Ojibwa Tale: How the Rabbit lost his tail

The term Ojibwe comes from Utchibou, name given to the XVIIe century to a group that lived north of what is now Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Here is one of their stories: How the Rabbit lost his tail.

The Ojibway were part of a series of very close, but distinct groups, occupying a territory located between the northeast of the bay Georgian and eastern Lake Superior. These peoples who gathered near present-day Sault Ste. Mary are also called Saulteaux, a term that today refers primarily to the Ojibway peoples of northwestern Ontario and southeastern Manitoba.

Ojibwa How the Rabbit lost his tail

How the Rabbit lost his tail

You have heard how Glooscap came to rule over the Wabanaki and
how he made the animals, and how at first some of them were treacherous
and disobedient. In time, however, he gave posts of honor to those
whom he could trust, and they were proud to be Glooscap's servants.
Two dogs became his watchmen, and the loon his messenger and tale-bearer.
And, because the rabbit had the kindest heart of all the animals
in the forest, Glooscap made Ableegumoch his forest guide.

Now in those days Ableegumooch the Rabbit was a very different
animal than he is today. His body was wide and round, his legs
were straight and even, and he had a long bushy tail. He could run
and walk like other animals, not with a hop-hop-hop as he does today.

One day in springtime, when the woods were carpeted with star flowers
and lilies-of-the-valley, and the ferns were waist-high, Ableegumooch
lay resting beside a fallen log. Hearing a rustle on the path, he
peered around his log to see who was coming. It was Uskool the Fisher,
a large animal of the weasel tribe, and he was weeping.

“What is the matter with him,” wondered the rabbit, who
was inquisitive as well as soft-hearted. He popped his head up over
the log and Uskool nearly jumped out of his fur with surprise. "It's
only me–Ableegumoch,” said the rabbit. “Do you mind
telling me why you are crying? »

"Oh, greetings, Ableegumooch," sighed Uskool, when he
had recovered from his fright. “I'm going to my wedding. »

“And that makes you cry? asked the astonished rabbit.

“Of course not,” said Uskool. "I've lost my way,
that's the trouble. »

“Well, just take your time,” said the rabbit sensibly,
"and you'll soon find it again." »

“But I have no time to spare,” groaned the fisher. “My
future father-in-law has sworn that if I do not arrive for the wedding
by sunset today, he will marry his daughter to Kakakooch the Crow.
And, look, already the sun is low in the sky! »

"In that case," said Ableegumooch, "I'd better show
you the way. Where are you going? »

“To a village called Wilnech,” said Uskool eagerly, “near
the bend in the river! »

“I know it well,” said the rabbit. “Just follow me. »

“Thanks, Ableegumoch,” cried the happy fisher. “Now
I shall be sure to arrive in time. »

So off they went on their journey. Uskool, who was not very quick
on the ground, being more accustomed to travel in the trees, moved slowly.

“You go ahead,” he told the impatient rabbit, “and
I'll follow as fast as I can. »

So Ableegumooch ran ahead, and sometimes all Uskool could see of
him was his long bushy tail whisking through the trees. So it was
that Uskool, looking far ahead and not watching where he stepped,
fell suddenly headfirst into a deep pit.

His cries soon brought Ableegumooch running back, and seeing the
fisher's trouble, he cried out cheerfully, “Never mind. I'll
get you out. »

He let his long tail hang down inside the pit.

“Catch hold, and hang on tight, while I pull. »

Uskool held on to the rabbit's tail, and Ableegumooch strained
mightily to haul him up. Alas, the weight of the fisher was too
great. With a loud snap, the rabbit's tail broke off shorts, within
an inch of the root, and there was poor Ableegumooch with hardly
any tail at all!

Now you would think that this might have discouraged the rabbit
from helping Uskool, but not so. When Ableegumooch made up his mind
to do something for somebody, he did it. Holding on to a stout tree
with his front paws, he lowered his hinder part into the pit.

“Take hold of my legs,” he cried, “and hang on tight.
I'll soon pull you out. »

Ableegumooch pulled and he pulled until his waist was drawn out
thin, and he could feel his hind legs stretching and stretching–
and soon he feared he might lose them too. But at last, just as
he thought he must give up, the fisher's head rose above the edge
of the pit and he scrambled to safety.

“Well! said the rabbit as he sat down to catch his breath.
"My waist isn't so round as it was, and my hind legs seem a
good bit longer than they were. I believe it will make walking rather difficult. »

And sure enough, it did. When the rabbit tried to walk, he tumbled
head over heels. Finally, to get along at all, he had to hop.

“Oh, well,” said the rabbit, “hopping is better
than nothing,” and after a little practice, he found he could
hop quite fast. And so they hurried on through the forest.

At last, just before the sun touched the rim of the trees, they
arrived at the bride's village. All the fishermen were gathered, waiting,
and they smiled and cheered at sight of Uskool and his guide–all
but Kakakooch the Crow, who was far from glad to see them! In fact,
as soon as he saw Uskool take the bride's hand, he flew out of the
village in a temper, and never came back again. But nobody cared about him.

Ableegumooch was the most welcome guest at the wedding when Uskool
told the other fishermen what he had done. All was feasting and merriment,
and the rabbit danced with the bride so hard she fell into a bramble
bush and tore her gown. She was in a dreadful state when she found
she was not fit to be seen in company, and ran to hide behind a
tree. The rabbit was terribly sorry and wanted to help her, so he
hopped away to get a caribou skin he had seen drying in the sun,
and made a new dress out of it for the bride.

“You must have a fine girdle to go with it,” said he,
and he cut a thin strip off the end of the skin. Then he put one
end of the strip in his mouth and held the other end with his forehead
paws, twisting the strip into a fancy cord. He twisted and twisted,
and he twisted it so hard the cord snapped out of his teeth and
split his upper lip right up to his nose! And now you see why it
is that rabbits are hare lipped!

“Never mind,” said Ableegumoch, when the bride wept
at his mishap, "it can't be helped," and he gave her the
cord just as it was, to tie around her waist.

“Wait right here,” said the bride, and she ran off. In
a moment she was back, carrying a lovely white fur coat.

“This is for you,” she said shyly. “It is the color
of the snow, so if you wear it in winter, your enemies will not
be able to see you. »

Ableegumooch was delighted with his present and promised not to
put it on till the snow came, as his brown coat would hide him better
in summer. The wedding was over now, and he said good-bye to Uskool
and the bride, and started for home.

Now it happened that before he had gone far, he came to a small
pool in the woods, so smooth it was like a mirror. Looking into
it, the rabbit saw himself for the first time since his accidents,
and was agost. Was this he–this creature with the split lip, the
hind legs stretched out of shape, and a tail like a blob of down?

“Oh dear, oh dear,” sobbed Ableegumooch, “how can
I faced my friends looking like this? Then, in his misery,
he remembered Glooscap, his Master. “O Master! See what has
happened to your poor guide. I'm not fit to be seen any more, except
to laugh at. Please put me back to my former shape. »

High up on Blomidon, Glooscap heard the rabbit and came striding
down from his lodge to see what was wrong. When he saw poor Ableegumoch,
all out of shape, he had all he could do to keep from laughing,
though of course he kept a sober face so as not to hurt the rabbit's feelings.

"Come now," he said, "things may not be as bad as
you think. You know how fond you are of clover, Ableegumooch? »

The rabbit nodded piteously.

“And you know how hard it is to find. Well, with that long
cleft in your lip, you will be able to smell clover even when it is miles away! »

"That's good," said the rabbit, cheering up a little,
“but it's very uncomfortable having to hop everywhere I go. »

“Perhaps, for a time,” said Glooscap, “but have
you noticed how much faster you hop than you used to run? »

The rabbit did a little hop, and a jump or two, just to see.

"Why I believe you're right!" » he cried, but then his
face fell again. "But my tail, Master!" I mind that most of
all. I was so proud of it. »

“It was certainly a handsome tail,” admitted the Great
Chief, “but recall how it used to catch in thorns and brambles. »

“That's right! cried the rabbit, excitedly, “and
it was very awkward when Wokwes the Fox was chasing me! Now I can
slip through the narrowest places with no trouble at all! »
And he laughed with delight. “Why–with my new legs, my cleft
lip, and without my long tiresome tail, I'm a better rabbit than I was before! »

“So you are! said Glooscap, and at last he was able
to laugh. When Glooscap laughs heartily, the land shakes and the
trees bend over, so the rabbit had to hold on tightly to a tree
to keep from being knocked over. “So you are indeed! laughed Glooscap.

And that is why the rabbit and the rabbit's children, and his children's
children have had, ever since that day, a little white scut of a
tail, a cleft lip, and long hind legs on which they can hop all
day and never tire. And since then, too, in winter, rabbits wear white coats.

And thus, kespeadooksit–the story ends.