An Ani-Tsalagi Story about the Trickster Rabbit and how he got started.
By: Chief D. L. “Utsidihi” Hicks
This is what the old people told me when I was a boy.
In the old days, animals were larger and more intelligent than the ones we have nowdays. They all could speak the same language, and they held council, just like man today.
One time in the old days, when there were no men, no rains came. The world was dry. Creeks and rivers dried up. Only the largest lakes held water.
The mountains were so hot and dry that all were suffering. Many animals died from lack of water.
The animals decided to hold council to decide what to do.
All the animals met. These were the Great Animals, the huge animals of old, and not like the puny little animals of today. These were smart animals and all could speak the same language.
Qualugv (Frog), as Marshal of the Council, called all the animals together. Every animal family was represented at the Council.
Yona (Bear), Speaker of the Council, called the meeting to order, and told the Council, “These are desperate times. Soon we will all die from thirst if we do not find water.”
This was an understatement to all present.
“Down, down, down. Dig down. There is water there,” Tsisdvna (Crawfish), informed his friends.
“In the earth?” asked Saloli (Squirrel).
“Dig down,” repeated Crawfish.
“I agree. Ywvi Gvnahita (Long Man), the river, flows beneath our feet, deep down in Grandmother earth,” said Tukaski (Turtle).
“I agree,” said Dayunisi (Water Beetle).
“Then we will dig,” ordered Yona.
“We must have rules,” said Frog, ever on the alert for breakers of laws.
“Only those who help dig the hole will get use of our labors,” said Awi (Deer).
All voiced agreement. No work, no drink was the rule.
“So be it. This will be our agreement with each other,” said Yona. “Only those who help dig the well will get water from that source.”
They all agreed by cheering the announcement.
Each animal went to his home and returned with his shovel and other digging instruments.
Only Tsisdu (Rabbit) refused to dig. He ran and played, chasing the female rabbits around the town.
“Hey, Rabbit, if you do not dig, then you do not get water,” announced Frog.
“Oh, I don’t need to dig for water,” said Rabbit. “I will take care of myself.”
The animals warned Rabbit not to come near their water. If he was caught stealing water, then they would punish him. They would punish him severely as a thief.
“Yes, a lazy thief,” put in Yona.
He hopped off, happy to be free of the labor.
And the rest of the animals? They worked day and night. They sweated. They hurt. They ate very little, because it increased their thirst. The animals became weak and they were very thirsty, but they worked on.
After days of hot, dry, hard work, they finally found water. At that moment, they would gladly take hot, muddy water. But this was good, cool, clear, sweet water.
Dry of throat, they cheered. They were saved!
They gave thanks to their little brother, Crawfish for his guidance. Everyone brought their water bowls and filled them with the precious liquid.
With fresh water in their systems, all returned to their normal self. Their fur, hair, and scales became bright and shiny. There was a new step of life in everyone’s movements.
After a while, they became suspicious of Rabbit, for he always seemed to look as healthy as everyone else. How could this be, when he had no water to drink. When he was asked how he fared so well, he told them, “I get my water from morning dew on the grass.”
No one believed him, but they knew no difference.
Every evening, Rabbit watched from a hill side as the others carried water to their homes. He was thirsty. There was no dew on the grass, it was so dry. He had to have water!
Rabbit turned to theft to survive. He stole precious water from the public well.
But some of the animals, those of the suspicious sort, still wondered how Rabbit lived so well. They suspected that Rabbit lived by stealing water from their well.
The animals chose two of the wisest of them all, Waya (Wolf), and Tsulv (Fox), to be assigned the duty of learning Rabbit’s secret. He had to have a source of water and they wanted to know his source. Did he have a secret pool of water he hid from all? Or, was his secret source from their well?
The two animals searched the area around the well. They found cleverly hidden rabbit tracks. Now they had him. All they had to do was stand watch around the well and spring upon him when he came for water. For days they watched the well day and night, but they were never able to catch the deceitful Rabbit.
The wise Wolf and Fox were not going to concede defeat to the Rabbit.
“There ain’t no Rabbit as wise as a Wolf,” grumbled Wolf.
“Nor as wise as a fox,” said the wily Fox.
These two wise animals needed a plan. They knew that if they didn’t find Rabbit’s secret, they’d be the laughing stock of the forest.
The two sly friends came up with a plan. It was a sticky plan, but they were sure it would work. They went and found a pit of sticky tar. They dipped a stake into the pit, rolled one end around and took out a gob of tar. It was a sticky mess. And sticky enough to hold any Rabbit.
That night when all had gotten their water and left the well, the two guards took the stake to the water’s edge and stuck the sharpened end into the ground. The tar wolf was now in the narrow pass to the water and would crowd anyone trying to get to the water. The two didn’t stay the night to guard the water well. They left and went home to their families.
Rabbit waited until all were asleep before he went to the well. He hopped down the trail to the water. He stopped when he saw the outline of the tar wolf in the dim light. Not knowing what it was, he waited. This strange figure seemed unfriendly and would not even speak. Rabbit hopped up next to the tar wolf. The tar wolf was blocking his way to the water.
The tar wolf was small. Rabbit was bold. He took one paw and pushed the tar wolf aside, and ordered, “Move to one side.”
His paw became stuck and he could not remove it. Rabbit put his other front paw against the tar wolf and pushed. Now both paws were stuck to the tar wolf. He pushed the tar wolf with his back paw and it became stuck. He kicked it with his free paw and it became stuck. No matter how hard he struggled he couldn’t break loose. He was caught fast. There he remained, stuck to the tar wolf, all night long.
The next morning the animals came to get their morning water. They found Rabbit stuck to the tar wolf. There was great laughter and pointing at the hapless Rabbit.
Wolf and Fox went forth and pulled up the stake. They brought it in, with Rabbit still stuck to it, and stuck it in the ground before the circle of animals. Council was held.
“What shall we do?” demanded the Wolf.
“Let’s cut off his feet,” announced Fox.
The other animals agreed and cheered.
“That’s okay with me. I can hop around on my nubs,” Rabbit laughed.
“Then we must do something horrible,” said Wolf.
“I agree,” said Fox.
The other animals nodded in agreement.
My paws are blistered and fur ruffled because I worked while this lazy fellow played and chased girls,” grumbled Dili (Skunk). “I am mad. I demand justice. Justice will be served when Rabbit is severely punished.”
“We could pull off his head,” announced Bear.
Rabbit laughed and laughed. “What a punishment! I won’t feel a thing.”
“Then we’ll cut off his ears,” said Wolf.
“As well as I can hear? As long as my ears are, I have more than enough ears. That will be a small thing,” Rabbit said, laughing so hard he nearly shook himself loose from the tar wolf.
Wolf looked around. He saw a briar patch with thick undergrowth. It was thick and inhospitable with long, sharp thorns and no green plants to eat. “This is what we will do. We will throw this worthless fellow into the briar patch.”
Rabbit suddenly started crying. He sobbed loudly and begged, “Please don’t throw me into such an awful place. The thorns will prick me and cover my fluffy fur with my own blood. I will not be able to forage for food and will die.”
The other animals laughed.
Rabbit cried louder, shaking with fright.
That’s what we’ll do,” said Wolf.
The other animals agreed with a cheer.
Fox held the stake while Wolf pulled Rabbit loose. He cast Rabbit into the briar patch. Rabbit hit the ground running, dodging the trunks of the brush and finding holes through the maze of the underbrush. The rest of the animals watched the frolicking Rabbit in amazement. This trickster Rabbit had found him a home.
“Ha, ha! This is where I will live. It is a fine place,” cried the delighted Rabbit.
Rabbit has lived in the thick undergrowth and briars of the forest ever since. He has been in the thickets so long that he cannot run a straight line, always running one way and then another. It is hard to catch Rabbit.