4: The Song the Rabbit Sang

Sampaya Terke
Running through valley after valley
I’d follow my big brother up to the mountains, playing together.
Every day I’d follow him, and sometimes
There’d be crossbow traps set by the humans[1]
And he would break them and I would always laugh.
But one day, out of the blue,
Suddenly my big brother was shouting and screaming –
He’d been caught by a trap.
I was horrified and ran to his side
And through his pain he said:

“Little brother, right now
You have to run quickly
When you get back to our village
Shout as loudly as you can:

I heard him,
I said “Yes sir,”
Running through valley after valley
I arrived back at our village.
There, I remembered what my big brother had told me to do
I prepared my very loudest voice
But the words he’d told me to say
Had somehow completely slipped my mind. I stood around
Trying to think what they could have been, but it was useless.
And so once more
Running through valley after valley
I hopped all the way back again
But when I got back to where I’d left my big brother
There was nobody –
Only the marks of my brother’s blood.

(Here, the action shifts to the older rabbit)

Ketka woiwoi ketka, ketka woiwoi ketka
Every day I’d go up into the mountains
Breaking the humans’ crossbow traps;
That was just the normal way to amuse myself.
One day I found a crossbow trap set in my path
But just next to it there had also been set
A little crossbow made of wormwood.
I said to myself,
“Whatever does this do?”
And because it was so unusual
I thought I’d try touching it and running away.
And completely unawares
I was utterly caught in the trap
Beyond any hope of escape.
The more I struggled to get free
The tighter it gripped me – there was nothing I could do.[2]
I wept, and someone came running to my side –
My little brother. I was overjoyed; I gave him a message
For our family, to come and help.
But no matter how long I waited, no-one came.
I wept again and someone came to me –
A human appeared. He was a youth
As beautiful as a god, smiling broadly.
He picked me up and took me away
To a big house, filled with sacred treasures.
That young man built a fire,
He prepared a great iron pot, he took down a cleaver
He cut my body apart as if he were slicing leather
Filled the pot with me, and under it
He lit the fire.
I was desperate to escape,
I searched for some kind of weak spot in this man;
There was none, and not for a second
Did he take his eyes off me.
“The pot will boil and I will boil inside it,
Whatever I do I’ll die a pointless death, a horrible death,”
I thought. I waited for the young man to do something careless,
And at last, in the form of a slice of my own flesh,
I scrambled up, reached the rim, and concealed by steam,
Jumped down onto the left-hand seat,
Threw myself quickly through the door,
Fled breathlessly, weeping as I ran
Back to my own village
Where I calmed myself down.

Looking back on it,
What I thought was just a human, just a youth,
Was surely Okikirmui, godlike in strength.
That’s who it was, all right.
By disarming his traps every day
Thinking an ordinary human had set them
I had angered Okikirmui, making him set
His wormwood arrows against me.

But as I am no mere insignificant god,
And because it would be a shame if I died
A pointless death, a horrible death,
He took pity on me
And when I fled he did not pursue me.
And thus, ever since,
Because I couldn’t resist meddling,
Whereas rabbits were as big as deer before
We’ve become as small as a single slice of meat.
All of my kind from now on
Are going to have to be as small as this.
Therefore, rabbits of the future, take heed not to make mischief!

So said the Chief of Rabbits as he died.

[1] The trap is a yuwari, a rather sophisticated trap used by the Ainu which consists of a crossbow firing a barbed harpoon into any unlucky animal that triggers it.

[2] There might be some confusion in the original story between different kinds of trap; snares were used as well as yuwari.