Rabbit and Otter, The Bungling Host
Many native American tribes have legends in which various animals display their ways and means of obtaining food from others, sometimes using trickster methods. They return meal invitations and even attempt to provide food of a similar nature and in the manner of the previous host. Sometimes, this leads to trouble. There were two wigwams. Otter lived in one with his grandmother, and Rabbit lived with his grandmother in the other. One day Rabbit started out and wandered over to visit Otter in his camp. When Rabbit entered Otter’s wigwam, Otter asked if he had anything to eat at home. “No,” replied Rabbit. So Otter asked his grandmother if she would cook something for Rabbit, but she told him she had nothing to cook. So Otter went out to the pond directly in front of his camp, jumped in, and caught a nice long string of eels. Meanwhile, Rabbit was looking to see how Otter would catch his food. With Otter’s great success, Rabbit thought he could do the same. Rabbit then invited Otter to come over to his camp the next day. His grandmother had already told him that she had nothing to cook for their meal, but asked him to go out and find something. Then Rabbit went out to the same pond where Otter had found the string of eels; but he could get nothing, not one fish, as he could not dive no matter how hard he tried.
In the meantime, his grandmother was waiting. She sent Otter out to find Rabbit, who searched and finally found him at the same pond, soaked and with nothing to show for his efforts. “What’s the matter with you?” he asked.
“I’m trying hard to get us some food,” he replied.
So friendly Otter jumped into the pond and again caught a string of fish, this time for Rabbit’s grandmother to cook for their dinner. Then Otter went home. The next day, Rabbit started out to visit Woodpecker. When he reached Woodpecker’s wigwam, Rabbit found him at home with his grandmother. She got out her large pot to cook a meal, but said, “We have nothing to cook in the pot.” So Woodpecker went out front to a dry tree-trunk, from which he picked a quantity of meal. This he took to his grandmother, and she made a good dinner for them.
Rabbit had watched how Woodpecker obtained his meal, so he invited Woodpecker over to visit him. The very next day Woodpecker arrived at Rabbit’s wigwam for a visit. Rabbit asked his grandmother to hang up her pot and cook them some dinner. “But we have nothing to cook,” she replied. So Rabbit went outside with his birch-bark vessel to fill it with meal. He tried to dig out the meal with his nose, as he had seen Woodpecker do. Soon Woodpecker came out to see what caused the delay. Poor Rabbit was hurt, with his nose flattened out and split in the middle from trying to break into the wood. Woodpecker left to return to his own wigwam without any dinner. Ever since then, Rabbit has had to carry around his split nose. Another day, desperate for food, Rabbit thought he would go and steal some of Otter’s eels. He got into the habit of doing this every second night. Toward spring, Otter began to wonder where his eels had gone as his barrel was getting low. Otter thought he would keep watch and soon found Rabbit’s foot tracks, and said to himself, “For that, I am going to kill Rabbit.” Now Rabbit knew what was going on in Otter’s mind, and when Otter reached Rabbit’s camp, he fled. Otter asked Rabbit’s grandmother, “Where has Rabbit gone?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “Last night he brought home some eels, then he went away.”
“He has been stealing my eels,” said Otter. “Now, I’m going to kill him.”
So began Otter’s search for Rabbit, who guessed Otter would be trailing him. Otter began to gain on Rabbit, who picked up a small chip and asked it to become a wigwam. Immediately, the chip became a wigwam and Rabbit became an old man sitting inside. When Otter came along and saw the wigwam, he also saw the gray- headed old man sitting inside. He pretended to be blind. Otter did not know that this was Rabbit himself. Out of pity for him, Otter gathered some firewood for the old man and asked if he had heard Rabbit passing by. “No, I have not heard any one today.” So Otter continued his search.
Later, Rabbit left his wigwam and started out on another road. Otter could not pick up Rabbit’s trail, so he returned to the wigwam. Not only was it empty, but gone entirely. Only a chip remained in its place. Otter then saw Rabbit’s tracks where he had jumped out of the wigwam. This trick made Otter very angry and he cried out, “You won’t fool me again.” Otter followed the new trail. When Rabbit sensed Otter was closing in on him, he picked up another chip and wished it to become a house, and there was the house, ready to live in. Otter came along and was suspicious as soon as he saw the house with a veranda across the front, and a big gentleman walking back and forth all dressed in white, reading a paper. This, of course, was Rabbit himself, but Otter did not know it. He asked the big gentleman, “Have you seen Rabbit go this way?” The man appeared not to hear. So Otter asked again. The gentleman replied in Pidgin English a phrase that meant, “Never saw Rabbit.” But Otter looked hard at him and noticed the man’s feet, which were Rabbit feet. So Otter felt certain this was his prey.
The big gentleman gave Otter some bread and wine, and Otter left hurriedly to again track Rabbit back to the house. He came to the place, but the house was not there. Otter could see the tracks where Rabbit started running away. “He’ll never have a chance to trick me again, that’s his last time!” declared Otter. Rabbit soon came to the head of a bay where there was a very small island, so small that a person could almost jump over it. He jumped onto the island and wished it to become a man-of-war. Otter came to the same shore and saw the big ship anchored there, and the big gentleman in a white suit walking the deck. Otter called to him, “You can’t trick me now! You’re the man I want.” Then Otter swam out toward the ship, to board it and to kill Rabbit. But the big gentleman sang out to this sailors, “Shoot him! His skin is worth a lot of money in France.”