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The Ojibwe (Ojibway) or Chippewa (Chippeway) are an Indigenous people of Canada (the regions Ontario and Saskatchewan) and the United States (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Montana, and North Dakota).

The Ojibwe compare the course of life to the ascent of a mountain: complicated, full of dangers, disasters, and unforeseen events. The spirit is just the tenant of the physical body during this life and this mission on earth. After the achievement of his mission, the physical body dies, and the spirit returns to the afterlife.

For the Ojibwe, the Great Spirit is the creator of the whole world and living beings. The word possesses a creative capacity, the time and the space are circular.

All human beings are composed of several elements:
– a physical body, which decomposes and disappears after death,
– a soul or spirit, who travels to other worlds,
– a shadow
The animals, plants, water, fire,… and even objects (like the birch bark canoe) possess a spirit.

Ojibwe Family

They are deeply spiritual, believe in the ancestors’s spirits, and receive guidance and wisdom by connecting to supernatural forces. The adolescents (girls and boys) practice spiritual research and learn to understand the tangible world and, in parallel, the paths to the spirit world and the land of the dead.

Through various practices, such as isolation and fasting, they learn to travel within themselves, experience visions, meet their guardian spirits, and master their will, imagination, and thoughts.

The shamans heal the sick and communicate with the spirits through the rite called « the trembling tent ».

The death of a member of their tribe represents an opportunity to connect with the world of spirits. The funerals are joyful, they sing and play the drum, and they tell funny stories. The afterlife represents the land of eternal happiness. They prefer to no refer to death.

After death, they keep the body for four days near the house. It is not deposited inside the house because the spirit may refuse to leave during the body’s removal. In this period, the living prays and sings.

A ceremony, punctuated by the sound of drums, accompanies the deceased to the world of spirits. The whole community participates in the celebration, which is supposed to help and encourage the deceased’s soul in his trials but also to appease those who remain.

The family offers him food and tobacco. The four sacred Ojibwe remedies are tobacco, sage, sweet grass, and cedar.

Funeral home (spirit house)
Funeral huts (spirit houses)

At the same time, the soul begins a four-day journey west to its final destination. During this trip, he faces various trials.

First, he may be inclined to eat various berries: the soul should not stop and try to eat it because otherwise, he may stay stuck in this place forever.

Then, he has to cross a river on a slippery trunk. If the soul fails that proof, he is unremembered forever. After going through all the trials, the soul can reach the world of ancestors who have already completed their journey into the afterlife. The Ojibwe clean the body and dress it in specific clothing.

The family lights a fire in the house and keeps it burning until the fifth day after the death. They can only turn it off after the funeral.

The Ojibwe believe the spirits are afraid of snakes, which explains why they make a birch coil and hang it at the front door. When the spirit sees that snake symbol, he understands that he has to travel alone.

The birch is sacred and has a protective power. Its bark is used to wrap the body before being buried. Matches of birch bark are placed inside the coffin so the spirit can light the fire.

They add food, water, hunting tools, tobacco, and clothing, as the soul may need them during its journey.

The last night, the family organizes a solemn meal. That represents the occasion to offer, for the last time, food to the deceased. At the end of the meal, they make a final offering by smoking tobacco or by putting it directly into the fire.

Then, the shaman speaks directly to the spirit and explains the path he must take on his journey to the afterlife.

Ojibwe family in front of their hut
Ojibway Huts

Usually, the children do not attend funerals because they are considered spirits-sensitive. If they participate, they have to wear charcoal on the forehead to alter the perception of the spirits. They believe the charcoal protects the children from wandering spirits.

The charcoal is supposed to blur the face so the spirits don’t know he is a child. During the ceremony, the children should avoid eye contact with the others, in case the spirit may try to speak through them. That gesture belongs to a more general practice, the purification with charcoal on the foreheads of infants and children before bedtime.

The soul can communicate with the family through dreams. In this case, all his requests must be honored.

Sometimes the spirit may feel alone and ask someone to come and live with him. The response has to be « no ».

A lonely or wandering soul stuck through the temptation stage may want to capture the spirit of a living person.

The Ojibway family buries the body in a shallow hole, and above it, they place a hut called the spirits house. After the funeral, they get rid of the deceased’s belongings. Very often, these objects are burned or thrown into a river.

When a child dies, they braid a little doll with his hair called the grief doll. The mother wears it with her throughout the year of mourning.

Sources:

Éric Navet, L’occident barbare et la philosophie sauvage : essai sur le mode d’être et de penser des indiens Ojibwé

Karen Hoffmann & Éric Navet, Le coût du risque Les peuples autochtones et le “meilleur des mondes“

Charles A. Bishop, Ojibwés (https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca)

Derek G. Smith, Religion et spiritualité des Autochtones au Canada (https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca)

Les peuples Amérindiens, (http://amerindien.e-monsite.com)

Éric Navet, Des sociétés de rêve : natures, savoirs et savoir-vivre des sociétés chamaniques (https://horizon.documentation.ird.fr)

Ellary Allis, The Spirit of the dead according to Ojibwe beliefs

Ojibwe Confessions: Indigenous View Point

(http://rightojibwe.blogspot.com)

Dr. Kelly S. Meier, Ojibwe Funeral Traditions

Death: Ojibwe Traditions & Beliefs

(https://eantinello.wixsite.com)

Spiritualité Autochtone