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How Nanabozho Brought the Love Flute to the Anishinaabek Part 2

by Julian Nowgabow

How Nanabozho Brought the Love Flute to the Anishinaabek Part 2

Jan 25 2013

This is PART 2, the continuation, of 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.


When he finally met Mnidoo-Nodin-o-Kwe he was exhausted – but happy to see her nonetheless. He had so longed for her that he wanted to touch her. He wanted to kiss her. So he reached out his hand and to his surprise- she became startled and moved away.


She said to him, “Don’t be sad Nanabozho, be of good cheer. There is a veil between the eyes and the heart and any man that would suffer to know this may remove it and be freed from the misery that others carry with them in their travels through this world. I am not who you think I am.
You have sought me when it was yourself that you would seek – but you would not have seen me otherwise – for it is only those who would lose themselves in their search for me for whom the mysteries shall be unveiled. I’ll come back to you, I promise, but do not follow me. Where I go, you cannot go.” And then she fled through the woods.


Being foolish, Nanabozho chased after her. Now, amongst the Anishinaabek, there was none faster than Nanabozho. He could outrun a deer, but he could not catch Mnidoo-Nodin-o-Kwe. He asked all he met if they had seen her, but when asked to describe her, Nanabozho was at a loss. He thought, “What words are there to describe such beauty?” Even in the hands of one so skilled as Nanabozho, words were a clumsy tool. And so he roamed the forest in search of her, crying out her name, “Mnidoo-Nodin-o-Kwe… Mnidoo-Nodin-o-Kwe!” Never did a man feel such sorrow; never were so many tears cried. Such a pitiful sight was he that all who saw him came to tears.


Finally, in a moment of clarity, he thought to ask Nokomis, his grandmother, what he could do to find Mnidoo-Nodin-o-Kwe. He said to her, “Oh wise Grandmother, there is someone I have seen in the forest, with what eyes I do not know; I am even at a loss as to how to describe her, except to say that words cannot enter into that realm where spirit is in flight. But my days are now consumed with this search for the one called Mnidoo-Nodin-o-Kwe. Oh,


Please help me. I have looked for her everywhere and all my searching ends in vain. Oh, please, please help me!”


When Nokomis heard this name her ears pricked up, and she rose to speak. “Nanabozho, what you ask, no one can tell you – no one! We know not whence she comes or whither she goes. But there is a bird that sings at night – this bird can help you. Now, I have neither seen nor heard this bird and what I tell you of it is only from what I’ve heard from others that have long since passed on to the spirit world. But this bird, like all birds, knows only the language of song. If it is to understand you and for you to understand it, you must sing to it!”


At once, Nanabozho made his way out into the forest and now slept neither by night nor by day. During the day he searched for Mnidoo-Nodin-o-kwe and at night he listened for the bird that would tell him where she was. The days grew longer and the nights colder. Time passed slowly, but Nanabozho, ever hopeful- even in his despondency – would not sleep.


Once more, the night descended and he listened intently. It was a fuzzy night of the half moon and the wan stars glowed. There was a perfect silence in the air. Even the crickets had lulled themselves to sleep – when, all of a sudden he heard: “T-w-e-e-t, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet”. Nanabozho knew what he had to do – and so he sang:

“Where is she?
All I know
Is she’s hiding
But wants to be found
From somewhere
In the night
Her velvet voice whispers secrets we should know
But who will listen?
Oh, I’ve cried tears looking for her
Oh, please help me; I’m looking for her”

And the bird answered: “T-w-e-e-t, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet, T-t-t-t, tweet, tweet, t-t-t-t, tweet, tweet, Tweet, t-t, tweet, t-t, tweet, tweet, tweet. Which, when translated means: Oh, how secretly she moves, like sound through the night air so that we don’t see her modestly blushing as she floats by and as in our dreams, she weaves riddles to mask the depth of an abysmal profundity so that the timid mountain climbers are not distracted by their fear of dissolution and so that the brave ones, who by reaching new heights, may dive to deeper depths. But I’m sorry, Nanabozho, the last I saw of her she was swimming in a river flowing up to that mountain’s peak
This river disappears somewhere where the earth meets the sky.

The bird sensed the air of desperation in Nanabozho and told him, “You are of the stars Nanabozho – do not forget this. Which hero has drank their mother’s milk and not been given the tears of heaven’s dew straight from the flower’s petal? Move with the flow of the river of love; it now draws you up to that mountain; it is there you will find who you seek.”


Nanabozho thanked the bird and off he went – full of hope – for now he knew where she was. He quickly made his way to the mountain and started his climb. The terrain was rough; he would climb only to fall back down again, but he persevered. When at last he neared the top, he saw a light coming from the crest of the mountain’s peak and said, “Perhaps that is her!” With one last burst of super-human strength he made his way to the top. He looked around… and around… and around – but he could only see the sun as it descended. By this time, Nanabozho hadn’t slept or eaten for several days and was totally exhausted, so he decided to lie down beneath an old hollowed out cedar tree – and fell fast asleep. It had been so long since he’d slept that he’d forgotten what it was like to dream.

Finally, a dream came. Nanabozho could feel himself falling – sliding down a muddy hillside until he fell into the water, but now he could not see land anywhere. It was night and the waves were consuming him, pulling him under. He did all he could to keep his head above water, but he was slowly drowning. He cried out for help, but no one seemed to hear. Then, all of a sudden, he saw a figure moving across the water – it was Mnidoo-Nodin-o-kwe! She came towards him, reached down her hand to lift him up, when: “knock, knock, knock, knock.” A woodpecker had awakened him in its search for food in that old cedar tree.

The wind blew across the branch where the woodpecker had tapped holes in and it made a strange sound that he’d not heard before. Nanabozho reached up, broke off a section of the branch, fashioned it somewhat with his flint knife, and then blew into it and played. He was completely in awe over this strange object; never had he thought it possible to hear such sounds.

He knew he found what he was looking for; with each breath he blew, with each breath he drew, Mnidoo-Nodin-o-Kwe was right there with him. So he made his way down the mountain back to his village. The people were so happy to see him, for they’d not seen him in such a long time and some had even feared the worst, that they had a feast in celebration of his return.

When he showed them what he had and what it could do, they all wanted to learn about it, so he told them about Mnidoo-Nodin-o-kwe. He told them how he had searched everywhere but could not find her. The men laughed, and the women cried.

And so it was that 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.