Braiding Sweetgrass Characters
The main characters in Braiding Sweetgrass are Skywoman, Nanabozho, and the Windigo.
- Skywoman is, according to Anishinaabe lore, the first human being on earth, having fallen from the sky. She makes a home for herself and for humanity on Turtle Island. For Kimmerer, Skywoman is a model of reciprocity and gratitude.
- Nanabozho is, in Anishinaabe mythology, the first man and the final being in creation. His journey takes him from a sense of being an outsider to a sense of belonging.
- The Windigo is a hungry, hollow monster whom Kimmerer uses as a metaphor for modern society.
Last Updated on March 23, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 686
Skywoman is a key figure in the creation story of the peoples of the Great Lakes region. She was the first human to appear on earth, having fallen from a hole in the sky. Kimmerer recounts the story in full in the book’s first chapter, “Skywoman Falling.” Throughout Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer employs Skywoman as a symbol and model for humanity’s true relationship with nature, one imbued with reciprocity and gratitude. As the first woman to walk the earth, Kimmerer contrasts Skywoman, who has a positive, reciprocal relationship with the world, with the first woman in the Western creation story, Eve, who is sent to walk the earth as a punishment for her sins.
Nanabozho is the First Man, according to Anishinaabe oral tradition, the last of all life to be created. He was crafted from the four sacred elements by the Creator, who breathed life into him before placing Nanabozho on Turtle Island. For that reason, Nanabozho was both part man and part manido, a powerful spirit being, who represented the personification of life forces and was seen as both a hero and a teacher of how to be human in Anishinaabe culture.
The Windigo is a legendary monster of the Anishinaabe people, akin to the boogeyman. Stories of the Windigo are told to young children to frighten them into safe behavior; they are threatened with the prospect of being eaten alive by the Windigo. Perhaps most frightening of all is the fact that the mythical Windigo is not some imaginary creature but the husk of a man who has eaten human flesh. In this way, the Windigo is the result of a person who has given into cannibalism to satiate their hunger; as a punishment, the Windigo is doomed to roam throughout the woods, ostracized by society and continually unable to satiate their ever-growing hunger.
Sweetgrass is sacred in Potawatomi culture, where it is called Wiingaashk. Some say that Sweetgrass was born at the same time as Strawberry, from the remains of Skywoman’s daughter when she was buried in the earth. But where Strawberry grew from her heart, Sweetgrass grew from her hair. Hence, when Indigenous people braid Sweetgrass, they are braiding the hair of Mother Earth herself. It is also said to be the first plant to be planted by Skywoman on the back of Turtle Island.
The Three Sisters
The Three Sisters—corn, bean, and squash—provide the foundation of Indigenous agriculture, where the three crops are planted not in monocultural fields but rather together. This is done so that each plant may enrich the yield of the other and be enriched itself. Kimmerer expands upon the reciprocal relationship between the Three Sisters, explaining that each plant is a teacher in their own right—through “ripe ears and swelling fruit, [the Three Sisters] counsel us that all gifts are multiplied in relationship.” Thus, the lesson Kimmerer takes from the Three Sisters is that people are strongest in communities, where one’s efforts are multiplied by their neighbours so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
The Strawberry is the leader of the berries, as laid out in the Thanksgiving Address. In Anishinaabe legend, Skywoman’s daughter passed away while giving birth to her twins and afterwards was buried in the earth by Skywoman. Out of the earth sprang strawberries from her daughter’s heart, and thus strawberries are known in Potawatomi as ode min, the heart berry. Similarly, June, when the strawberries begin to awaken, is called ode’mini-giizis, or the Strawberry Moon, in Potawatomi culture.
The Maple is the leader of the trees, and their gift and responsibility from the Original Instructions is to care for the people. The Potawatomi people call April Zizibaskwet Giizis, or the Maple Sugar Moon, which follows the Hard Crust on Snow Moon otherwise known as the Hunger Moon. The Maple is revered because in the depths of autumn, when winter supplies have dwindled and game is still scarce, the Maple generously provides its sap and syrup to feed the people.