Tuesday, November 9, 2010

BB:The Mishomis Book by Edward Benton-Benai

Mishomis is Ojibwewin for grandfather- which is the perfect word to describe this gem of a book. The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibwe by Edward Benton-Benai has been an affectionate tribal staple (it's commonly called the Ojibwe children's bible) for years in addition to being taught in classrooms, which is where I first encountered it. At first glance it might seem childish, particularly for college academics, but its content is undeniably poignant wrapped in this simple package.

The Mishomis Book is a collection of stories, lessons, and line-drawn pictures narrated by the friendly Mishomis (grandfather) and his wife Nokomis (grandmother). They take you on a journey from the creation of the world of the Anishinaabeg (literally 'first people'. Anishinaabeg is an Ojibwewin word to describe the three major tribes of the Great Lakes region of the United States: the Ojibwe, the Odawa, and the Bodewademi- the latter of which I am descended from) to the great flood, to the origins of the water drum and Midewewin ceremonies. Along the way you learn basic Ojibwe words in a very easy-to-digest format, peppered into the fabric of the stories.

The art might look like something befitting a coloring book, but scattered in the corners and margins of the illustrations are real Anishinaabeg motifs (some of which make fantastic appliques and embroidery patterns). In a way, the entire book is designed to be like this: educational, but without stuffing constant information down your throat. I feel confident recommending this book to anyone from five years old on up- some of the stories would make fantastic bedtime material for children.

If possible, order it from Birch Bark Books, which is an independent Native American bookstore out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Birch Bark not only carries and sponsors many titles by native authors, but also organizes events, lectures, and drives to nourish the community and acquaint them with the culture of Native American tribes.

An Ojibwe floral design, one of many seen in the book.


  1. ooh, cool book! And wouldn't it be fun to steampunk out that floral? Lovely on a tooled leather gadget case ...

  2. Exactly! Or appliqued on a corset or coat!