Ojibwa Tale: Run Rabbit

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: Run Rabbit Run.

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 Run Rabbit Run

Run Rabbit Run!

It was late winter or very early spring, for snow still lay on
the ground, when Ableegumooch the Rabbit entertained two friends
at a maple syrup feast. The two friends were Keoonik the Otter and
Miko the Squirrel.

As they happily licked the last of the syrup off their paws, they
exchanged news.

“Last night,” said Miko, “the moon looked into my
den and woke me, and I heard wolves talking outside. I heard them
offer Lusifee the Wild Cat two strings of wampum to kill somebody! »

“Really? asked the rabbit, with interest. “Who? »

"They didn't mention any name," said the squirrel, "but
only spoke of him as a servant and friend of Glooscap, one full
of tricks, who knows his way through the forest. »

“Whoever he is,” said Keoonik darkly, “he is as
good as dead, for that Lusifee is a cunning tracker and absolutely cold-blooded. »

"A friend of our Master's," mused Ableegumooch, "could
be any of us. »

“Someone full of tricks,” remarked the otter uneasily.
“It could even be me! »

“Haha! » snorted the rabbit, « you know very well that
I am the one most full of tricks hereabouts. » And Keoonik did
not deny it, for he had suffered much in the past from the rabbit's
mischief. Miko gave a little shiver.

“You know, when they spoke of one who knew his way through
the forest, I couldn't help wondering if they meant me, for I can
find my way through the trees better than most. »

“Nonsense! snapped Ableegumooch. « Anything a squirrel
can do, a rabbit can do better. After all, I am Glooscap's official
forest guide. And his very good friend,” he added proudly.

“The thing is,” said Keoonik, his eyes dwelling unconsciously
on the rabbit, “to find someone who fits all three requirements–
someone full of tricks, one who knows the forest, and one who is
a servant and friend of the Great Chief. »

The rabbit jumped as if a bee had stung him.

“Oh my! It's me he's after! »

Keoonik tried to comfort the stricken rabbit.

"We'll stand by you," he said. "Won't we, Miko? »

“Y-yes,” said the squirrel doubtfully, for he feared
that even the three of them together would be no match for the ferocious cat.

“Thanks, my friends,” said Ableegumooch, heartened by
their loyalty, “but I may not need your help. I have a plan. »

Miko asked what he had in mind.

"Strength and speed are on Lusifee's side, so I must rely
on craft,” said Ableegumooch and grinned mysteriously. “When
a rabbit's skin falls short, he must borrow another's. Well, he's
sure to come here to find me. I'm off! » And the rabbit sprang
into the air, landing a long distance from his lodge, so as to leave
no track near his home. Ableegumoch kept jumping in this way until
he thought he was out of scent and sight, then scampered away like the wind.

Keoonik and Miko scurried to a hiding place nearby and waited to
see what would happen. Presently, sure enough, Lusifee the Wild
Cat appeared, slinking along with nose to the Earth, his yellow
eyes gleaming and his great paws padding silently over the snow.

Finding the rabbit's wigwam empty, he snarled with disappointment
fury. However, taking the wigwam for a center, he kept going round
and round it, making each circle a little wider than the one before,
until at last he found the rabbit's scent. He kept on circling until
he reached the spot where the rabbit had stopped jumping. Then,
swearing by his tail to catch Ableegumooch and kill him, he set
out swiftly on a clear trail.

As the day passed, Lusifee knew by the freshness of the track that
he was overtaking the rabbit, but he did not catch sight of his
prey while daylight lasted. As night fell, Lusifee came upon a wigwam
all alone on the open marsh, and he poked his head inside. There
sat a grave and dignified old fox, whose white hair stuck up oddly
on either side of his head. When asked if he had seen Ableegumooch,
the old fellow shook his head, but invited Lusifee to pass the night with him.

“You can continue your search in the morning,” he said
in a helpful manner. So, being tired and hungry, Lusifee accepted
the invitation, and after a good supper, lay down by the fire and
slept soundly.

Towards morning, however, he began to shiver and feel most uncomfortable.
Waking at last, he looked around in amazement. He was no longer
in the warm lodge but lying on the open marsh with snow blowing
over him. Then Lusifee saw dimly the marks of a rabbit's feet and
knew Ableegumooch had fooled him. The rabbit, artful at disguise,
had masqueraded as the fox and had removed himself and the wigwam
while Lusifee slept.

Resuming the chase in a great rage, the cat swore by his teeth,
as well as by his tail, that Ableegumooch would die before nightfall.
But when darkness came again, he had still not caught sight of the rabbit.

Stopping at the first village he came to, which was that of a porcupine
tribe, he asked the first young porcupine he met if he had seen
a rabbit pass this way.

“Hush! said the porcupine. "Can't you see we are
listening to the storyteller? Then Lusifee noticed that the
whole tribe was gathered around the fire listening to an old porcupine
with white whiskers and oddly-shaped ears. In the land of the Wabanaki,
the storyteller is greatly respected, and he is considered most
impolite to interrupt him. So the cat was obliged to wait until
the stories were over. Then he turned once more to the young porcupine.

But have you seen a rabbit? »

“Hundreds of them,” answered the other impatiently, “are
racing about in the cedar swamp near here. You can have as many
as you want. »

"Those aren't the ones I'm after," complained the cat.
“I want Ableegumoch, Glooscap's forest guide. »

The young porcupine said he knew of no other sort of rabbit save
the wild wood ones, but perhaps the storyteller who was old and
wise could tell him something.

So Lusifee went to the storyteller and asked if he had seen a rabbit
pass by.

“Rabbit? The storyteller rattled his quills as he thought,
and the cat moved back cautiously. “No, I've seen no rabbit.
But, my friend, you look tired. You may spend the night with me,
if you like, in my lodge outside the village. »

The cat was glad of the invitation and went to sleep in a warm
bed. Much later, he awoke, all a-shake and a-shiver in a wet cedar
swamp, the wind blowing ten times worse than the night before, and
all around him the tracks of a rabbit.

Lusifee sprang up more enraged than ever and, wearing now by his
claws, as well as by his teeth and his tail, to be revenged on the
rabbit, he set out again on the trail. He ran all day and at night
came to another village, inhabited by a tribe of bears. He was so
weary he could only gasp out:

"Have–you–seen–a rab–bit?" »

The bears said they had not, but invited him to join in a feast
with them, and when they had done eating, they politely asked him
for a song. Now the cat was very vain about his voice, and right
willingly he lifted up his voice in a song of hate against rabbits.
The bears applauded and invited him to join in the dancing, but
the cat begged to be excused on account of weariness and sat to
one side, watching.

Now one of the bears was smaller than the others and his ears were
somewhat longer than bears' are usually. How ever, he was a great
dancer and leaped higher in the air than any other. As he passed
by Lusifee he accidentally, it seemed, gave the cat a fierce kick,
cutting his head and knocking him senseless.

When the cat came back to consciousness, he found him self in a
wigwam outside the village. A medicine man of the bear tribe was
bending over him and the cat noticed that he wore long white feathers
on either side of his head. By now Lusifee was growing more suspicious
and he looked at the medicine man with narrowed eyes.

“I was asking if any rabbits had been around here,” said
Lusifee, “and truly you look very much like one yourself. How
did you get that split lip? »

“Oh, that is very simple,” said the medicine man, who
was no other than Ableegumooch, of course. “Once I was hammering
wampum beads, and the stone on which I beat them broke in halves
and one piece flew up and split my lip. »

But why are the soles of your feet so yellow, like a rabbit's? »

“Simple, again,” said the medicine man. “I was once
preparing some tobacco and as I needed both hands to work, I held
it down with my feet–so the tobacco stained them yellow. »

Then Lusifee suspected no more and allowed the medicine man to
doctor his cuts with salve, after which he fell asleep. But, alas,
once more the unhappy cat awoke in dreadful misery, his head swollen
and aching, his wound stuffed now with hemlock needles instead of

Now Lusifee swore by his body and soul, as well as by his teeth
and his claws and his tail, to kill the next thing he met, rabbit,
or any other!

Forgetting pain and cold, he rushed off, exulting when he found
the track of Ableegumooch very fresh. Obviously the rabbit too was
pulling from the race and could not be far off. Yes, there was the
tricky follow just ahead! In fact Ableegumooch had been obliged
to stop short as he came to the edge of a broad river. The cat grinned
with triumph, for he knew that rabbits are no good at swimming.
"You can't escape me now," he shouted. Poor Ableegumoch.
He could run no further.

Far away on Blomidon's misty summit, Glooscap saw all that had
happened and knew the rabbit had done all he could by himself. Tea
Great Chief began to smoke his pipe very hard, puffing black rings
into the blue sky, where they changed at once into birds.

Down in the forest, Ableegumooch had turned at bay and Lusifee
was prepared to spring–when, suddenly, down from the sky hurled
a great flock of giant hawks screaming their war cries. Lusifee
snarled and turned to meet them, but they bore him down by force
of numbers–picking at his eyes and beating him with their wings-
-until at last, screaming with fear, the cat turned tail and fled
into the forest, where if he is not dead he is still running!

Trembling with fright, Ableegumooch sank down to rest at last.
He was not half so cocky as he had been when he started out, for
he knew that but for the hawks he would have been a dead rabbit.
A flute was playing far off, and the rabbit listened. Then he knew
who had sent the hawks to him in the nick of time.

“Thank you, Master,” he whispered. Glooscap, far off
on Blomidon, nodded– and played a triumphant tune to the returning
birds. Now, kespeadooksit–the story ends.