Editor's note: The following text was reprinted in Resource Library on December 17, 2007 with the permission of the Tweed Museum of Art. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, or wish to obtain a copy of the catalogue from which it is excerpted, please contact the Tweed Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:


From Dreams May We Learn: Paintings and Drawings by Rabbett Before Horses

Narratives by Jean Buffalo


Young Nanabozho
Relates to Young Nanabozho
Nanabozho was a supernatural being. Of all the powers he possessed, none was more singular than his power of transformation. Nanabozho could assume a new form, shape, and existence at will, and in an instant. He could be a man, and change to a pebble in the next instant. Nanabozho could become a physical being, but essentially he was a supernatural being.
Nanabozho had much to learn about the nature, extent, and limitations of his powers.
He not only had to learn what they were, he had to develop them, and foster their growth. It was the only way he could accomplish his purpose. Having no material body or form, Nanabozho would neither be accepted nor understood. He learned this early in his association with the Anishnabeg.
For his attributes, strong and weak, the Anishnabeg came to love and understand Nanabozho. In him, they saw themselves. Reflected in his conduct was the character of men and women, young and old. Although he was a paradox, a physical and spirit being, doing good and unable to attain it, the Anishnabeg learned from Nanabozho. For his teachings he is known as the Emissary of Kitchi Manitou.
Relates to Madonna & Child and Sudden Gust of Wind
One day, Winoah was out picking berries in the fields and became separated from her companions when she had to urinate. Winoah forgot the ancient taboo never to face the west when performing the act and squatted directly toward the west. Tiny drops of blood fell upon the living plants below her, which then brought to us Nanabozho in living form, as part mortal and spiritual being.
Within days of Nanabozho's birth his mother Winoah died. Winoah was a human being. Her name means "to nourish from a breast." Though she was the mother of four incorporeal beings, she was not taken as a spirit herself. Upon meeting Epingishmook (Manitou of the West), Winoah fell in love with the spirit and married him. She was to have married of her parents choosing so that through marriage, love would be attained. What she did not acknowledge when falling in love with the spirit, was that she was unable to retain his love and companionship. In the end she lost his love and company and died of grief. His grandmother Nokomis, the mother of Epingishmook, was left to care for Nanabozho. He was the fourth son of Winoah and Epingishmook.
Epingishmook was the spirit husband of Winoah, and as such he was an immortal being. At the same time he had a physical aspect about him that rendered him vulnerable to flint. Though he could be injured he could not be killed. When Nanabozho learned that Epingishmook might have caused his mother's death, he sought out his father for revenge. Even though Epingishmook was wounded in the battle with Nanabozho, he did not consider the battle as a loss, rather as an injury to bring the battle to an end. Hateful as Epingishmook might have been for leaving his wife and children, Nanabozho respected him for the wisdom he had about life. It was from Epingishmook that Nanabozho received the gift of tobacco, the pipe of peace, and the ceremony of the pipe. Nanabozho received from his father the purpose to live out his destiny, to fulfill his work and not to be diverted by a sense of personal gain.
Unlike his brothers, Nanabozho was timid. Everything frightened him. He fled from shadows, sudden movements, thunder, spiders, snakes and owls. Only with Nokomis' explanations did Nanabozho overcome his fears. Nanabozho's disposition was at times bright and sunny, at times gloomy and benevolent. He behaved more like a human being than a Manitou. He was sent to the world by Kitchi Manitou to teach the Anishnabeg. He could be human, but in nature and essence, was a spirit. He possessed supernatural powers which were not equivalent to Kitchi Manitou, but much more. He became the messenger of Kitchi Manitou, an emissary on earth between the different species of beings, and a protector for the Anishnabeg.
Nanabozho had great powers of transformation. At times of need he could become
a being of any species, but he would then have the limitations of that form of being.
He was constantly searching for the presence of his mother, and was curious to learn more about the nature of his father. On numerous occasions, he would ask Nokomis about his origins, and she would respond, "Be patient, the time will come when you
are older." Nanabozho knew that one day he would be reunited with his mother
and father.
Creation of the First Butterflies
Relates to Creation of the First Butterflies
Kitchi Manitou elaborately embellished the mountains, cliffs, ridges, and the slopes. Thinking that perhaps the massive rocks were too imposing, dark, gray and dreary, Kitche Manitou fashioned small stones the size of plum pits, of brilliant white, crimson, green, blue, yellow, and amber hues. He hurled these brilliant pebbles against the mountains and rocky sides of the earth. Immediately, the rocks and mountains began to sparkle. The Anishnabeg found the shimmering rocks and mountains more beautiful than anything else, and ceased admiring other beautiful things.
When Nanabozho came to live among the Anishnabeg, he found the people inordinately of rocky and mountainous places. So much so, that they neglected the meadows and the forests. Nanabozho complained to Kitchi Manitou saying, "The Anishnabeg are so fond of the many colored mountains that they have forsaken other forms of beauty. Besides, only grown up men and women enjoy these beautiful sights, and there is very little for infants and the very young. Can you not remove the gemstones from the mountains and give them to the children? The mountains need not lose their majesty or their character."
Kitchi Manitou agreed that there was little in the physical world to bring joy and happiness to the children. He therefore permitted Nanabozho to "Do what needs to be done." After some thought, Nanabozho collected all the colored pebbles and threw them into the air, so high that they went to the moon. The moon immediately changed the stones into butterflies of many soft colors, fluttering and dancing in the wind, making the eyes of children twinkle. They became the spirit of children's play.

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Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Peter F. Spooner and Topher McCulloch, Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota Duluth for their help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.


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