Anishinabeg, Ojibway, Medawewin, Algonquian & Megis defined *




They called themselves “Anishinabeg”.  They were the people of the First Nations who greeted the pilgrims on the Atlantic shore.  The Anishinabeg people spoke a common language which the French denominated “Algic” or “Algonquian”.  One of the most numerous tribes of the Anishinabeg is the Ojibway Nation.  [Note: Anishinabeg is the plural of Anishinabe.] 


The “Algonquian” language of the Anishinabeg people is defined as “A family of North American Indian languages spoken in an area from Labrador to the Carolinas between the Atlantic coast and the Rocky Mountains.”*  However, they were not necessarily confined to those regions. 


The fact that the Anishinabeg spoke a common language would indicate that the various tribes and clans thereof also had similar customs and traditions.  The common religion of the Ojibway was “Medawewin” [pronounced Me-Day-Wee-Win].  The Medawe even had their own written language, as evidenced by preserved birch bark scrolls and rock formations.  The Medawewin religion consisted of four degrees or levels wherein initiates learned to use their spiritual abilities for spiritual healing.  Herbalists and surgeons also belonged to the Medawewin.  This may have been the origin of the term “medicine man”, since “Medawewin” sounds very similar to the English words “medicine man”.   


The “Megis” was one of the primary symbols that represents the Medawewin religion.  The Megis is a little shell called a cowry shell.  The word “cowry” was derived from a Hindu word and is defined as “Any of various tropical marine mollusks of the family Cypraeidae, having glossy, often brightly marked shells, some of which are used as money in the South Pacific and Africa.”*    What is not mentioned in the foregoing megis definition is that megis shells were also used as money, or “wampum,” in North America before the European invasion of this continent. 


What is most intriguing about the cowry shells used by the Anishinabeg is that these particular shells were not indigenous to America.   “The money-cowry (Cypraea moneta) is, and has been for centuries, a sacred object among the Ojibwa and Menomini Indians of North America, and is employed in initiation ceremonies of the Grand Medicine Society [Medawewin].  The use of this particular cowry by these Indians is of peculiar interest; in the first place; owing to it being alien to the American continent, and in the second place, in view of its intimate association with so many remarkable and fantastic beliefs and practices in different parts of the Old World.”**  Cypraea moneta shells come from the South Pacific.  Other shells which are native only to Asian and South Pacific seas have been found in pre-Columbian North American aboriginal sites, indicating that trans-oceanic trade was occurring prior to the European invasion.


Archaeological finds such as the “Kennewick man” reveal that people with “Caucasian” features lived in North America a long time ago.  When one examines this kind of evidence and looks at the similarities between the Medawewin, ancient Hebrew and Judeo-Christian beliefs, one cannot help but wonder if we are not all cousins in the same world family.




*  Read HISTORY OF THE OJIBWAY PEOPLE by William W. Warren to verify most of the information on this web page.  Warren completed his book in 1852 and it was later published by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1885.  Definitions quoted above came from the American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition.  


Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1917.