In the old, old days, before Columbus "discovered" us, as they say, we were even closer to the animals than we are now. Many people could understand the animal languages; they could talk to a bird, gossip with a butterfly. Animals could change themselves into people, and people into animals.
It was a time when the earth was not quite finished, when many kinds of mountains and streams, animals and plants came into being according to nature's plan.
In these far-gone days, hidden from us as in a mist, there lived a rabbit - a very lively, playful, good-hearted rabbit.
One day this rabbit was walking, enjoying himself, when he came across a clot of blood. How it got there, nobody knows. It looked like a blister, a little bladder full of red liquid. Well, the playful rabbit began toying with that clot of blood, kicking it around as if it were a tiny ball.
Now, we Indians believe in Takuskanskan, the mysterious power of motion. Its spirit is in anything that moves. It animates things and makes them come alive.
Well, the rabbit got into this strange moving power without even knowing it, and the motion of being kicked around, or rather the spirit of the motion - and I hope you can grasp what I mean by that - began to work on the little blob of blood so that it took shape, forming a little gut.
The rabbit kicked it some more, and the blob began to grow tiny hands and arms. The rabbit kept nudging it, and suddenly it had eyes and a beating heart. In this way the rabbit, with the help of the mysterious moving power, formed a human being, a little boy.
The rabbit called him "We-Ota-Wichasha", Much-Blood Boy, but he is better known as Rabbit Boy.
The rabbit took him to his wife, and both of them loved this strange little boy as if he were their only son. They dressed him up in a beautiful buckskin shirt, which they painted with the sacred red color and decorated with designs made of porcupine quills.
The boy grew up happily among the rabbits. When he was almost a man, the old rabbit took him aside and said: "Son, I must tell you that you are not what you think you are - a rabbit like me. You are a human. We love you and we hate to let you go, but you must leave and find your own people."
Rabbit Boy started walking until he came to a village of human beings, where he saw boys who looked like himself. He went into the village. The people could not help staring at this strange boy in his beautiful buckskin clothes.
"Where are you from?" they asked him. "I am from another village," said Rabbit Boy, though this was not true. There was no other village in the whole world, for as I told you, the earth was still in its beginning.
In the village was a beautiful girl who fell in love with Rabbit Boy, not only for his fine clothes, but also for his good looks and kind heart. Her people, too, wanted him to marry into the village, wanted a man with his great mystery power to live among them.
And Rabbit Boy had a vision. In it he was wrestling with the sun, racing the sun, playing hand games with the sun - and always winning.
But Iktome, the wicked Spider Man, the mean trickster, prankster, and witch doctor, wanted that beautiful girl for himself. He began to say bad things about Rabbit Boy.
"Look at him," Iktome said, "showing off his buckskin outfit to us who are too poor to have such fine things." And to the men he also said: "How come you're letting him marry a girl from your village ?"
He also told them: "In case you want me to, I have a magic hoop to throw over that Rabbit Boy. It will make him helpless."
Several boys said, "Iktome is right." They were jealous of Rabbit Boy on account of his strange power, his wisdom and generosity. They began to fight him, and Spider Man threw his magic hoop over him. Though it had no effect on Rabbit Boy, he pretended to be helpless to amuse himself.
The village boys and young men tied Rabbit Boy to a tree with rawhide thongs. All the time, the evil Spider Man was encouraging them: "Let's take our butchering knives and cut him up!"
"Friends, kola-pila,.." said Rabbit Boy, "if you are going to kill me, let me sing my death song first." And he sang:
I have fought the sun.
He tried to burn me up,
But he could not do it.
Even battling the sun,
I held my own.
After the death song, the villagers killed Rabbit Boy and cut him up into chunks of meat, which they put in a soup pot.
But Rabbit Boy was not hurt easily. A storm arose, and a great cloud hid the face of the sun, turning everything into black night.
When the cloud was gone, the chunks of meat had disappeared without a trace. But those who had watched closely had seen the chunks forming up again into a body, had seen him going up to heaven on a beam of sunlight.
A wise old medicine man said, "This Rabbit Boy really has powerful medicine: he has gone up to see the sun. Soon he will come back stronger than before, because up there he will be given the sun's power. Let's marry him to that girl of ours."
But the jealous spider, Iktome, said, "Why bother about him? Look at me: I am much more powerful than Rabbit Boy! Here, tie me up too; cut me up! Be quick!"
Iktome thought he remembered Rabbit Boy's song. He thought there was power in it - magic strength. But Iktome did not remember the words right. He sang:
I have fought the moon,
She tried to fight,
But I won.
Even battling the moon,
I came out on top.
They cut Iktome up, as he had told them, but he never came to life again.
The spider had finally outsmarted himself. Evil tricksters always do.
- Told by Jenny Leading Cloud in White River Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota, 1967, and recorded by Richard Erdoes.
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