Monday, March 17, 2014

Who is Brer Rabbit?

We all may have heard of Bugs Bunny but only the older folks among us may remember stories of Brer Rabbit.  Brer Rabbit is a character in folk tales of African-American and Native American origin.  He is also known as the “trickster” character because he can even outsmart the other characters in the stories.  

In folklore, the animal trickster represents an extreme form of behavior which people may be forced to use in extreme circumstances in order to survive.

Brer Rabbit is representative of how a smaller, weaker, but cleverer force can overcome a larger, stronger, but less clever power. He continually outsmarts his bigger animal rivals, Brer Fox, Brer Wolf, and Brer Bear.

Author Joel Chandler Harris used and popularized these characters in his series of Uncle Remus tales. One of the most well-known Brer Rabbit tales is a story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby. Brer Fox has been trying and trying to trap the rabbit and finally discovers a way to do it. He sets up a tar “baby,” and when Brer Rabbit encounters it, mayhem ensues.

Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby

The rabbit becomes stuck to the tar baby and the more he fights against it, the more stuck he becomes—that alone could be a lesson for readers. But it doesn’t stop there. Brer Rabbit manages to trick the fox into throwing him into a briar patch. It sounds like a horrible punishment—at least that’s what we think at first. But, the rabbit has lived his life in the briar patch, so he easily works his way free.

Though the Uncle Remus stories were written in the late 1800s, the stories of the “trickster” rabbit go back centuries in time and will be passed along for centuries more. Brer Rabbit will continue to triumph and get into and out of sticky situations by outsmarting his foes.

Storyteller Diane Ferlatte/ Brer Rabbit's Dance
"They cannot distinguish even between Negro demonstrators and negro spectators.”
~ Wyatt Walker

I read about the “tricks” of Brer Rabbit in a book called David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.  Mr. Gladwell writes about ‘Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.’  In his book, Malcolm goes into a lengthy account of the Civil Rights Movement and how in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King and Wyatt Walker together used the “Brer Rabbit” ideas to their advantage.  E.G., when they organized street protests, they waited until the early evening when the black residents were walking home from work.  They became onlookers and were mistaken for part of the demonstrations, therefore increasing their numbers.

"We need to remember that our definitions of what is right are, as often as not, simply the way that people in positions of privilege close the door on those at the bottom of the pile."
~ Malcolm Gladwell

Mr. Gladwell makes his point well: Underdogs have to use whatever they've got.

I was very moved by the book because in one way or another we all feel like underdogs at times.  Malcolm’s referrals to the bible reminded me that all throughout human history God has been on the side of the underprivileged; this is the history of restoration.  Because of the Fall of Man, man(kind) lost his proper position and became the underdog.  Once we recognize this weakness, it can become our strength, with God on our side.

If you like to read some more Brer Rabbits stories, here are the links: A Brer Rabbit Story
The Origins Of The Br’erRabbit Stories

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