Art Study – Ojibwe Birch Bark Biting

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Birchbark biting was mentioned briefly in the Birch Bark House as an activity which was done over the winter months to pass the time.  Birch bark biting, otherwise known as Mazinibaganjigan, is an ancient folk art.  One of the oldest forms of aboriginal art, it is practiced among the Ojibwe, Odawa, Cree and other Algonquian peoples for whom the bark of birch trees is a widely available resource.  Plain bark pieces can be turned into intricate works of art by using the canine teeth to bite.  The pressure of the bite pierces the bark pieces to create patterns or to allow for light to pass through:

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Source

We watched this very quick video about it:

Most of the bitten motifs were of sacred significance, such as this turtle which is important in the Ojibwe creation story:

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Symmetrical designs were obtained by folding the birch bark:

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According to the video, it is a practice which almost died out although there are now a few determined artists who are teaching this skill to the next generation.  We did our bit to keep this ancient art form alive by creating our own Mazinibaganjigan.  We didn’t have enough birch bark available to try it out for real, but the children gave it their best shot using a tortilla:

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T bit into his whole tortilla, creating a single bitten picture, whilst the girls folded their tortilla into quarters:

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A6 just kept biting and had lots of fun doing so:

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And here are a couple of the resultant tortillas:

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C bit a pattern (RHS) whilst L bit a cross, a religious symbol which meant something to her (LHS).  A6 simply ate hers before I could photograph it!

10 comments

  1. I just read a small tidbit about this for the first time earlier today! Isn’t it interesting? Those examples are quite lovely, and hard to imagine they’re made from biting. Great idea, using tortillas – certainly tastier 🙂

  2. Your projects are amazing. I have never heard of this before, but it is lovely. Brilliant use of a tortilla. A6 – I agree! Eat ’em right away.:)

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