This Advanced Lesson on Aphorisms is by Alphonse Pitawanakwat. Anishinaabemowin is Alphonse’s first language and he teaches in Michigan at several locations including universities, urban native centers and tribal language gatherings. Alphonse has taught Anishinaabemowin at the University of Michigan for many years and is pictured here with current and former students who attended the University of Michigan 50th Anniversary of Native Studies in 2022.
Aphorisms are simple, always memorable, statements of truth. To create them requires talent, fluency in a language, and the wisdom of lived experience. Alphonse’s ability to translate the complex English aphorisms, requires creating them in Anishinaabemowin and demonstrates his skill in both his first and second languages. Much can be learned about both language and life from studying the games he has played with these words.
Please note: This work represents wording and spelling of Anishinaabemowin as it is spoken and written by speakers from Wikwemikong, where Alphonse is from. If your writing system or dialect is different, enjoy reading eloquence from another part of Anishinaabewaki.
Gete Zhigiizhwewinan Dekoobiigaadegin
Aphorisms (Old Sayings Translated)
by Alphonse Pitawanakwat
When Nishnaabemowin revitalization started to be reported in the social media, I thought learning or relearning would be easier and move faster if seen in the internet more often and also encourage speakers of the language varieties to do the same. And for that reason, I decided to translate and write aphorisms, maxims, or proverbs to motivate communication by writing in the media. All these aphorisms were written in English and translated into Ojibwe including some of my own. Since then, the social media has been inundated with many variations of the Ojibwe language in many websites, including Zooming all over the U.S. and Canada, which is encouraging.
“It’s a strange world of language in which skating on thin ice can get you into hot water.” -Franklin Jones
Our Strange Language
When the English tongue we speak,
Why is “break” not rhymed with “freak”?
Will you tell me why it’s true
We say “sew” but likewise “few”;
And the maker of a verse
Cannot rhyme his “horse” with “worse”?
“Beard” sounds not the same as “heard”;
“Cord” is different from “word”;
Cow is “cow”, but low is “low”;
“Shoe” is never rhymed with “foe”.
Think of “hose” and “dose” and “lose”;
And think of “goose” and yet of “choose”.
Think of “comb” and “tomb” and “bomb”;
“Doll” and “roll” and “home” and “some”,
And since “pay” is rhymed with “say”,
Why not “paid” with “said”, I pray?
We have “blood” and “food” and “good”;
“Mould” is not pronounced like “could”.
Wherefore “done” but “gone” and “lone”?
Is there any reason known?
And, In short, It seems to me
Sounds and letters disagree.
- Aabdeg gwa kwii-zhichige waa zhichgeyin.
You gotta do what you gotta do.
- Gegwa nagaasadooke maamiikimanjoyin.
Don’t resist a generous impulse.
- Kaa gonaa gegoo wenpanendaagsinoo geyaabi.
Nothing is simple anymore.
- Daapinan giminendaagiziwin enji-mkaman.
Take your fun where you find it.
- Naaniibowiitan gdi-naakinigewinan.
Stand behind your decisions.
- Jiishpin gegoo kendaman ekwa-nsing, daa mina-kendagwad ji mjimendaman.
If you learn something for the third time, It would be wise to remember it.
- Zhichigewinan kendaagadoon naakinigewinan.
Acts indicate intentions.
- Oshme nishin ji ginowendamamba bekaadiziwin pii dash ji zhitoomba.
Better to keep peace than to make peace.
- Zhinoomaagen getnaamendamowin jiishpin gegwa bwa zhayaayin.
Show enthusiasm even when you don’t feel like it.
- Minendan aabidek waa-zhichigeyin.
What you must do, do cheerfully.
- Naaknigewinan wenpandoon kendaman e-zhaayin.
Decisions are easy when you know where you are going.
- Bigidaapikaadan gamiinjisan.
Let your hair down.
- Gegwa zegisigke ji naanaagidowendaman.
Don’t be afraid to think.
- Bigidinitsan kotaajiwining.
Free yourself from fear.
- E-nji-maachitaang nji maachitaan.
Begin at the beginning.
- Gegwa gwiizens zhinaazhiwaake ji nankiit nini dankiiwin.
Don’t send a boy to do man’s work.
- Bangii kidowinan nakaazan niibina wii-ikidyin.
Say a lot in a few words.
- Minendan miigweyin minendamowin.
Have pleasure in giving pleasure.
- Naakinigen wii-minendaagoziiyin.
Plan to have fun.
- Gii-dagwoshinan gidaabik, mii bijiinak maadaandiweyin.
When you have reached the mountaintop, then you begin to climb.
- Pii g’ii-zhiigoonman wii-kwaandaadaman maamoonji shpaak aazhibik, gaa’ii ka weyiibendizii. (gegwa jaanmendage) (gegwa weyiibendige) (papiitendan)
When you’ve chosen the highest mountain to climb, be patient.
- Zhazhi e-gwekwenjigaadeg gii-mkwenjigaade eta ingoding.
What is now proved was only once imagined.
- Naangodinong zhisewin dete’aakogemigad aapiji nengaach.
Opportunity sometimes knocks very softly.
- Oshime zhiitaan pii dash aabidek ezhi dawendaman.
Be better prepared than you need to be.
- Baaptoon gonaa eta pii goyaa zhiigenimik.
Laugh it off when someone does not like you.
- Naangodinong gwa aabidek kwii-ndo-waamdaan minowaameziwin.
Sometimes you have to go looking for luck.
- Gegwa miigweke giimoodiziwinan.
Do not give away your secrets.
- Pii ezhiyaakaazad gwaya miinwaa dakidowinan bwaa-miiksenig, kwii-nibwaakaa debwetaman wi ezhiyaakaazad.
When someone’s body language and words don’t match, you’ll wisely believe the body language.
- G’da-nendamowining wenpanat wii-poweyin.
Your mind is an easy place to escape to.
- Gojitoon wii-nsastaman kidowinan e-naagadoyin maadiziiyin.
Try to understand the words that you live by.
- Oshime wenpanad wii-daapinaming zaagidwin pii dash wii-miigweng.
It is easier to accept love than it is to give it.
- Endodamang zhoonyaa temigad wi epiitendaagok.
The value of money lies in what we do with it.
- Bigidish aanin oshime ji aabiji debweyaad.
Let others be right most of the time.
- Gegwa kina gegoo debowetage enoondaman maage engdaman.
Don’t believe everything you hear or read.
- Pane gwa gamaapiich debwetaajigaade debwewin.
The truth is always believed eventually.
- Wiindimo eta bemaadizijig waa zhichigeng, gaa’ii waa-zhi-zhichigeng.
Tell people only what needs to be done, not how.
- Jiishpin kina gegoo mijimendamamba, gaa’ii gdaa zhisesii geyaabi shkayii gegoo ji zhichigeyin.
If you remembered everything, you would have no time to do new things.
- Ge kendaasad gii-kendaan gaa’ii maamda ji kendigaba kina gegoo.
A wise person knows that she/he cannot know everything.
- Minowenim bemaadizijig epiiche kwaandaweyin, zaam kwii-nkweshikwaak bi niisaandaweyin.
Be nice to people on your way up because you will meet them on your way down.
- Wenpanad wii-aaniwendaming gegoo e-nsaschijigaadesinook.
It is easy to condemn something not understood.
- Bemaadizijig daa aagonetaanaa’aa ekidoyin, da debowe’endaanaa’aa dash wii-go-pane-eshchigeyin.
People may doubt what you say, but they will always believe in what you do.
- Gaa go gegoo piichi mshkowendaaksinoo pii dash gwa ni kendang gaa nji maashii’iid.
Nothing is as powerful as the moment someone learns something from a mistake.
- Oshime nishin ji dabageyin noondaash ji yaaman pii dash ji aabiji mzinageyin.
It is better to pay and have a little less than to have much and be always in debt.
- Gegwa giibaadaajimidsake, aanint ka-doodaagok wi.
Do not speak ill of yourself, others will do it for you.
- Mkwendan eyaaman gaayii waa yaaman.
Think of what you have instead of what you want.
- Negijitojig naagaanzijig pii zanagag ndizwog wenjishing noozwin.
Great leaders earn their credentials during difficult times.
- Gaa’ii daa debinigaasii giigoonh jiishpin aabiji gabaakidoonenit.
A fish would not get caught if it kept its mouth shut.
- G’di-naangishewin daa naaktoon ezhiyaayin. (naagod)
Your job should bear the imprint of your personality.
- E-nendaman eshkam g’di-ni-zhayaa. Mekwendaman eshkam g’di-ni-zhayaa.
Eshkam g’di-ni-zhayaa e-nendaman. Eshkam g’di-ni-zhayaa mekwendaman.
What you are thinking about, you are becoming.
- Aabiji naadamaageying, gidaabiji-naadamaadsami.
The more we help others, the more we help ourselves.
- Daapinan zhiseg zhisewin.
Take advantage of an advantage.
- Noondaash giigidan, oshme kidan.
Talk less, say more.
- Giishtoon eshchigeyin ensa giizhgag miidash gwa ji booniikiman. Zhaazhi kii zhitchige waa zhitchgeyin, gegwa bigidinonge ji zinagigwiin zhaazhi gaa zhaawebag.
Finish what you are doing each day and be done with it. You did what you could, don’t be burdened by old nonsense.
- Mshkowendan ji zhawebag ezhi-bagwasendaman nangwa epiichi mnagiizhigag.
Have faith that your hope will come true during this beautiful day.
Mshkowendamowin – faith
Bagwasendamowin – hope
- Wenesh minik waa maadizid nini jibwaa nsadwenmad?
How long does a man has to live before you understand (recognize) him?
- Wenesh gegoo minik waa maadiziimigag jibwaa nsadwendaagok.
How long does something have to live before being understood (recognized)?
- Jiishpin bwaa godaawaakwaadaman gegoo, gwech g’doo debinaan.
If you aim at nothing, you usually get it.
- Gaagwa zaam wiikaa aawzino wii-kendaming shkayiin.
It is never too late to learn new things.
- Kiin go g’di-shtoonan nsonaaginan e-debinigwiin.
You build most of the traps that get you.
- Mdaasiwaak menakenjigaasijig gwiisensag da-gaasiibiigaaziwok ingoding eta maazhii’iiwaad.
A thousand atta-boys will be wiped out by one error.
- Mookiitamang kashktamaami.
We achieve by pursuing.
- Gaa maamdaa ji aanji-zhichigemba zhaazhi gaa zhichigeyin. (Gabaakadakamagis.)
Things done cannot be undone.
- Niigaanan g’jaansh, kaa dash wiigo pane g’daa-naagadoosiin.
Let your nose go in front, but do not always follow it.
- Naangodinong debinaziwon waayaaman miingoweziwin pikiteshkaagawiin aawan.
Sometimes not getting what you want is a stroke of good luck.
- G’di ji kendaanaa gaa bi zhiwebak gegoo kendziiwang (dinziiwang) gaa bi zhiwebak.
We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.
- Jiishpin bowaanitoowin wenjishing wii-kidyin, kidan Ojibwemoyin.
If you can’t say something nice, say it in Ojibwe.
- Zhinoomoo binoojiinh ge zhayaat endaat miidash ji kendang waa zhayaat goji pkaan.
Show a child how to behave at home and the child will know how to behave elsewhere.
- Pkwesigogan ebid dinmaagnaang zhinomaage mtig bid ode shpiming.
A chip on the shoulder is a good indication of wood higher up.
- Temigak nendamowin, temigad waa-zhichigeng.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
- Jiishpin eta debwemigak, gaa’ii gaa zhawebdagaba aawzinoo.
Gaa zhawebdagaba gaa’ii gaa zhawebdagaba aawzinoo, jiishpin eta debwemigak.
“History is not history unless it is the truth.” -Abraham Lincoln
- Miigwa dibishkoo ge namaaziyaanh gidi-nendam na?
Do you think you can sing the same way?
- Zhaazhe nday gii zhiishiibiiktaa, niintam dash.
My dog has done his stretching, now it’s my turn.
- Gonimaa gwa gdaa-giisaadendam e-kidayin, kaa dash wiigwa wiikaa e-kidasoon.
You may regret what you say, but never what you do not say.
- Kaa gonna aapiji gegoo piitendaaksinoo tibi’iidig endaayin pii dash ezhi-maadiziiyin odi.
It does not matter so much where you live as how you live there.
- Mna-maadiziwin gaa’ii naasaap wenpaadiziwin aawizinoo.
Good life is not the same as easy life.
- Boontaan waankeyin giishpin zaam aankeyin.
If you find yourself in a hole, quit digging.
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