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Some Adventures of the Little Hare


"In the summer of 1950, on an Indian reservation along the coast of Washington, I had an experience that I think I shall never forget. I sat on the platform of an old warehouse with three elderly Indians and heard two of them tell some of the old stories they entertained themselves with almost every day.

"The unique feature of most of these tales was the chants. When the storyteller began a chant, the other two joined him. No one translated the words, but the singing was delightful. The Indian words in clear tones must have gone through the entire village. The chants, the gestures, the changes of voice and of facial expressions for the different characters in the tales--all dramatized the story and made the morning one to be remembered."

The songs in the following stories are from the Hochunk (Winnebago) Indians, who now live in Nebraska. The Hochunk told many tales about Wash-ching-geka, "the Little Hare." In many tribes, it has been said, there were "legends to account for the remains for prehistoric animals."

While the Little Hare was doing his work, he lived with his grandmother. She was the Earth, and she was very wise. She cooked for the Little Hare, and she took good care of him.

At that time, a great, big elephant lived near them. He devoured people by reaching out for them with his long tongue and then swallowing them. The elephant looked like a large hill all covered with grass. The Little Hare went out to kill the huge elephant, because he devoured so many of the people. First, the Little Hare sprinkled himself all over with small pieces of flint. Then he sat down in front of the elephant and sang this song:

You, who reach with your tongue,
Great One, you draw them in.
So I have heard it told.
Gather me in!
Gather me in!

The elephant saw the Little Hare's ears sticking up in the grass, and he thought that they were feathers on somebody's head. So he reached out his tongue and swallowed the Little Hare. Inside the elephant all was dark and vast. There were starving people there, some dead and some dying, for they had no wood to cook with.

Then the Little Hare said to a young woman who was inside, "Look in my fur and see if you can find a piece of flint."

The woman searched through his fur and found a little piece of flint. The Little Hare struck his hand upon the flint and said, "Grow bigger!" And it became bigger. Four times he struck thus, and each time the flint grew bigger. Then he struck it again and said, "Be a knife!" And it became a knife. Then he struck out again and said, "Be a big knife!" And it became a great big knife.

The Little Hare felt along the ribs of the elephant until he found a soft place between two rib bones. There he cut a hole like a door, and through it he sent out all the people. Then he ran forward to the elephant's heart, and with one blow of his knife he split the heart in two. Like the people inside the elephant, the Little Hare then jumped out through the hole. On his way he caught up the elephant's young ones. When he reached the outside world, he threw the little elephants clear across the water. That is why the elephant now lives only on the other side of the water.

SONG OF THE HARE

You, who reach with your tongue,
Great One, you draw them in.
So I have heard it told.
Gather me in!
Gather me in!

While running here and there over the earth, to see what other work he should do, the Little Hare found a pass or trail where some huge thing had gone by.

"I must find out what this is," he said to himself. "Maybe it is some huge animal that will run over the people and kill them."

So he blocked up the pass with trees and stones. But when he came there again, lo! the huge thing had burst through them! Then he went to his grandmother and told her what had happened. She made a net for him to spread across the pass. Next day he hears someone crying aloud and singing this song:

Wash-ching-geka, let me loose, I cry.
Wash-ching-geka, let me loose, I cry!
Your uncle and your aunts
Oh, whatever will they do,
Whatever, whatever will they do!
Wash-ching-geka, let me loose, I cry.
Wash-ching-geka, let me loose, I cry!

Who was it that the Little Hare had caught? Who but the Sun! The Sun used to go through that pass every day, but this time he had been caught in the Little Hare's net.

"You go and set him loose!" commanded the grandmother. She scolded the Little Hare and beat him with her cane. "What will all your little-fathers and your little-mothers do without the Sun? So! Set him loose!"

So Wash-ching-geka tried to untie the net, but the Sun was so hot that the Little Hare could not face him. He could only back up, turning away his head. And thus the hind parts of the Little Hare were so scorched that, to this day, the skin of the hare's hind quarters is tender and easily broken.

SONG OF THE SUN

Wash-ching-geka, let me loose, I cry.
Wash-ching-geka, let me loose, I cry!
Your uncle and your aunts
Oh, whatever will they do,
Whatever, whatever will they do!
Wash-ching-geka, let me loose, I cry.
Wash-ching-geka, let me loose, I cry!

The Little Hare had another adventure with a monster. This monster was shaped like a living ant, with a big body and legs but with a very, very small middle part. At his waist, he was scarcely thicker than a hair. He lived behind a hill. Whenever he left home, he carried a very big tree and pounded the ground with it while singing a song. If elk and other animals came near, he threw the tree down upon them and killed them.

The Little Hare thought that because the Ant-Man was very thin at the waist, he could blow him in two. So the Little Hare blew "Soo! Soo!" But instead of blowing Ant-Man in two, he himself got killed. The Ant-Man threw his tree and crushed the Little Hare. When the Ant-Man lifted his tree, he found only a very small, flattened thing, he picked it up by the ears, said, "No good to eat," and threw away the little dead body.

That evening, when the Little Hare did not return home, his grandmother knew that he had been killed. The next morning she rose and ate, gathered her dress above her knees so that she could run faster, took one of the Little Hare's elkhorn clubs, and started out to find him. The old grandmother, able to run fast like Little Hare, ran over the whole earth until she heard the Ant-Man pounding and singing.

When he lifted up his tree to throw at her, she said, "Brother, better not do that!" So he stayed his hand and talked with her.

In a very short time, he admitted, "I did kill something very small yesterday. It was no good for eating, and so I threw it away. You go down there and look at it."

Finding that the little creature was her Little Hare, she picked him up by the ears and said, "You sleep here too long! Wake up and go to work!"

He went home with her. Next morning he started forth to find a big tree that would protect him from Ant-Man and his big fir tree. The Little Hare went away to the very edge of the earth, where the biggest pine trees grow. There he spoke to Wa-zi- chunk, the tallest tree in the world.

"Big tree," said he, "I plan to use you. I will pull you out of the ground, but when I have finished with you, I will put you back again."

He laid hold of the tree, pulled it out, and carried it to the place where he had been killed. He climbed the hill at one end while Ant-Man climbed it at the other end, singing and pounding with his tree. The Little Hare also sang and pounded with his tree. Then the two danced toward the other, each one singing and pounding with his tree.

Soon big Ant-Man walked more and more slowly. He could hardly keep on his feet because the Little Hare made the ground shake by pounding it with the tallest tree in the world. Slowly the two came nearer and nearer to the other. When the Little Hare reached the tall Ant-Man, he took the tallest tree in the world and crushed the monster.

A swarm of flying ants came out of the monster's body, and the Little Hare said to the dead body, "You can never again kill anything. And you little ants will have to creep on the ground, but sometimes you may fly."

And then the Little Hare carried the tall tree back to the edge of the earth and set it in its place.




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