- Ondaadiziwag Cu Cunainn Miinawaa Wenabozho/The Births of Cu Culainn and Wenabozho
Ancient, old, middle, and modern are relative terms that have taken on specific meanings in medieval, literary, and linguistic studies. Similarly, the terms pagan and civilized have been applied to world literature in ways that assume an evolutionary trajectory of humanity and the superiority of the present. This poem attempts to destabilize these assumptions by offering a reading of two pre-Christian heroes whose stories are both related to parts of the Northern Hemisphere where the land and a source of freshwater have inspired ceremony for many centuries. Irish Cu Chulain1 and Ojibwe Wenabozho2 invite a form of Socratic anamnesis that is much more than ethnographic or anthropologic nostalgia. In these stories, humans are reminded of the elemental knowledge contained in certain places and the power of relational narratives to recontextualize life on earth. Both characters trace their narrative origin to oral stories kept by communal retelling that eventually made the transition to texts edited by colonial erasure, religious syncretism, and changing rhetorical style. Using poetry and translation as forms of methodology, I provide a close reading that imagines these two stories as kin in amorphous ways. By retelling these stories in a language that is endangered, I invite others to consider a radically inclusive definition of medieval that can lead to multidimensional, transglobal, i/Indigenous futures.3
Mewinzha apii asiniig adizookewaabanLong ago when the stones told storiesondaadizinipan Cu Cunainnan miinawaa Wenabozhon4Cu Culainn and Wenabozho were bornmii noongom geyaabi mikwenimangidwaaand still today they are rememberedbesho Michigami miinwaa Loch nEachach.near the Great Lakes5 and Lough Neagh.6 [End Page 18]
Bemaadizijig biikogamigoon gaa-ozhitoowaadThe ones who built moundsgiizisan ji-manaadenimaawaad ezhi-mashkawizinidto celebrate the science of the sunanangoon ji-naagadawaabandamowaad ezhi-naawinaagozinidand study the signals of the distant starsniibidoowaad gaa-gikendamowaad ezhi-aadizookewaad.wove all of what they knew into their stories.
Wenabozho gii-gashki-aanjinaagozidWenabozho who could change his formnitaawigid ji-miigaazhaad Mishibizhiwan miinwaagrew up to battle the Great Water Panther andCu Cunainnan gii-minisiinoowizinidCu Culainn who became a hero in warnanaakonaanid ogichi’animooshiman Cunanan.defended himself against the hound of Culan.
Apane igo oshkikwewag gii-ayaangwaamimigoowaad,As always, young women were warned,Wenona wiindamaagod ogaashiman wiigiwaamingWenona was told by her mother in a birch lodgeDeichtine gaaskanazootaagod apa’iinsan miskwaabikominikwajiganingDeichtine heard the whispers of a little man in a copper cupmanidoo-oosan waa-izhichigenid wenji-aanjigowaad anishaa ikwewag.about spirit fathers entering human mothers.
Ogozisan Ningaabii’aninowed bezhigwaa gaa-ondaadizidThe son of the West Wind7 was born oncemiidash ogashiman baashkojii’aadas his mother burst open,Ogozisan Giizis nisoching dagoshininid omaaThe son of the Sun8 arrived three timesishkwaa gaakaminenid gaye maatagwa’wigod.after dying of illness and being crushed.
Gwiiwizensan gaa-gikinoo’amaagewaaban gabe-ayi’iingBoys raised to become teachers across timebebakaan noojimowinan gaye nooji’iwewinandifferent prayers and different prey9naasaab niigaaniitamawiyangidwaa ezhi-bimaadiziyangthe same ones who can lead us through lifemii dash zhaaboshkamang gaagige-minawaanigoziwining.and through doorways to the afterlife. [End Page 19]
margaret noodin is professor of English and American Indian studies at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where she also serves as director of the Electa Quinney Institute for American Indian Education and a scholar in the Center for Water Policy. She is author of Bawaajimo: A Dialect of Dreams in Anishinaabe Language and Literature (2014) and two bilingual collections of poetry, Weweni (2015) and Gijigijigikendan: What the Chickadee Knows (forthcoming). She is cocreator of www.ojibwe.net.
1. The births of Cu Culainn retold here are based on the story found in the Leabhar na hUidre (Book of the Dun Cow) from the early twelfth century, but the scribe at that time acknowledged an earlier version of the story as recorded in a Libur Dromma Snechtai (Book of Drumsnat) that scholars have dated to the early eighth century. The story, as well as additional bibliographic resources, can be accessed through CELT: The Corpus...