Tag Archives: Tar Baby

Quote of the Day – March 24 2012

“Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.”
— Virginia Woolf

Possibly the imperceptibility of these attachments is why we allow fiction to reflect our lives more accurately sometimes than the ‘true’ stories that we tell…
Tonight I’ve been reading some of the mythological stories about Anansi, the spider, a trickster deity from West African and American folklore. Not terribly surprising, I found that a rather famous story that I’ve recounted here before, one that Uncle Remus told about Br’er Rabbit, was originally about Anansi

Anansi and the Tar-Baby

Once Mrs. Anansi had a large feed. She planted it with peas. Anansi was so lazy he would never do any work. He was afraid that they would give him none of the peas, so he pretended to be sick. After about nine days, he called his wife an’ children an’ bid them farewell, tell them that he was about to die, an’ he ask them this last request, that they bury him in the mids’ of the peas-walk, but firs’ they mus’ make a hole thru the head of the coffin an’ also in the grave so that he could watch the peas for them while he was lying there. An’ one thing more, he said, he would like them to put a pot and a little water there at the head of the grave to scare the thieves away. So he died and was buried.

All this time he was only pretending to be dead, an’ every night at twelve o’clock he creep out of the grave, pick a bundle of peas, boil it, and after having a good meal, go back in the grave to rest. Mistress Anansi was surprised to see all her peas being stolen. She could catch the thief no-how. One day her eldest son said to her, “Mother, I bet you it’s my father stealing those peas!” At that Mrs. Anansi got into a temper, said, “How could you expect your dead father to rob the peas!” Said, “Well, mother, I soon prove it to you.” He got some tar an’ he painted a stump at the head of the grave an’ he put a hat on it.

When Anansi came out to have his feast as usual, he saw this thing standing in the groun’. He said, “Good-evening, sir!” got no reply. Again he said, “Good-evening, sir!” an’ still no reply. “If you don’ speak to me I’ll kick you!” He raise his foot an’ kick the stump an’ the tar held it there like glue. “Let me go, let me go

sir, or I’ll knock you down with my right hand!” That hand stuck fast all the same. I’ll you don’ let me go, I’ll hit you with my lef’ hand!” That hand stick fas’ all the same. An’ he raise his lef’ foot an’ gave the stump a terrible blow. That foot stuck. Anansi was suspended in air an’ had to remain there till morning. Anansi was so ashamed that he climb up beneath the rafters an’ there he is to this day.
Stanly Jones, Claremont South Ann from  Jamaican Anansi Stories collected by Martha Warren Beckwith

I’ve always loved this story and for me it provides a great metaphor for what happens when we dislike something, the more we strike out at it, the harder we stick Blessings, G

Click on image to see full-size
Cosmic Web Mandala by G A Rosenberg

Legends and Stories-Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby

This article start another occasional series on this blog. One in which I intend to either tell or reprint an old tale or legend. It seems to me that many of the old stories that I grew up with are being forgotten and anyway i have of keeping them alive I will. Especially if it illustrates a point.

I just spent two hours combing articles that would explain to me why this story might or might not be racist. Was it a story told by slaves in the American South prior to The War Between the States. From what I understand yes. Were the story later collected by a white man and presented to the populace as told by a kindly old former slave named Uncle Remus. The answer once again would be yes. However, I also would answer yes to whether or not the character that people hearing the story  was smarter and wiser than any other character in the story.

On top of that I can’t think of a better analogy for the way many people deal with questions of ego and negativity than this story. If any of you find it reprehensible that I tell this story, my apologies.

Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby

(adopted from a story by Joel Chandler Harris, itself adopted from African American folktales)

Br’er Rabbit was always playing tricks on the other animals and getting them to do what he wanted and Br’er Fox had had enough. He decided he was going to teach that rabbit a lesson if it was the last thing he did.

Br’er Fox finally came up with a plan. He got some tar and he mixed it with turpentine and he put it into the shape of a baby. He stuck clothes and a hat on it and put it right in Br’er Rabbit’s path.

A little while later Br’er Rabbit came hopping along.

Seeing a strange on his path. Br’er Rabbit said “Hey, what’s up?” The stranger did not reply

Trying again, Br’er Rabbit said “Nice weather, we’re having.” Still no answer

“Well ya don’t have to be so rude, if you don’t want to talk, fine, just move aside so I can pass”

Still no answer

Getting impatient and angry Br’er Rabbit pushed the tar baby, only to find his hands wer stuck.

He couldn’t move

“Let me go, let me go, or I’ll give you such a kick” and he did.

His foot got stuck too.

Br’er Fox came out from behind the bush. He was laughing fit to bust a gut. “Now what do we have here, you seem stuck.”

Br’er Rabbit looked a bit scared as he knew that Br’er Fox had quite a few scores to settle with him.

“Hey Br’er Fox, I don’t suppose you’d help me out of here”

“Are you kidding? The only thing I’ll help you to is an early grave.”

“OK I understand, but do it with your gun or pluck my fur out or something. Just please… please… don’t….”

“Don’t what?” Br’er Fox said, a mite suspicious but wondering just how good his revenge might be

“Please whatever you do don’t toss me into the briar p-p-patch!”, Br’er Rabbit shuddered and with his eyes he pleaded.

“Why would I do that?”

“No, No, you couldn’t be so cruel! you wouldn’t, to heave me into the briar patch, that I’m so afraid of stuck to this monstrosity where I’d starve”

Br’er Fox smiled and laughed an evil laugh”

“Heh heh heh, OK into the briar patch you go” He picked up Br’er Rabbit, Tar Baby and all and heaved him into the Briar Patch

Br’er Rabbit screamed and it was music to Br’er Fox’s ears. The music hit a jarring note a few moments later when the screaming turned to laughter.

Br’er Rabbit said as he ran past, “Thank you kindly, Br’er Fox, I was born and bred in the briar patch, born and bred and know it to be the perfect place to get stuff unstuck from you”

Br’er Fox just beat his head again the ground.

Whenever people start talking to me about killing off their egos or not dealing with their egos, ego bad, materialism bad, gotta get rid of it, I get reminded of this story. It seems to me that the things in ourselves that we fight against the most become our own personal tar babies, the more we strike out at them and try to kill them off, the more we attach ourselves to them in a negative way.
It is only when we focus on other things that we are able to free ourselves.

Stray Thought: I think it is a reasonable bet that Bugs Bunny has some common origins with Br’er Rabbit. I wonder how many of this contemporary Warner Brothers and Disney cartoons do also?