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How Nanabozho Brought the Love Flute to the Anishinaabek Part 1

by Julian Nowgabow

How Nanabozho Brought the Love Flute to the Anishinaabek Part 1

Jan 23 2013

This story focuses on an Anishinaabe story of how Nanabozho brought the love flute to his people. It is one of the dozen or so stories from Ningwakwe Learning Press’ collection of stories, “Zaagidiwin Is A Many Splendoured Thing,” that highlights the joys and pain of love and how it influences every aspect of our lives – including lifelong learning.


Nanabozho went out looking for the spirit of the wind and through his impossible longing, he brought the Love Flute back to his people. Now, the Anishinaabek have such honour and respect for this gift that Nanabozho has given them that, even today, when one plays their flute, it is to the spirit of the wind they call, that she may carry their song of love into the world.


There was a time in the history of the Anishinaabek when the flute played an integral role in the courtship rituals of its young men and women. This was how their flute came to be known as the Love Flute. In the days of old, when a young warrior fancied a certain girl he would play his flute near her camp; this was always done at night and through the music she could see inside of him to know what he was like. This being so, he would play as alluringly as possible in hopes of drawing her out. If she liked the music, she would go out to see him and they would become lovers, and if all went well, they eventually married. Well, long before anyone had even heard of a Love Flute, Nanabozho went out looking for the spirit of the wind and through his impossible longing, brought the Love Flute back to his people, the Anishinaabek.


Earth was Nanabozho’s home. He would spend long hours walking through the forest, observing and learning the ways of nature. On one perfectly resplendent summer’s day, in the warm green mist of morning, Nanabozho wandered deep, deep into the forest, much further than he had ever walked before and past where he had ever seen any humans; knowing this, he felt quite alone, but not afraid. While he walked, dead branches and twigs snapped rhythmically beneath his feet and the wind rustled leaves under a cloudless sky. Falling in between the cracks, to ease the load, birds maintained the rhythm with light-hearted, chirpy, melodic brush strokes. Everything was bathed in pure light. He continued walking and could see coming from the midst of the forest, a light that shone out like rain as the leaves sprinkled sunlight in the breeze. It seemed to call out to him, so he made his way over and saw a woman sitting beneath a tree. The animals played like children at her feet. The birds were perched on her shoulders while she spoke in a language that he’d heard somewhere before, but he knew not where – perhaps it was in a dream?


She said, “I am but the whisper of love’s call – a feather in the wing and my truth is in my longing to carry your songs with me, beyond the mountain’s peak. Because the moth loves the flame, it flies right through it. Be that bold, my friends; be a feather in love’s wing.” It was a language accessible to all the senses. Her words were like the moon’s dew brushed upon a flower’s velvet petals, glistening in the morning sun. Nanabozho was taken aback. He sat down beside a snake and listened.


She said to him, “My name is Mnidoo-Nodin-o-Kwe (Spirit-of-the-Wind-Woman). Who are you?”


Nanabozho felt awkward beside her and wrestled with his words, “Uh… hello, my name is Nanabozho. I live in a village not far from here.” She smiled and they shared in conversation while the birds and animals played freely around them. When it was time for her to leave, she said good-bye to Nanabozho and told him they would meet again. Nanabozho often returned to that spot in the forest where he’d met Mnidoo-Nodin-o-Kwe;
he went about his walks with diligence and a refined purpose.


After several days, she returned and spoke of things that most people would think were ridiculous. Her words were soft and silken, perhaps even subdued, but yet strident and stringent, gnawing at the very marrow of life’s quintessential dream. She spoke of things of long ago, of things that were, and of things that were yet to be.


When the sea washed into the earth a tiny soul emerged. No one else could have possessed it – it had to be you. You are yours to discover. Watch your petals blossom in the sun as the shadow of your spirit chases you into the horizon of your becoming. Each day is a flower’s journey in spring; each night is a star’s light journal for the record of it. May your power flow harmoniously into the extension of your creative will to love. If you looked for it everywhere outside to find it inside, then it would still be remembered, and then time and all things through it became the vehicle to that awakening, and nothing could have been left out. Eyes born blind can remember they see and eyes with sight can forget that heaven is unity with the moment that is given. It has happened, is and about to; it awaits and it embraces; it is the awakening to love’s dream. Love, ever has it been; ever shall it be.


Nanabozho could see she wore a mask, for he saw an image of her behind her words that no other words could describe. He was entranced by the strange magic of her words, but way came to way and they soon parted. Nanabozho went back to his village and to the duties he had therein. He was capable of many things and many things were asked of him- things that often times he felt were beneath him- but he pledged to the Creator to be as helpful as possible to his fellow man and so he did all that he could. He wanted to see Mnidoo-Nodin-o-Kwe again, but there seemed to be an immovable mountain between them. He grew angry and frustrated and when he finally resolved to see her, another girl, who was in love with Nanabozho, followed him through the woods to find out whom he was to meet.


Nanabozho, aware of her presence, felt that she had sought to destroy his happiness and so thinking himself clever, swerved through the forest like a snake over rocky hills, through thick underbrush and smelly swamps until – he eventually lost her. At the end of all this Nanabozho was soaking wet, covered with dirt and weeds and smelling like a swamp.


…to be continued…Part 2 is coming soon.


Julian Nowgabow is a member of the Whitefish First Nation in Ontario.