Saturday, 30 August 2014
BRER RABBIT - TRICKSTER HERO
Brer Rabbit is perhaps the most famous folk hero of the United States. The stories about him were brought from Africa by slaves. Some of them seem to be based on Anansi the Spider, a rather unpleasant character. Some may be based on other tales connected with rabbits, which often appear in African folklore. Some of the stories about him may owe their origin to Cherokee tales.
Brer Rabbit stories seem to have been first written down by Robert Roosevelt (1829-1906), but they attained their popularity through the writings of Joel Chandler Harris (1845-1908). He placed them in the mouth of Uncle Remus, a fictitious old Afro-American who made his first appearance in the Atlantic Constitution (1876). Harris went on to write a series of books about Brer Rabbit, couched in Afro-American dialect.
Folklorists use the term Trickster to denote a character who lives on his wits, always diving and dodging. A rabbit, with so little defensive resources, makes an excellent subject for Trickster tales. Brer Rabbit was not lacking in persons he had to outwit. In the picture above you can see Brer Fox and Brer Wolf, both hungry for the taste of bunny. Brer Tarrypin, a friendly character, is also in the picture. So are some strange looking women. If you wish to see more strange looking women, you should come to the CFZ Weird Weekend, where strange looking women proliferate.
Other persons of note in the stories are the flying and dangerous Mr Buzzard, the animals' enemy, Mister Man, and Jedge B'ar.
Although Uncle Remus is fictitious, Harris had among his sources Afro-Americans referred to as Uncle George Terrell, Aunt Crissy and Old Harbert.
Mind you, rabbits are not always as helpless as you might think. I know of a friend of my sister who bought a house. The former occupant asked her if she could leave her pet rabbit behind. This creature lived in a hutch in the backyard. When she went to feed it, it jumped out in an aggressive way and ran off. Some minutes later a mailman entered the backyard. He claimed in outraged tones that he had been attacked and bitten by the rabbit. During the night, a telephone call was received from a neighbor, claiming the rabbit had attacked and bitten his cat. What ultimately befell this warlike lagomorph I know not. One is reminded of General Woundwort in Watership Down.