformer, trickster
Related figures in other tribes: Gluskabe (Wabanaki), Napi (Blackfoot), Wesakechak (Cree)

Nanabozho is the benevolent culture hero of the Anishinaabe tribes. His name is spelled so many different ways partially because the Anishinabe languages were originally unwritten (so English speakers just spelled the name however it sounded to them at the time), and partially because the Ojibway, Algonquin, Potawatomi, and Menominee languages are spoken across a huge geographical range in both Canada and the US, and the name sounds different in the different languages and dialects they speak. The differing first letters of his name, however, have a more interesting story: Nanabozho's grandmother, who named him, used the particle "N-" to begin his name, which means "my." Other speakers-- who are not Nanabozho's grandmother-- would normally drop this endearment and use the more general prefixes W- or M-. So if you listen to a fluent Ojibwe speaker telling a Nanabozho story, he may refer to the culture hero as Wenabozho most of the time, but switch to calling him Nanabozho while narrating for his grandmother!

Stories about Nanabozho vary considerably from community to community. Nanabozho is usually said to be the son of either the West Wind or the Sun, and since his mother died when he was a baby, Nanabozho was raised by his grandmother Nokomis. In some tribal traditions Nanabozho is an only child, but in others he has a twin brother or is the eldest of four brothers. The most important of Nanabozho's brother figures is Chibiabos or Moqwaio, Nanabozho's inseparable companion (often portrayed as a wolf) variously said to be his twin brother, younger brother, or adopted brother. Nanabozho is associated with rabbits and is sometimes referred to as the Great Hare (Misabooz), although he is rarely depicted as taking the physical form of a rabbit. Nanabozho is a trickster figure and can be a bit of a rascal, but unlike trickster figures in some tribes, he does not model immoral and seriously inappropriate behavior-- Nanabozho is a virtuous hero and a dedicated friend and teacher of humanity. Though he may behave in mischievous, foolish, and humorous ways in the course of his teaching, Nanabozho never commits crimes or disrespects Native culture and is viewed with great respect and affection by Anishinabe people.

Nanabozho Stories

*Wenabozho * About Nanabosho * Nanaboozhoo:
    General overviews of Nanabozho.
*The Legend of Nanabozho:
    Audio file of a First Nations storyteller narrating the story of Nanabozho.
*Weneboozhoo * Manabozho's Birth * * The Birth of Wenabozho the Trickster * The Story of Manabush * The Magic Birth of Nenebuc:
    Ojibway and Menominee stories about Waynaboozhoo's birth.
*Nanabozh and the Creation of the World * Wenebojo Creates the Earth * Manabozho and the Muskrat * Nanabozho and the Origin of the Earth * Waynaboozhoo and the Great Flood:
    Nanabozho and the Ojibwe creation story.
*Wenebojo Stories and other Ojibwe Tales * Manabozho's Adventures: * Manabush and the Menominee Oral Tradition:
    Stories about Wenebojo's adventures from the Chippewa and Menominee tribes.
*Manabush and his Brother: * Manabozho's Wolf Brother:
    Menominee stories telling how Nanabozho's brother Wolf became chief of the dead.
*Manabozho Plays Lacrosse:
    Menominee legends of how Manabus avenged his brother's death at a lacrosse match.
*Manabozho and the Theft of Fire * Manabush Steals Fire * Nanabozho and the Birch Tree:
    Ojibwe and Menominee legends about Nanabozho and the origin of fire.
*Nanabozho and the Great Serpent:
    Chippewa story about Nanabozho slaying a water monster.
*Manabozho and the Maple Trees * Wenebojo and the Maple Sugar
    Ojibwe tales about Nanabozho and the origin of maple sugar.
*Wenebojo and the Dancing Geese * Manabozho and the Hell-Diver * Manabush and the Birds * Manabush and the Shut-Eye Dance:
    Algonquian legends about Nanabozho tricking gullible birds so he could eat them.
*Why Porcupine Has Quills Wenebojo and the Porcupine:
    How Nanabozho helped Porcupine become prickly.
*Nanaboozhoo and the Turtle * Wenebojo Made a House for Tortoise:
    Chippewa and Ottawa Indian legends about how Nanabozho gave turtles their shells.
*Manabush and the Reed Dancers * Manabush and the Tree Holders:
    Algonquian stories about a humorous mistake of Manabozho's.
Waynaboozhoo and the Wild Rice:
    How Waynaboozhoo brought wild rice to the people.
*Manabus and the Spirit Rock * The Legend of Spirit Rock:
    Menominee legends about Manabus turning a man who wished for too much into a boulder.
*Manabush and the Origin of Night and Day * The Legend of Rabbit and Owl:
    Menominee legend in which the Manabush argues with Owl over the right to control the daylight cycle.
*Manabush and the Fish Monster:
    Menominee story about Manabus slaying a man-eating giant fish.
Manabozho and the Buzzard:
    Menominee legend about Manabush punishing Buzzard for playing a trick on him.
*The Legend of Nanabozho & Animoshak:
    A humorous Anishinabe folktale about Nanabozho and the tails of dogs.
*Nanapush and the Pipe:
    Lenape story about the Anishinabe culture hero Nanabozho.

Recommended Books of Nanabozho Stories

The Mishomis Book: Voice of the Ojibway:
    Excellent book on Ojibway culture and traditions, including several Waynaboozhoo stories.
Manabozho and the Bullrushes:
    Charming version of a traditional Manabozho legend, by an Ojibwe author and illustrator.
*The Birth of Nanabosho * Nanabosho Steals Fire * Nanabosho Dances * Nanobosho, Soaring Eagle, and Great Sturgeon:
    Another series of well-told Nanabozho stories by a Native author. The first one, Birth of Nanabosho, is especially good.
American Indian Trickster Tales:
    Compilation of more than a hundred Nanabozho and other trickster stories from many different tribes.
Use discretion sharing these with kids as some of the stories contain adult humor.

Additional Resources

 Chippewa myths
 Ojibway language
 Ojibwe words
 Minnesota languages
 Eastern Woodland tribes
 The Algonkians



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