Br'er Rabbit (/ˈbrɛər/ BRAIR; an abbreviation of Brother Rabbit, also spelled Brer Rabbit) is a central figure in an oral tradition passed down by African-Americans of the Southern United States and African descendants in the Caribbean, notably Afro-Bahamians and Turks and Caicos Islanders. He is a trickster who succeeds by his wits rather than by brawn, provoking authority figures and bending social mores as he sees fit. Popular adaptations of the character, originally recorded by Joel Chandler Harris in the 19th century, include Walt Disney Productions' Song of the South in 1946.

Br'er Rabbit
Br'er Rabbit and the Tar-Baby, drawing by E. W. Kemble from "The Tar-Baby", by Joel Chandler Harris, 1904
First appearance19th century
Song of the South (1946)
Created byTraditional, Robert Roosevelt, Joel Chandler Harris, Alcée Fortier
Voiced by
In-universe information
AliasRiley, Compair Lapin

African origins edit

Br'er Rabbit's dream, from Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings: The Folk-Lore of the Old Plantation, 1881

The Br'er Rabbit stories can be traced back to trickster figures in Africa, particularly the hare that figures prominently in the storytelling traditions in West, Central, and Southern Africa.[4] Among the Temne people in Sierra Leone, they tell children stories of a talking rabbit.[5] Other regions of Africa also tell children stories of talking rabbits and other animals.[6] These tales continue to be part of the traditional folklore of numerous peoples throughout those regions. In the Akan traditions of West Africa, the trickster is usually the spider Anansi, though the plots in his tales are often identical with those of stories of Br'er Rabbit. However, Anansi does encounter a tricky rabbit called "Adanko" (Asante-Twi to mean "Hare") in some stories. The Jamaican character with the same name "Brer Rabbit" is an adaptation of the Ananse stories of the Akan people.[7][8]

The African savanna hare (Lepus microtis) found in many regions on the African continent: the original Br'er Rabbit.

Some scholars have suggested that in his American incarnation, Br'er Rabbit represented the enslaved Africans who used their wits to overcome adversity and to exact revenge on their adversaries, the white slave owners.[9] Though not always successful, the efforts of Br'er Rabbit made him a folk hero.

Several elements in the Brer Rabbit Tar Baby story (e.g., rabbit needing to be taught a lesson, punching and head butting the rabbit, the stuck rabbit being swung around and around) are reminiscent of those found in a Zimbabwe-Botswana folktale.[10]

Folklorists in the late 19th century first documented evidence that the American versions of the stories originated among enslaved West Africans based on connections between Br'er Rabbit and Leuk, a rabbit trickster in Senegalese folklore.[11][12]

American adaptations edit

Stories of Br'er Rabbit were written down by Robert Roosevelt, an uncle of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his autobiography about his aunt from Georgia that "she knew all the 'Br'er Rabbit' stories, and I was brought up on them. One of my uncles, Robert Roosevelt, was much struck with them, and took them down from her dictation, publishing them in Harper's, where they fell flat. This was a good many years before a genius arose who, in 'Uncle Remus', made the stories immortal."

Eatonton, Georgia's statue of Br'er Rabbit

Some stories were also adapted by Joel Chandler Harris (1845–1908) for white audiences in the late 19th century. Harris invented Uncle Remus, an ex-slave narrator, as a storyteller and published many such stories that had been passed down by oral tradition. He claimed his stories were "the first graphic pictures of genuine negro life in the South."[13] Harris also attributed the birth name Riley to Br'er Rabbit.[citation needed] Harris heard these tales in Georgia. Very similar versions of the same stories were recorded independently at the same time by the folklorist Alcée Fortier in southern Louisiana, where the Rabbit character was known as Compair Lapin in Creole. It has been argued that Beatrix Potter based her Peter Rabbit tales on Brer Rabbit.[14]

Indigenous American parallels edit

In a detailed study of the sources of Joel Chandler Harris's "Uncle Remus" stories, Florence Baer identified 140 stories with African origins, 27 stories with European origins, and 5 stories with Native American origins.[15]

Although Joel Chandler Harris collected materials for his famous series of books featuring the character Br'er Rabbit in the 1870s, the Br'er Rabbit cycle had been recorded earlier among the Cherokees: The "tar baby" story was printed in an 1845 edition of the Cherokee Advocate, the same year Joel Chandler Harris was born.[16]

Algonquin Nations in Eastern North America similarly depict rabbits and hares as cunning and witty. Many stories of rabbits' or hares' wit include connections to the trickster, shapeshifter sometimes referred to as Nanabozho.

In "That the People Might Live: Native American Literatures and Native American Community" by Jace Weaver, the origins of Br'er Rabbit and other literature are discussed. Although the Cherokee had lived in isolation from Europeans in the remote past, a substantial amount of interaction was to occur among North American tribes, Europeans, and those from the enslaved population during the 18th and 19th centuries. It is impossible to ascertain whether the Cherokee story independently predated the African American story.

In a Cherokee tale about the briar patch, "the fox and the wolf throw the trickster rabbit into a thicket from which the rabbit quickly escapes."[17] There was a "melding of the Cherokee rabbit-trickster ... into the culture of African slaves."[18]

Joel Chandler Harris edit

A.B. Frost illustration of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby from the 1895 version of Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings

There are nine books by Joel Chandler Harris that contain Brer Rabbit stories:

  • Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings (1881), containing 25 Brer Rabbit stories.
  • Nights with Uncle Remus: Myths and Legends of the Old Plantation (1883), containing 52 Brer Rabbit stories.
  • Daddy Jake, the Runaway: And Short Stories Told After Dark (1889), containing four Brer Rabbit stories.
  • Uncle Remus and His Friends: Old Plantation Stories, Songs, and Ballads with Sketches of Negro Character (1892), containing 11 Brer Rabbit stories.
  • Told by Uncle Remus: New Stories of the Old Plantation (1905), containing 13 Brer Rabbit stories.
  • Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit (1907), containing four Brer Rabbit stories.
  • Uncle Remus and the Little Boy (1910), containing five Brer Rabbit stories.
  • Uncle Remus Returns (1918), containing six Brer Rabbit stories.
  • Seven Tales of Uncle Remus (1948), containing three Brer Rabbit stories.

Enid Blyton edit

There are eight books by Enid Blyton that are collections of stories featuring Brer Rabbit and friends, most of which appeared in various magazines in the late 1930s.

  • Heyo, Brer Rabbit! (1938)
  • The Further Adventures of Brer Rabbit (1943)
  • My Enid Blyton Brer Rabbit Book (1948)
  • Enid Blyton's Brer Rabbit Book (1963)
  • Enid Blyton's Brer Rabbit Again (1963)
  • Enid Blyton's Brer Rabbit's a Rascal (1965)
  • Enid Blyton's Brer Rabbit Holiday Adventures (1974)
  • Enid Blyton's Brer Rabbit Funtime Adventures (1974)

In popular culture edit

Early comics edit

Disney version edit

Br'er Rabbit in Walt Disney's Song of the South (1946). Disney's version of the character is more stylized and cartoony than the illustrations of Br'er Rabbit in Harris' books.[21]

Other adaptations and references edit

  • On April 21, 1972, astronaut John Young became the ninth person to step onto the Moon, and in his first words he stated, "I'm sure glad they got ol' Brer Rabbit, here, back in the briar patch where he belongs."[24]
  • In 1975, the stories were retold for an adult audience in the cult animation film Coonskin, directed by Ralph Bakshi.
  • In 1984, American composer Van Dyke Parks produced a children's album, Jump!, based on the Br'er Rabbit tales.
  • A direct-to-video adaptation from Emerald City Productions was released in 1989 and re-released various times in the 1990s, distributed by Family Home Entertainment (F.H.E.).
  • Rabbit Ears Productions produced two Br'er Rabbit tales ( Brer Rabbit and the Wonderful Tar Baby and Brer Rabbit and Boss Lion)
  • 1998's Star Trek: Insurrection saw the Starship Enterprise enter a region of space called the Briar Patch. At some point during a battle with the Son'a, Commander Riker states that it is "time to use the Briar Patch the way Br'er Rabbit did".
  • A direct-to-video film based on the stories, The Adventures of Brer Rabbit, was released in 2006. Nick Cannon provides his voice for the character.[25]
  • There is a brand of molasses produced by B&G Foods named after the character.[26]
  • In Sam Kieth’s The Maxx, the character Mr. Gone refers to Maxx as “Br’er Lappin” and indeed Maxx is worried if he removes his mask he will find he has a rabbit's head beneath it.
  • In the 1982 film Savannah Smiles, Savannah tells a story of Brer rabbit to her captors Bootsie and Alvie.
  • In the Tristan Strong series, Br'er Rabbit appears as a recurring character. He is depicted as a cynical but well-meaning mentor god.

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ "A Spin Special: Stan Freberg Records". Retrieved 2017-09-21.
  2. ^ "The Song of the South Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved 2017-09-22.
  3. ^ "Walt Disney's Song Parade from Disneyland on Golden Records". Retrieved 2017-09-26.
  4. ^ "Brer Rabbit and Ananse Stories from Africa (article) by Peter E Adotey Addo on AuthorsDen". Archived from the original on October 24, 2004. Retrieved July 3, 2010.
  5. ^ Pollitzer, William (2005). The Gullah People and Their African Heritage. University of Georgia Press. p. 125. ISBN 9780820327839.
  6. ^ Abrahams, Roger (2011). African Folktales. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 9780307803191.
  7. ^ Pariser, Harry (1990). Jamaica A Visitor's Guide. Hunter. ISBN 9781556502538.
  8. ^ Marshall, Emily (2019). American Trickster Trauma, Tradition and Brer Rabbit. Rowman & Littlefield International. pp. 59–60. ISBN 9781783481118.
  9. ^ Levine, Lawrence (1977). Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-502088-5.
  10. ^ Smith, Alexander McCall (1989). The Girl Who Married A Lion and Other Tales from Africa. Pantheon Books, NY. pp. 185–89.
  11. ^ Arnold, Albert (1996). Monsters, Tricksters, and Sacred Cows: Animal Tales and American Identities. University of Virginia Press.
  12. ^ M'Baye, Babacar (2009). The Trickster Comes West: Pan-African Influence in Early Black Diasporan Narratives. Univ. Press of Mississippi.
  13. ^ Ritterhouse, Jennifer. “Reading, Intimacy, and the Role of Uncle Remus in White Southern Social Memory.” The Journal of Southern History, vol. 69, no. 3, 2003, pp. 585–622. JSTOR, Accessed 9 June 2021.
  14. ^ Knight, Lucy (19 May 2023). "Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit story originated in African folktales, expert argues". The Guardian.
  15. ^ Baer, Florence (1980). Sources and Analogues of the Uncle Remus Tales. Folklore Fellows Communications. ISBN 9514103742.
  16. ^ "Cherokee Tales and Disney Films Explored". June 15, 1996. Archived from the original on May 24, 2011. Retrieved July 3, 2010.
  17. ^ "The tar-baby motif in a Bocota tale: Blísigi sigabá gule ('the opossum and the agouti')". Latin American Indian Literatures Journal. 6. Dept. of Foreign Languages at Geneva College: 10. 1990.
  18. ^ That the People Might Live: Native American Literatures and Native American Community, p. 4
  19. ^ Becattini, Alberto (2019). "Genesis and Early Development". American Funny Animal Comics in the 20th Century: Volume One. Seattle, WA: Theme Park Press. ISBN 978-1683901860.
  20. ^ Holtz, Allan (2012). American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press. p. 83. ISBN 9780472117567.
  21. ^ a b Brasch, Walter M. (2000). Brer Rabbit, Uncle Remus, and the 'Cornfield Journalist': The Tale of Joel Chandler Harris. Mercer University Press. pp. 74, 275.
  22. ^ "Brer Rabbit - I.N.D.U.C.K.S." Archived from the original on 26 April 2019. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  23. ^ "Disney’s “Uncle Remus” strips," Hogan's Alley #16, 2009
  24. ^ "Back in the Briar Patch". Apollo Lunar Surface Journal. Retrieved November 27, 2011.
  25. ^ "Child's Play". Washington Post. 2006-04-09. Retrieved 2008-08-29.
  26. ^ "B&G Foods".

Further reading edit

  • Backus, Emma M. "Tales of the Rabbit from Georgia Negroes". In: Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 12 (1899). pp. 108–115.
  • Edwards, Charles Lincoln. Bahama Songs And Stories. Boston and New York: Pub. by Houghton, Mifflin and company; [etc., etc.], 1895. (Bahaman stories about B' Rabby)
  • Fortier, Alcée. and Alexander Street Press. Louisiana Folk-tales: In French Dialect And English Translation. Boston: Pub. for the American folk-lore society, by Houghton, Mifflin and company; [etc., etc.]. 1895. (stories of Compair Lapin collected in Louisiana)
  • Marsh, Vivian Costroma Osborne. Types And Distribution of Negro Folk-lore In America. [Berkeley], 1922.
  • Storr, Virgil Henry. "B’ Rabby as a 'True-True Bahamian': Rabbyism as Bahamian Ethos and Worldview in the Bahamas. Folk Tradition and the Works of Strachan and Glinton-Meicholas (January 1, 2009)". In: Journal of Caribbean Literatures. Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 121–142, 2009, Available at SSRN 1711268

External links edit