Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Brer Rabbit, the African trickster

During training we were asked to do an activity that would help us learn about the local culture. Most people wove a basket or a straw mat (‘esteira’) which I thought was way boring. My friend Hans had an idea that I really liked: local stories, folklore, etc. When my project idea of learning how to play the Marimba (‘timbila’) fell through, I started gathering stories. The best, by far, were the stories about the rabbit (‘coelho’). Here are 2 of them:
There was a great drought in the land that caused all of the rivers and watering holes to dry up. Motivated by thirst, the animals convened a big meeting, a summit if you will, where it was resolved that they would all work together to dig a well. The rabbit left them to their work and did not help because he gets all the water he needs from the foliage he eats.
Upon finishing the well, the animals decided to elect a guard who would keep watch over the well and chose the monkey. In the meantime, the rabbit had thought of a way to use the well. He approached the guard and said:
‘Hey, friend. I’ve got some honey that I’d like to share with you.’
‘OK,’ said the monkey, ‘let me try it.’
‘Sure, but it’s hard to pour so just tilt your head back and lean back a little so that I don’t spill any on you.’
When the monkey did this, he leaned back on his hands and the rabbit swiftly tied them together and then, having gagged the guard, took a leisurely bath in the well.
The animals were plenty upset when they saw their guard this way the next morning. They elected a new guard and cleaned the well. Both the identity of the 2nd guard and the manner in which the rabbit outsmarts him were lost in translation, but sure enough the next day the second guard was found bound and gagged and the well had been bathed in again.
The animals now elected the snapping turtle to be the guard. He hid himself in the bottom of the well. When the rabbit arrived that day, he saw no one, and thought to himself, ‘Looks like they gave up on this idea. They couldn’t take it, I’m too smart for them.’ He stepped into the water to bath and his foot was caught fast by the snapping turtle. When the animals arrived they got even with the rabbit.

One day rabbit said to his friend monkey,
‘Hey, friend, would you like to eat some almendoim (peanuts).’
‘Yeah, do you have some?’
The rabbit, being very experto (a con artist), replied,
‘No, let’s go rob the farm. You down?’
And off they went. During the walk to the farm rabbit stopped and warned:
‘Friend, it’s best that we stay very quiet and be careful at the farm. The owner of this machamba is vigilant and does not like trespassers. If we see him coming, we’ll have to run for it.’
And they continued. Upon arriving at the farm, rabbit made short work of it and the farmer was nowhere in sight. Rabbit filled his bag with peanuts and tied it secure, and noticed that his friend was distracted. For each handful of peanuts monkey shoveled into his own bag, he shoveled another handful into his mouth. Rabbit snuck behind monkey and dug a hole in the ground behind him. He then placed monkey’s tail into the hole and buried it with dirt. Rabbit then picked up a stone and walked back to where his bag of peanuts was waiting. He threw the rock behind monkey and screamed,
“RUN! RUNNNN! The farmer is here!’
Monkey tried to run but could not get up, his tail was caught somehow. He tried again and still could not get up.
‘Friend, the farmer has you by the tail! Do something, run away!’
So the monkey mustered his effort and ran as hard as he could and his tail popped off. Monkey ran as fast as he could and managed to get away with his life. When he reached rabbit’s house, his friend offered him a bowl of peanuts since his were left at the farm, along with his tail. But before he got a chance to eat them he through the bowl to the ground in rage as the rabbit laughingly told him about the prank and how priceless the panicked look on monkey’s face had been. This is why the rabbit and the baboon are not friends.

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