Tar-Baby - Related Stories

Related Stories

Variations on the tar baby legend are spread in folklore of more than one culture. In the Journal of American Folklore, Aurelio M. Espinosa examined 267 versions of the tar baby story. The mythical West African hero Anansi is recorded as once being similarly trapped. In a Spanish language version told in the mountainous parts of Colombia, an unnamed rabbit is trapped by the "Muñeco de Brea" (tar doll). A Buddhist myth tells of Prince Five-weapons (the Future Buddha) who encounters the ogre Sticky Hair in a forest.

The tar baby theme is present in the folklore of various tribes of Meso-America and of South America: it is to be found such stories as the Nahuatl (of Mexico) "Lazy Boy and Little Rabbit" (González Casanova 1946, pp. 55–67), Pipil (of El Salvador) "Rabbit and Little Fox" (Schultes 1977, pp. 113–116), and Palenquero (of Colombia) "Rabbit, Toad, and Tiger" (Patiño Rosselli 1983, pp. 224–229). In Mexico, the tar baby story is also found among Mixtecs Zapotecs, and among the Popoluca. In North America, the tale appears in White Mountain Apache lore as "Coyote Fights a Lump of Pitch". In this story, white men are said to have erected the pitch-man that ensnares Coyote.

According to James Mooney in "Myths of the Cherokee", the tar baby story may have been influenced in America by the Cherokee "Tar Wolf" story, which is unlikely to have been derived from similar African stories: "Some of these animal stories are common to widely separated tribes among whom there can be no suspicion of influences. Thus the famous "tar baby" story has variants, not only among the Cherokee, but also in New Mexico, Washington, and southern Alaska—wherever, in fact, the pine supplies enough gum to be molded into a ball for uses...". In the Tar Wolf story, the animals were thirsty during a dry spell, and agreed to dig a well. The lazy rabbit refused to help dig, and so had no right to drink from the well. But she was thirsty, and stole from the well at night. The other animals fashioned a wolf out of tar and placed it near the well to scare the thief. The rabbit was scared at first, but when the tar wolf did not respond to her questions, she struck it and was held fast. Then she struggled with it and became so ensnared that she couldn't move. The next morning, the animals discovered the rabbit and proposed various ways of killing her, such as cutting her head off, and the rabbit responded to each idea saying that it would not harm her. Then an animal suggested throwing the rabbit into the thicket to die. At this, the rabbit protested vigorously and pleaded for her life. The animals threw the rabbit into the thicket. The rabbit then gave a whoop and bounded away, calling out to the other animals "This is where I live!".

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