Tag Archives: Tar baby

Rabbit Tricksters

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"Good Morning," said Br'er Rabbit.

“Good Morning,” said Br’er Rabbit.

Rabbit Tricksters

May: The Tricksters Week #2

This week we are working with the Trickster Rabbit. The tale we have chosen is from Africa, “‘Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby.” This beloved story became well-known and popular after Walt Disney made the movie “The Song of the South.” In the story, Brer Rabbit out-smarts Br’er Fox by convincing him that being thrown into the Briar Patch would be the cruelest, meanest, and most horrific death anyone could suffer.

Since Fox despises Br’er Rabbit, he can’t wait to toss him into the brambles. Br’er Fox is caught up in the imagery of sharp thorns and twisted tangles. He has forgotten the fact that Br’er Rabbit was born and raised in the Briar patch. So, in the end Br’er Rabbit is able to out “fox” the fox.

Another very popular Rabbit Trickster we all know and love is Warner Bros. cartoon character, Bugs Bunny. Bugs is a wonderful  Trickster.  He is always out smarting, tricking, and making a fool of Elmer Fudd, who is determined to catch the silly “wabbit” and eat him.

The idea that the obsessive predator ends up hurting himself more than the pry is funny. When the pry out-smarts the predator, it reminds us that life is complicated and not always predictable.  In the Trickster Stories we know that the victim will be in serious danger; a huge rock is falling directly above his head, and we know that somehow, someway the victim will escape unharmed. But how? This is the part I love, at the very last-minute, it happens, the victim escapes danger.  I’m surprised by the interception and the way the story goes  sideways.  I love that danger is foiled. I am delighted that the underdog wins.  I realize that thinking  sideways and outside the expected opens up new possibilities.  I always admire the predator’s perseverance. I love the prey’s cleverness and laugh at the surprise appearance of the unforeseen.

There is a story called “Coyote fights a Lump of Pitch,” told by the White Mountain Apache that is very similar to Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. Once again, the prey out-smarts the predator. (You can read the full tales by clicking on them under Monthly Tales shown on the Menu above.)

In my collage, Br’er Rabbit is greeting the Tar Baby. Trickster Rabbit thinks of himself as a sociable fellow, gracious enough to bless others with a kind word or two.  When Tar Baby doesn’t reply, Br’er Rabbit is taken aback.  Doesn’t Tar Baby realize who has greeted him?  Doesn’t he know that he is in the presence of Br’er Rabbit? How dare he be rude.

On the other hand, Br’er Rabbit did put himself out there, sort of extended a hand in friendship, why is the Tar Baby ignoring his greeting?  The message in this exchange is that when you greet someone and they do not respond in kind it may have nothing to do with you.   In a way,  this exchange, or lack there of, is a reminder to us all that you shouldn’t take other peoples rudeness personally, after all, Tar Baby didn’t speak because he was a “Tar Baby”.

I don’t know if you’ve experienced the feeling of being ignored by someone you’ve  reached out to, but I certainly have. It causes negative feelings to rear their ugly heads. When it happened to me I remember feeling both embarrassed and very annoyed.  Br’er Rabbit’s reaction to the Tar Baby feels familiar.  However, what is different about Br’er Rabbit’s reactions and mine are, I would not  punch, kick, sock or head-butt anyone.  I probably would have my feeling hurt and go off pouting while grumbling and carping all the way.

There are many sayings that this folktale embraces. For an example … I have felt tarred and feathered … I  have out foxed a fox … I’ve been in thorny situations …  I can get very stuck and I have come-up with ideas that have saved the day.  How about you?

Tarred!

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Tarred!

Tarred!

Tar baby is one of my favorite stories of all time.  Decades later, “Please, please don’t throw me in the briar patch,” still makes me laugh.  It’s become a stock phrase around our house.  Thinking about the briar patch, I started wondering about mine.  I suppose it consists of the leaves of books and thorny words and ideas supported by stout pragmatic branches; a place where I’m extremely comfortable, but many people aren’t.   We all have our briar patches though, full of hidey holes and escape routes, places to take refuge in even from ourselves.

This is a story about the Trickster getting tricked!  Tricksters, as the stories never hesitate to point out, are particularly susceptible to getting gulled.  Br’er Rabbit is shadow boxing with the Tar Baby.   Cockiness and self-righteousness have landed him in this pickle and pride gets him more deeply enmeshed by the second.  Sound familiar?  It does to me.  The Jungians say annoyance with the character traits of someone else occurs because suddenly we find ourselves staring in a mirror and disliking what we see.  The stubborn intractability of the Tar Baby is a part of Br’er Rabbit he doesn’t want to acknowledge.  Being a Trickster he wants to be cool, suave and flexible, able to shuck and jive his way out of any situation with insouciant aplomb!  Heaven forbid he should be seen to be stuck in his own shit, like all the other marks.  But that’s exactly what happens.  Nevertheless, our wily rabbit has at least one more trick up his sleeve and escapes into his first last and best defense – his childhood refuge – the place where he was “born and bred.”

This collage grew out of this picture of a tar-covered rabbit sent to me by a friend.  It took me a while to track down the artist’s name.  When I found Darla Jackson’s site, I fell in love/awe with her ability to render animals so faithfully.  It’s obvious to me that she observes them carefully them, with deep respect and eyes of love.  Isn’t it interesting how influenced we are by everything around us?  Working with a picture of a sculpture, I unconsciously created a three-dimensional collage.  I sliced up an old champagne cork and raided the button box to make Tar Baby’s eyes and ears.  Adding a dimension to the collage made me think about layers.  This story is layered in meaning – On the surface we’re shown the value and pitfalls of an elaborate social system of greet and respond that allows people to safely establish who exactly they are talking to and how far they can trust them (kinsfolk being more reliable in theory than strangers).  Then there’s a lesson in the futility of emotion-based argument.  At bottom we hit perennial wisdom “Know Thyself.”

In the same way I figured out what my briar patch consists of, it behooves me to ruminate a bit on the nature of my Tar Baby.