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Br'er Rabbit's dream, from Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings: The Folk-Lore of the Old Plantation, 1881.

Br'er Rabbit (also spelled Bre'r Rabbit or Brer Rabbit or Bruh Rabbit, with the title "Br'er" pronounced /ˈbrɛər/) is a central figure in the Uncle Remus stories of the Southern United States. He is a trickster character who succeeds through his wits rather than through strength, tweaking authority figures and bending social mores as he sees fit. The origin of Br'er Rabbit is linked to both Cherokee and African cultures.


Cherokee origins

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.[1]

Rabbit/Hare myths abound among Algonkin Indians in Eastern North America, particularly under the name Nanabozho, 'Great Hare', who is generally regarded as supreme deity among tribes in eastern Canada. "It appears that Joel Chandler Harris, when he wrote them, did not realize that his Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Fox were originally Cherokee inventions."

In the Cherokee tale of the Briar Patch, "the fox and the wolf throw the trickster rabbit into a thicket from which the rabbit quickly escapes"

There was a "melding of the Cherokee rabbit-trickster ... into the culture of African slaves." (That the People Might Live : Native American Literatures and Native American Community, p. 4) "In fact, most of the Br'er Rabbit stories originated in Cherokee myths."[2]

African origins

Br'er Rabbit from The Tar-Baby, by Joel Chandler Harris, 1904.

The stories can also be traced back to trickster figures in Africa, particularly the hare that figures prominently in the storytelling traditions in Western, 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 (see Anansi), though the plots of spider tales are often identical to those of rabbit stories.[3]

Many have suggested that the American incarnation, Br'er Rabbit, represents the enslaved African who uses his wits to overcome circumstances and to exact revenge on his adversaries, representing the white slave-owners. Though not always successful, his efforts made him a folk hero. However, the trickster is a multi-dimensional character. While he can be a hero, his amoral nature and lack of any positive restraint can make him a villain as well. For both Africans and African Americans, the animal trickster represents an extreme form of behavior which people may be forced to emulate 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]

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

The American version of the story is said to have originated among slaves at Laura Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana. Br'er Rabbit stories were written down by Robert Roosevelt, uncle of President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt wrote in his autobiography, about his aunt from 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, who wrote up and published many of the stories which were passed down by oral tradition. Harris also attributed the birth name, Riley, to Br'er Rabbit. Joel Chandler Harris heard the tales in Georgia. Very similar versions of the same stories were recorded independently at the same time by folklorist Alcée Fortier in southern Louisiana, where the Rabbit character was known as Compair Lapin in Creole French. The stories were retold for children by Enid Blyton, the English children's writer.

The word "Br'er" in his name (and in those of other characters in the stories) reflects the habit of addressing another man as "brother" in many African cultures. While modern Americans generally pronounce the second 'r' in Br'er, the original pronunciation was "Bruh" or "Buh." When Joel Chandler Harris spelled "Br'er" with an 'er' at the end of the word, he was indicating the Southern pronunciation of the final 'er' as in "brothuh" (brother), sistuh (sister), or faa'muh (farmer).

Modern interpretations

Eatonton, Georgia's statue of Br'er Rabbit.

The 1946 Disney film Song of the South is a frame story based on three Br'er Rabbit stories, "The Laughing Place", "The Tar Baby", and "The Briar Patch". In contrast to character's depiction in the earlier illustrations of Frederick S. Church, A. B. Frost, and E. W. Kemble, the Br'er Rabbit of the Disney film is designed in a more slapstick, cartoony style.[5] Disney comics starring that version of Br'er Rabbit have been done since 1945.[6]

The Magic Kingdom and Disneyland thrill rides, both known as Splash Mountain, have a Br'er Rabbit theme. Brer Rabbit also appears at the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts for meet-and-greets, parades and shows. He also has a cameo appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and appears as one of the guests in House of Mouse.

In 1975, the stories were retold for an adult audience in the cult film Coonskin, directed by Ralph Bakshi. A direct-to-video film based on the stories, The Adventures of Brer Rabbit, was released in 2006.

For many years, a popular brand of molasses called "Brer Rabbit" was distributed by Penick & Ford Ltd.[7] The brand is currently distributed by B&G Foods of New Jersey.

The 1972 novel Watership Down features the character El-ahrairah, whom the author suggests is based on Br'er.

In 1981, American composer, pop lyricist and musical auteur Van Dyke Parks wrote a Broadway Musical based on the Brer Rabbit Tales. It was offered as a pop album, but never produced.

The 1998 film Star Trek: Insurrection made a reference to Br'er Rabbit. The region of space where the film takes place is called the Briar Patch. Whilst fighting off enemy ships, Commander William Riker said he was going to "use the Briar Patch the way Br'er Rabbit did..."

The Philadelphia experimental chamber pop band Br'er is named after Br'er Rabbit.

In Oakwood theme park a ride is called Br'er Rabbit's burrow.

In the popular Hip-Hop band The Flobots, one of Emcees names is Br'er Rabbit.

The Tar Baby

The tar baby was a trap – a figure made of tar – used to capture Br'er Rabbit in a story which is part of American plantation folklore. Br'er Fox played on Br'er Rabbit's vanity and gullibility to goad him into attacking the fake baby and becoming stuck. A similar tale from African folklore in Ghana has the trickster Anansi in the role of Br'er Rabbit. In Southern black speech in the 19th century, the word "baby" referred to both a baby and a child's doll. Thus, the expression "tar baby" meant a tar doll or tar mannequin. The story was originally published in Harper's Weekly by Robert Roosevelt; years later Joel Chandler Harris wrote of the tar baby in his Uncle Remus stories. The phrase is considered by most Americans to be an ethnic slur.

Although sometimes misunderstood to be made-up, words such as "copperosity" and "segashuate" used in The Tar Baby are representative of the African-American vernacular pronunciations of the words "corporosity" and "sagaciating."[8]

See also


External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010
(Redirected to Brer Rabbit article)

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Alternative spellings


Abbreviation of Brother Rabbit

Proper noun

Brer Rabbit


Brer Rabbit

  1. The hero of the Uncle Remus stories.
    • 2000, Bill Mann, "Microsoft Ain't AT&T", The Motley Fool, May 9, 2000
      who believe that Microsoft actually wants to be broken up (the Brer Rabbit solution),
  2. Any specific rabbit; used to personify a rabbit in a story
    • 2005, Alan Hamilton, "How Chester the labrador was caught on hop by a wily bunny", The Times, September 27, 2005
      BRER RABBIT came pacing down the road, lippity-clippity, clippity-lippity, just as sassy as a jaybird. And then he saw Chester the dog, who might just as well have been Brer Fox.
  3. Any trickster, or unusually quick and clever, figure.
    • 1892, Henry Lucy, A Diary of the Salisbury Parliament, 1886-1892[1], page 34:
      Mr. Smith, the Brer Rabbit of House of Commons Leaders, "lay low and said nuffin."
    • 1914, William Edgar Sackett, Modern Battles of Politics[2], volume 2, page 308:
      He was the "Br'er Rabbit" of politics — he lay low so that the hunters of the other side could not see him to point their guns at him.
    • 2006, Mike Gaddis, Zip Zap[3], ISBN 0811701964, page 180:
      It was the combination of a super-smooth shooting dog of radiant style and talent, and a Br'er Rabbit handler that stayed one bounce ahead of the fox.


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See also

Simple English

File:Brer Rabbit dream,
Br'er Rabbit's dream, from Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings: The Folk-Lore of the Old Plantation, 1881.

Br'er Rabbit (also spelled Bre'r Rabbit or Brer Rabbit or Bruh Rabbit, with the title "Br'er" pronounced /ˈbrɛər/) is an important character in the Uncle Remus stories in the Southern United States. He is a tricky character, and usually wins or escapes because he is clever, not because he is strong.

Br'er Rabbit came from both African and Cheroke cultures. Disney later used the character for their The Song of the South.

In a Cherokee story, "the fox and the wolf throw the trickster rabbit into a thicket from which the rabbit quickly escapes."[1] There was a "melding (mixing) of the Cherokee rabbit-trickster ... into the culture of African slaves."[2] "In fact, most of the Br'er Rabbit stories originated in (came from) Cherokee myths."[3]


  1. Latin American Indian literatures journal (Dept. of Foreign Languages at Geneva College) 6: 10. 1990. 
  2. That the People Might Live: Native American Literatures and Native American Community, p. 4)
  3. "Cherokee Place Names in the Southeastern U.S., Part 6 « Chenocetah’s Weblog". 2007-11-12. Retrieved 2010-07-03. 

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