Sacred-Texts Native American South American Index Previous Next

p. 372


   The Story of "Brer Rabbit" (352-362), and other Tales (363-364).

   352.* There are many stories current of undoubted foreign origin, chiefly African, modified more or less by local conditions. Among these are the celebrated adventures of Brer Rabbit, who, through the Spanish form of the word (conejo) is here known as Koneso (Arawak), or Konehu (Warrau). The Warraus apply the term to any "smart" man, indeed to any knave or rogue who is always outwitting his neighbors. Both nations claim the hero as their own, the Arawaks even crediting themselves with his long ears, and it was from these two sources that I was able to glean the details given here.



   353.* There was once a Koneso; but although he was a rabbit, he had short ears just like any other person. He traveled about all over the country, and he had plenty of children everywhere. Yes; he gave a lot of trouble to the single girls, and upset the harmony of many a married man's home. If the other men aimed at him with a club or with an arrow, it would either glide off or break, and Koneso would laugh. They found they could not kill him, and he continued doing just what he liked. But at last he himself got tired of everybody, and went away to another country. Now, the country he went to was ruled by a nafudi,1 who was celebrated as having a very beautiful daughter. Koneso happened to see this lovely woman one day, and forthwith went and asked the father to give her to him for a wife. But the nafudi told him he must first of all bring him two quakes full of alligator and camudi eyes. So, Koneso retired to make the quakes, and spent some days in arranging for the manufacture of cassiri. With the cassiri he filled plenty of jugs and brought them down to the waterside, close to the river bank. He next took his bone flute and played pretty music—it was such pretty music that all the alligators and camudis came out of the water to listen to it. He then handed the drinks round in a calabash, made them intoxicated, and while they were all lying dead drunk there, he gouged their eyes out with his finger. Having filled his quakes with their eyes, he hurried back with them to the nafudi, but the latter said, "I can not let anyone like you have my daughter. Hang your impudence!" And with this, he pulled sharply at Koneso's ears.2 But with the pull, Koneso's ears got stretched and hung down a good way over his neck. When Koneso found that he had now got long ears, he became very angry, and told the nafudi he would show him what he could do. Whereupon, he began attempting to take liberties with the pretty daughter, but the more she screamed, the more he laughed; and every stick that the nafudi beat him with got broken immediately it touched his skin. When the nafudi saw that he could not hurt Koneso this way, he told his men to seize him, p. 373 to tie him up against a tree, and shoot him at close range: but every arrow that was shot either got broken or glanced off. The men thereupon put Koneso in a corial and tied him on to the benches, put up an its sail, and let the vessel drift out to sea: but Koneso soon released himself, sailed back again, and went to the nafudi and told him that he had brought the boat safe into port. The men thereupon seized Koneso a third time; they tied him hand and foot, fixed around his neck a long vine-rope with a heavy stone attached, took him out to sea, and threw him overboard; but as soon as Koneso touched ground, he "loosed himself," and resting the heavy stone on his shoulder walked along the bottom of the sea until he reached shore, when he reported himself again to the nafudi; and told him that he had brought back the stone quite safe. To make a long story short, the nafudi recognizing his helplessness, gave Koneso his daughter.

   354.* Koneso after a time got homesick, and came back to his own country. He went one day deep into the forest and began to pull the big vine-ropes from off the trees. Tiger heard him, and coming up, asked him what all the noise was about. "Nothing," said Koneso, "except that there will be a big wind blowing the day after tomorrow, and as I don't want to be blown away, I intend tying myself up to a tree with one of these vines." Tiger became much frightened at hearing all this, and begged Koneso to tie him up before he fixed himself in safety. After Koneso had accordingly bound him up tight against a tree, he went away and started cutting down some more vine-rope, making plenty of noise over it, just to make believe that he was going to treat himself in the same manner. But instead of that, he just quietly walked home again. In the meantime Tiger waited patiently for the three days to pass, and no wind came at all, and he began to feel hungry, but tug and pull as hard as he could, he was unable to loose himself. Many animals passed by, and though he begged each and every one to undo the ropes, they were all afraid lest, once freed, Tiger might eat them after so long a fast. At last, on the fourth day, a carrion-crow came hopping along, and Tiger promised him that if he untied him he would in future always give him some meat to eat. Thereupon the bird released him, and this is why, whenever Tiger kills game, he always leaves behind something for the carrion-crow to peck at.

   355.* Some time after, Tiger met Koneso and told him that he was going to kill him for playing such a trick. But Koneso begged so hard, saying that he was only skin and bones, and that even if he ate him, he would not satisfy his hunger, that Tiger spared his life, but all the same was determined upon catching him again in another manner. Now, Tiger knew the pond where Koneso used to bathe, so without saying anything to anybody, he climbed up into the branches of an overhanging tree, and patiently waited for his prey to come along, when he would jump upon his back and kill him. But Koneso had been to a drink-party, and, decked with flowers over his head, around his neck, his chest and waist, came sauntering leisurely along. With all these flowers he looked like some other animal, and Tiger did not recognize him. As Koneso came out of his bath, however, he happened to look up and noticed Tiger crouching along one of the upper branches at the same time that Tiger, seeing his face, recognized him. Tiger then made a spring, but not quite fast enough, because Koneso was already off. For a long distance they thus ran, one after the other, and just in the nick of time Koneso escaped into an armadillo hole. This hole was too small for Tiger to chase him, so he made up his mind to close it altogether. Near by there was a hawk: one of those hawks which cry tau-a tau-a in the early morning before the sun shines. Tiger called to the bird and asked her to watch at the armadillo hole while he went home to fetch a digging-stick. While Tiger was gone, and the hawk was keeping watch, Koneso came up to the mouth of the hole and started whispering sweet nothings to her, flattering her with honeyed words, and among other things said: "You are indeed a pretty woman. p. 374 Do bend your face down a bit. I would so love to see it closer." And when the silly hawk bent her face down, Koneso immediately threw a handful of sand into her eyes, and so blinded her, which gave him the opportunity of getting away from Tiger.1

   356.* There was once a celebrated Konehu, walking along the bush, when he met a female Tiger. The latter, who was hungry, wanted to go out hunting, but did not like to leave her three little cubs at home without anyone in charge of the place. So Konehu agreed to look after the youngsters while Tiger searched for game. Things went on very well for some time, Tiger returning home each evening with meat which she shared with Konehu. But on a certain day, one of the cubs bit Konehu, so he killed it, threw the body away, and said nothing to the mother when she returned. In fact, Konehu as usual brought from out of the hollow log one cub after another for the mother to suckle, but on this occasion he brought out the same cub twice, and the mother was none the wiser. Next day, another cub bit Konehu. So he killed it, threw the body away as before, and said nothing, but in the evening brought out the remaining cub three times to be fed, and its mother was none the wiser. Next day, however, the surviving whelp bit Konehu. So he killed it, left its carcass close by the hollow log, and made tracks elsewhere.2 He knew that Tiger would follow him, so he traveled a long, long way before he rested. He next built a house on very high posts, posts too high for anyone to climb up, and then started making the roof which was just as high up again. Indeed, to get up all that way, he built a long ladder. And he started tying on the thatch. In the meantime, Tiger, on her return home, found her one dead cub but no signs of the other two. There was also no Konehu. She therefore was vexed much, and determined to follow and kill him. She traveled night and day, and went on and on until she came to the house which Konehu was building, and there she saw him on top thatching the roof. "Hullo!" she growls, "What are you doing up there? I am come to eat you." But Konehu does not worry himself. He only says: "You had better look out for yourself, because there is a big sea coming. I am building this house to save myself. You had better join me. Come up the ladder." Tiger thereupon clambers up the ladder and gets close to Konehu who is tying on the thatch with the itiriti strand. As soon as she got too uncomfortably close to him, he suddenly exclaimed: "Oh! What a pity! I have just dropped a piece of the tying strand. Wait up here a minute, while I go down and fetch it." This was a lie, for directly he reached the ground, he removed the ladder, leaving Tiger helpless on the roof. Again Konehu made tracks and walked about. He walked so far that he got tired. He then sat down and started making a quake, an openwork basket. Now, what did Tiger do? When she found the ladder gone, she scrambled up and under the roof, over and among the beams and rafters, but she could not get down. At last, hunger compelled her to say, "I must live, or I must die." So she made a big jump and reached the ground safely. She was vexed much, and determined upon following and killing Konehu. She traveled night and day, and went on and on until she reached the spot where Konehu was seated, busily occupied in making his quake. "Hullo!" she growls, "What are you doing? I am come to eat you." Konehu however remained quite cool and quiet. He stuck to his story about the big sea coming, and swore that he was making the quake so that when completed he could get inside and haul himself up to the top most branch of a big mora tree that was close by. Silly Tiger then believed what he told her, and said she would like to get into the basket also. Konehu therefore took her measure and increased the size of the basket. When finished, he told her to get inside, but no sooner had she comfortably fixed herself, p. 375 than he drew the sides of the quake together, and sewed them up. Tiger was now prisoner. Fixing a long vine-rope to the basket, Konehu threw it over the topmost branch of the mora tree, pulled on its free end, left his victim dangling in mid-air, and made tracks. Tiger was now in a bad way, for the more she roared the more did all the other animals get frightened and run away. At last, one of the most inquisitive, a little monkey, wanting to know what all the noise was about, climbed down the vine-rope and opened the basket. No sooner had he done so, than out jumped Tiger and both fell to the ground, where the monkey's only reward was to be eaten. Yes, Tiger was vexed much and determined upon following and killing Konehu. She wandered on and on, and at last met him upon the banks of a river. Directly he saw her coming he commenced looking down into the water very hard, as if he was examining something very carefully. "Hullo!" growled Tiger. "What are you looking at? I am come to eat you." "Nonsense, woman," says Konehu. "Look, look down there. Don't you see that beautiful yellow stone [gold]? If you could only fetch it you would be a rich woman. You would have a new husband, and get new cubs."1 Now what he was pointing at in the water was only the reflection of the sun overhead. Tiger, however, being both silly and greedy, dived in, and quickly came up to the surface to breathe. "Oh!" he tells her, "you must go down deeper." So she jumps in again, and stays under much longer. When she again appears on the surface, Konehu reiterates "You haven't gone deep enough." And so the game goes on, she being fooled every time about not having stayed below long enough. She makes a last effort to dive under a very long time, when Konehu takes the opportunity of making good his escape. Tiger now sees that she has been trieked. She is vexed much and is more than ever determined to follow and kill Konehu, who by this time knows what to expect. So he travels far, far until he comes to a high hill on the top of which he balances a big rock, and at the bottom of which he digs a deep pit. By and by, Tiger comes along, and seeing Konehu on top of the hill, looks up at him and says: "Hullo! What are you doing up there? I am come to eat you." But Konehu puts his arms around the rock, and says it is a large piece of meat, which he will throw down to her if she lies quietly in the pit. And the silly, greedy Tiger believes him again, does just what he tells her, and waits for the meat to come. Soon, bumpty, bumpty, down the hill comes the big rock, faster and faster it speeds, until falling on Tiger, it kills and buries her.2

   357.* Konehu was a lazy man, and would not labor for his living. He was hungry. One fine morning he sat at the foot of a high overhanging cliff, waiting for some one to come along. By and by he saw a company of men approaching. They had been out hunting, and were bringing along a quantity of game. Konehu then picked up a long wooden pole, and placing it against the side of the cliff after the manner of a brace, began pressing it into position just as the huntsmen came up. In reply to their inquiry as to why he was pressing so hard upon the pole, Konehu said: "Can't you see that the mountain is falling over, and that if I don't brace it up, it will come down and destroy all of us? Look up and see it moving! Come, take my place, and let me have a little rest. I have been shoving at it all the morning." The huntsmen accordingly gazed up the wall of the precipice, and seeing the clouds moving over the top of it, indeed thought that the cliff was about to fall. So dropping their quarry on the ground, they all together started pressing on the timber, and continued pressing, and pressed harder, until by the time the sun was about to sink, they were so exhausted that they could press no longer. They satisfied their conscience by saying that whether the cliff overwhelmed them or not, it would not be their fault. They therefore p. 376 let go the timber and turned around to pick up all their game and provisions. But these had all disappeared. And so had Konehu!

   358.* On another occasion Konehu was again hungry, but the people all about knew what a tricky man he was, and refused to give him anything to eat, unless he paid or worked for it. He had nothing to give, so he had to work. He asked for food at a certain house, and the house-master told him to pound some rice. He pounded away until late in the afternoon. The master came to see how much rice had been cleaned, but was astonished to find so small an amount resulting from the large quantity that had been handed over in the morning. The master gave Konehu the same quantity to pound next day, and in the afternoon there was again a marked shortage, so he became very angry and sent Konehu away. That very night, Konehu cooked rice for supper. Instead of a solid heavy-wood pounder, he had used a hollow-bamboo one, and the more he pounded the rice with it, the quicker it became filled.1

   359.* An exploit next takes place wherein our friend Konehu fools a fellow-traveler over some kokerite seeds (Maximiliana regia). He was sitting on a rock one day eating kokerite nuts. Holding them in close proximity to his crutch, he was breaking them on the hard surface with a stone. While eating the kernels, a traveler passed, and the latter was invited to taste them. He ate with great gusto, and asked Konehu what they were.2 "Eheu, edo testiculos meos. Quare nonne edes tuoes," inquit. Itaque hostes, testiculos suos prehens, lapide pulsavit, atque tanto modo se vulneravit ut morietur.

   360.* One day Konehu met a man carrying two quakes of yams. The yams looked just splendid, and Konehu, not having any of his own, determined on possessing himself of them. "Those are fine yams," he said, "what are you going to do with them?" On learning that they were being taken up the river for sale at the next settlement, Konehu said that he knew of another settlement where such beautiful yams would fetch a far higher price, and that if they were handed over to his care he, Konehu would negotiate the business to the better advantage just for friendship's sake. Once they were in his possession, however, Konehu said good-by to the stranger, and brought them home for his wife to cook. All that he had said about selling them at a big price was a lie. Soon after the very same man whom he had cheated came up to the house and threatened to kill him. But Konehu managed to talk "sweet-mouth" and soothed his anger by telling him that if he waited a while, he would give hin some nice pepper-pot. Going into that portion of the logie which was screened off for the women-folk, he told his wife to shriek and scream as if he were killing her. She did what she was bid. Konehu brought out some pepper-pot, which he placed before the stranger. The man tasted and was enchanted with it. "That is a fine pepper-pot. What did you make it from?" he says. "Just out of my wife's breast," replied Konehu. "Didn't you hear her yell when I cut it off?" The foolish man went back to his own home, and seizing his wife, gashed her breast to pieces, but the result was that she bled to death, and he recognized only too late that he had again been tricked.

   361.* The way in which Konehu managed to get the advantage of everybody soon spread abroad. Among others, it reached the ear of a head-man at one of the settlements. This man had a big field and several wives: he was indeed a rich man. He prided himself on being very clever and knowing everything: he knew all about the history of his tribe, and by looking at a certain star he could tell the proper time to visit the coast when the crabs were "on the march." In fact, he knew he was shrewder than Konehu, and publicly said so. Now, Konehu heard of this, and p. 377 taking up a position on the path leading to this individual's cassava field, waited for the owner to come along. As soon as he heard footsteps appreaching, he loosed his bowels, and tearing a "cap" from off the shoot of a "troolie" palm, carefully placed it point upwards on the ground, over the dung, at the same time pressing his palms around the edge just as if there was some live animal underneath.1 When a few feet distant, the owner saw Konehu in this extraordinary attitude, he asked him what he was doing. "I have just caught a bird here," says Konehu, "and am afraid of it getting away. Do you happen to have a quake with you?" Not suspecting any trickery, the man told him that if he liked to go round to his house, he could have the quake which he would find hanging up on one of the posts. So he puts down his bow, arrows, and pegall, and Konehu shows him how to hold the troolie cap tightly down and prevent the wonderful bird escaping. Konehu takes up the bow and arrows, marches off to the logie, and makes himself quite at home with both the eatables and the women: indeed, he spends a gloriously happy time there. But as for the man watching over the wonderful bird, hour after hour passed and he finally felt so weary that he tipped up one edge of the troolie cap, and saw that he had indeed been outwitted by the very man he had boasted to despise.

   362.* The time at last arrived when mere mention of Konehu's name made everyone spit. All had been fooled by him at some time or another, and now left him strictly to himself. His wife went off with another man. Poor Konehu did not know how to clean the house, which became more and more dilapidated; he knew nothing about cooking, he had no cassava, and when he did manage to go out hunting with bow and arrow, he invariably met with poor success. One day, however, he managed to shoot a fine big deer. He ate all of it except one leg, which he barbecued and slung up to one of the beams of his house. Next day, he again managed to secure some game, and so things went on, his luck, day after day, not only continuing but increasing. More than this, every time he reached home in the afternoon, there he found the fire lighted, the pepper-pot already boiled, everything tidied up and cleaned, and yet not a soul was to be seen. He became curious. So instead of going hunting out back one morning, he hid himself behind a big tree whence he could observe everything taking place in the house without himself being seen. He waited and waited. By and by he saw the deer leg (Sect. 98) change into a beautiful woman, and he then knew who it was that had been minding him so carefully. He rushed forward and held her fast. He wanted her to be his wife, but she resolutely declined, though she promised to remain and continue as his benefactress. He therefore built another house, adjoining his, just for her especial use. After a time, she changed her mind about becoming his wife. She had only refused his offer before, because she was afraid he might tell his friends and relatives who she was—the offspring of a deer's foot—the shame and disgrace of which she felt she could never face. The bargain was accordingly struck that so long as he held his tongue about her antecedents, she would remain with him as his spouse: if he betrayed her, she would punish him. They were happy together for a long time, and everything prospered. Konehu's luck in hunting and fishing, as well as his abundance of provisions, became now almost proverbial, but whenever questioned as to how he managed to secure such luck, and what binas (Sect. 233) he employed, he always remained silent. The neighbors' envy and curiosity were not to be baffled by his silence. They said, "Let us ask Konehu to a paiwarri, and make him drunk. Then he will tell us!" So they held a big feast, and they had many jars of drink, and Konehu, getting beastly intoxicated, told the whole story. When he woke next morning out of his debauchery, he turned his steps homeward: His astonishment was indeed great to find his old house, without any additions, just as dirty and untidy as in his grass-widower days—and, yes, there was the deer-leg still hanging on the cord. In his anger he determined on eating p. 378 the venison, but when he struck his knife in, all the blood gushed forth. This sobered him, and he left the house to become a wanderer. He may be here today, and gone tomorrow. Yes, indeed, there are so many Konehus [i. e. rogues and vagabonds] wandering about the world now, that it is very difficult to recognize which one is our old friend.



   Long ago there was a girl who had many offers of marriage from among her own people, but who always refused them. One day a stranger came, dressed in fine style. Directly she saw him she exclaimed, "That is the man for me. I want him for my husband." He married her, built a house in one day, and prepared all the furniture—as the stools, paiwarri trough, the mortar—all at the same time. By this token (everything being made so quickly) the girl knew that something was wrong, but she could not say definitely what. As a matter of fact it was really the terrible snake Oroli (Sect. 235), who had come disguised as a man, decorated with boar's teeth and beautiful feathers. And when at the wedding feast the bridegroom did not want to eat with the others, and could be prevailed on to do so only on the condition that he should be provided with an uncooked duck, which he swallowed all by himself, the girl was still more certain that his actions were a token of some impending evil. After the feast was over she accompanied her husband to their new home, where she remained in his hammock for three days, but he did not even once play the part of a husband. He was really starving himself preparatory to making a meal of her. At the end of this time he told her to turn round, so that her head rested at his feet. When she had obeyed him, he started swallowing her foot first. "Mother! Mother!" she cried, "something is swallowing me." "No! No!" screamed the man, "I am only acting as a good husband." Her mother rushed into the house, but found only a great fat serpent in the hammock. Her daughter was nowhere to be seen, and the mother knew what had happened. She then ran to the priest who had married them, and begged him to kill the snake, but the good Father said, "No. I can not do so, because he is a Catholic." So the girl was punished for having preferred the stranger to an Indian.



   A party of Caribs were out shooting birds in the forest when an earthquake (tutulu) took place: this made a great noise and the ground opened. Many people were inside the earth, and one of the Caribs, Aiyobanni by name, jumped in to join them. His mother, not being able to find him anywhere, commenced weeping. The head-man of the Earthquake People heard her crying, and told Aiyobanni how she was mourning his absence. "You must stay a little longer with us," he added, "but by and by we will carry you back to her, after we have taught you all about piai." They taught him the practice of the profession, and all the time Aiyobanni was down beneath the ground with the Earthquake People, the girls made him amatory overtures, but he wanted none; he was so anxious to get back to his poor old mother. Many years passed. There was another earthquake, the earth opened, and Aiyobanni approached his mother. "Don't cry, mother," were his first words to her. He slept that night under her roof, but complained next morning of the great number of dog fleas about. On proposing to wet the ground, his mother said, "All right," and every minute expected to see him go to the boat-landing to fetch the water. Instead of this he knocked at all the house-posts, and water flowed from the base of each until it covered all the ground and rose above their ankles. His mother was indeed frightened now and thought he was going to sink the earth altogether. After doing this and several other wonderful things, his fame as a piai spread far and wide. At last the Missionary p. 379 came to visit him. "Aiyobanni," said the visitor, "you are a piai and must stop doing these things. The Government pays me to be piai, so you must not interfere with my work." "But I can not stop," replied Aiyobanni; "bad Indians taught me, I might perhaps be able to oblige you, but as the Earthquake People trained me, I dare not now give up my work." About a month later the Missionary was taken ill. He tried many medicines without success; hence he was obliged to send for Aiyobanni. Although the Missionary sent for him with a letter and a big tent-boat, for some time he would not go; finally, after being sent for five times he went. When he reached the Missionary's house after making his patient take off all his clothes, he anointed him from head to foot, whereupon a large number of quartz crystals came out from all over his body and fell to the floor. The Missionary was so much pleased because of the cure effected that he paid Aiyobanni one hundred dollars; but the latter took good care never to tell him that he himself had caused the crystals to enter his body long before he had been sent for to give treatment.



p. 372

1 Nafudi is the Arawak term for the head of a settlement, for a "boss," and used to be applied to a chieftain or cacique, in the same sense that it would be and still is applied to the King or to the Governor.

2 It is a common trick for the Indians to give a sharp downward tug on their children's ears when the youngsters are naughty or disobedient.

p. 374

1 The rest of this story is fairly similar to the following Warrau version.

2 In the Arawak version of the story as told on the Pomeroon, the slaughter of all three youngsters is wilfully done on the one occasion by throwing them into boiling water in a pot, which the miscreant covers with a baking-stone.

p. 375

1 The exploit of the yellow stone in the water has been met with only in the Pomeroon Warrau version of the story.

2 From Cayenne comes a variation of the story of the Tiger in a pit, covered over with a stone (Cou, I, 272-3).

p. 376

1 Although Father Gumilla, upward of two centuries ago, speaks of indigenous rice growing luxuriantly on the Orinoco, thus far I have not met with any records of its having been cultivated by the Indians previous to the Conquest.—W. E. R.

2 The Arawaks on the Essequibo have the same story.

p. 377

1 The spathe of this palm (Manicaria sp.) was used as a hat by the Warrau and Arawak males.