Br'er Rabbit

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Br’er Rabbit
Br'er Rabbit and Tar-Baby.jpg
First appearance 19th century
Created by Traditional, Robert Roosevelt, Joel Chandler Harris, Alcée Fortier
Voiced by Johnny Lee (Song of the South)
Jess Harnell (Splash Mountain and modern Disney appearances)
Nick Cannon (2006 adaptation)
Aliases Riley, Compair Lapin
Species Rabbit
Gender Male
Occupation trickster
Br'er Rabbit's dream, from Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings: The Folk-Lore of the Old Plantation, 1881

Br'er Rabbit /ˈbrɛər/, also spelled Bre'r Rabbit or Brer Rabbit or Bruh Rabbit, is a central figure as Uncle Remus tells stories of the Southern United States. Br'er Rabbit is a trickster who succeeds by his wits rather than by brawn, tweaking authority figures and bending social mores as he sees fit. The name "Br'er Rabbit", a syncope of "Brother Rabbit", has been linked to both African and Cherokee cultures. The Walt Disney Company later adapted this character for its animated motion picture Song of the South.

African origins[edit]

The Br'er Rabbit stories can be traced back to trickster figures in Africa, particularly the hare that figures prominently in the storytelling traditions in West, Central, and Southern Africa. These tales continue to be part of the traditional folklore of numerous peoples throughout those regions. In the Akan traditions of West Africa, the trickster is usually the spider Anansi, though the plots in his tales are often identical with those of stories of Br'er Rabbit.[1]

Some scholars have suggested that in his American incarnation, Br'er Rabbit represented the enslaved Africans who used their wits to overcome adversity and to exact revenge on their adversaries, the White slave-owners.[2] Though not always successful, the efforts of Br'er Rabbit made him a folk hero. However, the trickster is a multidimensional character. While he can be a hero, his amoral nature and his lack of any positive restraint can make him into a villain as well.[citation needed]

Br'er Rabbit in Disney's Song of the South (1946). Disney's version of the character is drawn in a more humorous and lovable style than the illustrations of Br'er Rabbit in Harris's books.[3]

For both Africans and African Americans, the animal trickster represents an extreme form of behavior that people may be forced to adopt in extreme circumstances in order to survive. The trickster is not to be admired in every situation. He is an example of what to do, but also an example of what not to do. The trickster's behavior can be summed up in the common African proverb: "It's trouble that makes the monkey chew on hot peppers." In other words, sometimes people must use extreme measures in extreme circumstances.[4]

The American versions of the stories are said[by whom?] to have originated among enslaved Africans. The stories of Br'er Rabbit were written down by Robert Roosevelt, an uncle of US President Theodore Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his autobiography about his aunt from the State of Georgia, that "She knew all the 'Br'er Rabbit' stories, and I was brought up on them. One of my uncles, Robert Roosevelt, was much struck with them, and took them down from her dictation, publishing them in Harper's, where they fell flat. This was a good many years before a genius arose who, in 'Uncle Remus', made the stories immortal."

These stories were popularized for the mainstream audience in the late 19th century by Joel Chandler Harris (1845–1908), who wrote down and published many such stories that had been passed down by oral tradition. Harris also attributed the birth name Riley to Br'er Rabbit. Harris heard these tales in Georgia. Very similar versions of the same stories were recorded independently at the same time by the folklorist Alcée Fortier in southern Louisiana, where the Rabbit character was known as Compair Lapin in Creole French. Enid Blyton, the English writer of children's fiction, retold the stories for children.

Cherokee origins[edit]

Although Joel Chandler Harris collected materials for his famous series of books featuring the character Br'er Rabbit in the 1870s, the Br'er Rabbit cycle had been recorded earlier among the Cherokees: The "tar baby" story was printed in an 1845 edition of the Cherokee Advocate, the same year Joel Chandler Harris was born.[5]

Rabbit and Hare myths abound among Algonquin Indians in Eastern North America, particularly under the name Nanabozho. The Great Hare is generally regarded as the supreme deity among tribes in eastern Canada.

In "That the People Might Live: Native American Literatures and Native American Community" by Jace Weaver, the origins of Br'er Rabbit and other literature are discussed. To say that a story only originates from one culture and not another can only be true when a group of people exist in complete isolation from others. Although the Cherokee had lived in isolation from Europeans in the remote past, a substantial amount of interaction was to occur among North American tribes, Europeans, and those from the slave population during the 18th and 19th centuries. It is impossible to ascertain whether the Cherokee story independently predated the African American story.

In the Cherokee tale about the briar patch, "the fox and the wolf throw the trickster rabbit into a thicket from which the rabbit quickly escapes."[6] There was a "melding of the Cherokee rabbit-trickster ... into the culture of African slaves."[7] "In fact, most of the Br'er Rabbit stories originated in Cherokee myths."[8]

In popular culture[edit]

Eatonton, Georgia's statue of Br'er Rabbit.
Splash Mountain is a log flume-styled water ride that follows the adventurous Br'er Rabbit as told in Disney's Song of the South.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Opala, Joseph A.. "Gullah Customs and Traditions". The Gullah: Rice, Slavery, and the Sierra Leone-American Connection. [self-published source?]
  2. ^ Levine, Lawrence (1977). Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom. New York: Oxford University Press. 
  3. ^ a b Brasch, Walter M. (2000). Brer Rabbit, Uncle Remus, and the 'Cornfield Journalist': The Tale of Joel Chandler Harris. Mercer University Press. pp. 74, 275.
  4. ^ "Brer Rabbit and Ananse Stories from Africa (article) by Peter E Adotey Addo on AuthorsDen". Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  5. ^ "Cherokee Tales and Disney Films Explored". 1996-06-15. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  6. ^ Latin American Indian literatures journal (Dept. of Foreign Languages at Geneva College) 6: 10. 1990. 
  7. ^ That the People Might Live: Native American Literatures and Native American Community, p. 4
  8. ^ "Cherokee Place Names in the Southeastern U.S., Part 6 « Chenocetah’s Weblog". 2007-11-12. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 
  9. ^ Br'er Rabbit at INDUCKS
  10. ^ "Back in the Briar Patch". Apollo Lunar Surface Journal. Retrieved 27 November 2011. 

External links[edit]