N is for Nanabozho

Published April 16, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros


Nanabozho is a trickster from the belief systems of the Algonquin tribal groups.  His name has a lot of variations, but they all mean something along the lines of “big rabbit,” as that is the form in which he most commonly appears.

Nanabozho pictograph from Ontario. Wikimedia Commons.

Nanabozho pictograph from Ontario. Wikimedia Commons.

As a trickster, he can change his own shape, and can inflict changes in size — if not shape — on his foes if the need arises.  Most importantly, he outwits his foes, rather than defeating them in a less subtle manner.

But like other tricksters, he’s usually only out for himself.  This can make him gluttonous at times, callous or mocking at others.  Sometimes you might think it’s better to run if you see him coming, but other times you might think he’s the best ally you could ever have.

[EDIT:  my sources seem to have been muddled regarding this story.  Please see the comments sections for details.]

Perhaps his most important — and serious — tale involves an attempt on the life of his grandmother, Nokomis, that is to say Mother Earth.   The underwater panthers and the thunderbirds tried to drown Nokomis in a massive flood.  Well, Nokomis — being Mother Earth, after all — couldn’t drown, but there were a lot of other creatures that could.  So Nanabozho, from his safe perch in a tree, called out to some animals that were excellent swimmers — otters, beavers, and a few species of birds — and asked them to dive down to the bottom of the flood and bring back up some mud from Nokomis’ body.  They did as he asked, and Nanabozho (or his helpers acting as his intermediaries) used that mud to create floating islands for all the animals that couldn’t swim, so that they wouldn’t drown.  And that, of course, is where the islands and continents all came from.

Nanabozho (re)creating the world is not so easily paralleled, but most of the rest of his lore is very much in keeping with trickster tales from all over the world.

The most famous trickster gods are folks like Hermes and Loki.  Other tricksters include Maui from Polynesia/Hawaii, Anansi the spider from western Africa, and Coyote from the American west.

Trying to go into detail would take a very long time.  In fact, there are whole books out there just talking about the trickster.  Personally, I recommend Trickster Makes This World by Lewis Hyde.

5 comments on “N is for Nanabozho

  • Nanaboozhoo is also our beloved hero. I’m not sure about the creation story you mentioned. It sounds more like the Iroquois creation story of Sky Woman falling to the earth and it was Muskrat who was able to go to the depths to scrape mud from the bottom of water and made the world on the back of a turtle. The Anishnaabeg creation story I know is a bit different. I recommend further reading and researching books from Indigenous writers who are Anishnaabe. To start check out anything by Basil Johnston. He wrote a lot about Anishnaabeg mythologies. Also, the Mishoomis book by Edward Benton-Banai has the original Anishnaabe creation story in it 😉 good luck with your research!


    • Thanks for the information! I’ll be sure to look into those books next time I have a chance. I apologize for getting things wrong in this post; I didn’t have as much time to check my sources as I’d have liked. (I’ll edit the post to indicate that my information isn’t accurate, btw. I don’t want to be one of those people who knowingly spread misinformation.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Niishin! That’s good! I think you will also enjoy books by Basil Johnston. He dedicated his writing and life to keeping Ojibwe culture and mythologies alive. He’s the go to for a lot of researchers too. If you get a chance check out Beth Brant she wrote about Iroquois mythologies. Brant wrote how Coyote tricked Fox, an awesome LGBTQ2S story. Good luck with your writing and research.


  • Comments are closed.

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