Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider and the Other Beef: West African Folk Tales | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in October 2018 with all known ATU Classifications.

Spider, Elephan' En Pawpawtámus

"HANGRY tem (famine) done ketch dis Africa. [1] All dem beef no get no yeat, de country dry too much. Well, Spider he en Elephan' meet up one day. Spider tell Elephan', 'How do.' Elephan' answer um, 'Tankee,' en he say:

               "'Fren', how yo' do fo'get yeat? Mese'f no get notting, de country dry too much.'

               "Spider hese'f done po'; hangry duh ketch um bad, but wey (since) he cunnie, he answer Elephan', he say:

               "'Nar true de place dry, but I t'ink I go soon be able fo' fine yeat fo' mese'f en me famble.'

               "Den de Elephan' say: 'Ef yo' fine de place, make yo' come tell me.'

               "Spider say: 'All ret, I 'gree. I kin sorry w'en I look yo' skin, how he leelee so. He no big lek fus' tem; bimeby he no go big pass me yown. Yo' no look lek yo' get 'trenk too much; I t'ink say I able fo' draw yo' f'om de sho' to de wattah.'

               "Elephan' no know say Spider duh pull cunnie, en hese'f de one Spider wan' fo' kill. He answer: 'All ret,' he say: 'Mese'f kin draw yo' f'om dah wattah to dah lan'.'

               "Spider say: 'All ret,' he say he go fine big rope. [2] He go, he duh walker inside bush tay he meet rope big lek pusson head, he duh kare um go to de wattah. He 'tan' up close de sho' tay (till) he meet up wid Pawpawtámus, he tell um, say: 'I kin draw yo' f'om de wattah to de lan'.'

               "Pawpawtámus say: 'Wey t'ing dat yo' duh talk? Yo' leelee too much, I jus' make me fingah so, I kin draw yo'.'

               "Spider say: 'All ret, which tem we go try de fet?'

               "Pawpawtámus answer um, say: 'To-morrow mawnin' make we come try.'

               "Spider 'gree, he say: 'Dah tem I ready, I go gie yo' de rope.'

               "Den he lef, he go tell Elephan' de same word: 'Wen I ready I go gie yo' de rope.'

               "De two beef no know say dat dey two go draw each odder. So Spider bring de rope, he go tie de one end 'pon Elephan', de odder 'pon Pawpawtámus. He tell all two, he say:

               "'Yo' mus' ready; I go draw yo' now.'

               "So Spider hese'f go middle de rope, he begin fo' draw de rope to one side en de odder side fo' gie signal. Den he turn behine one big 'tick; he 'tan' up deh, fo' see wey t'ing go be. Dem two big beef begin fo' pull. Dey draw each odder sotay (until) dey no able; dey done tire fo' draw. De two equal, de one no pass he cumpin (companion) fo' 'trong. Dey draw sotay (until) dey all two die."

               No mere words can convey an adequate impression of the realism and power that Sobah's portrayal gave to this mighty struggle. In unconscious response to the growing intensity of the theme he had risen to his feet, and now became so completely absorbed in the struggle he was depicting, that tone, look, and straining muscle seemed to reflect every phase of the terrible combat, until with the tiring out of the contestants, he too sank back upon his seat as if exhausted.

               It was an effective bit of unstudied eloquence. The long pause that followed was necessary to allow the tension of feeling to sink again to the level of the remainder of the story. Then the narrator went on in a more subdued vein.

               "Spider done satisfy. He look de beef, he say: 'Yo' pass me fo' 'trong, but aintee I pass yo' fo' sense?'

               "Well, he go, he take dem two, he drag dem nah sho'."

               This was a rather surprising feat even for Mr. Spider, and Sobah glanced out of the corner of his eye to see how it was being received. The look on several faces seemed to indicate that credulity was being tested too far. The momentary pause gave Oleemah a chance to protest: "Ah! Daddy, Yo' t'ink say Spider, wey leelee so, able fo' drag dem big, big beef?"

               "Aintee yo' know dat Spider able fo' tote yeat?" Sobah replied. "Ef yeat big lek Elephan' he go tote um. I no care ef anyt'ing fo' yeat how he big, he kin hase (raise) um go, but he lazy fo' wuk. Ef yo' gie um leelee wuk fo' do, he no able." Then he resumed his narrative.

               "Spider shabe (divided) de beef all; he call plenty people fo' tote um, kare um go nah he ho'se. He pay um only leelee bit 'pon dah Elephan'. Spider en he famble lib 'pon de two beef sotay de hangry tem done.

               "Well, dah tern fis' no bin nah de whole wuld. W'en Spider shabe de beef, all de piece he no wan', he t'row 'way nah de wattah; den turn fis'. Nar so Spider make fis' all come nah de wattah."

               This novel account of the "living creatures that the waters brought forth abundantly," did not seem incredible to that simple-minded crew. The water about their boat was alive with fish at the very moment, and if Spider did not make them, who did?

               Hobahky, in whose nostrils the odor of fish-stew was a sweet savor, put his feelings into: "Aintee Spider good man fo' make dem fis' all come fo' we?"

               Oleemah was inclined to give most credit to Spider for the clever ruse by which he secured food for himself and family during the famine.

               Meanwhile the wind had abated, and was shifting to a more favorable quarter. The clouds that had obscured the moon in the earlier evening, had cleared away, and now the moon was shining full and bright. Sobah's experienced eye had been taking in the situation, and after a full survey he decided that, after all, the voyage might safely be resumed.

               Accordingly they set up their little mast, spread the sail, and were soon scudding away in the direction of Freetown, leaving thoughts of Spider to less strenuous hours.



[1] Native lack of management, and shiftlessness in providing for the future by planting a sufficient amount of rice, cause, for the great mass of the people, an annual scarcity of food just preceding the season of ingathering. Add to this the frequent wars, and the occasional devastations by locusts, and the explanation is afforded for the famines so frequently mentioned in the oral literature concerning the animals, the pathetic sharers in the suffering of their human friends.

[2] The native rope is a vine that grows in the jungle, and which is sufficiently strong to serve the purposes of a rope. Fastened to a large stone it even holds a boat at anchor.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Spider, Elephan' En Pawpawtámus
Tale Author/Editor: Cronise, Florence M. & Ward, Henry W.
Book Title: Cunnie Rabbit, Mr. Spider and the Other Beef: West African Folk Tales
Book Author/Editor: Cronise, Florence M. & Ward, Henry W.
Publisher: E. P. Dutton & Co.
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1903
Country of Origin: Sierra Leone
Classification: ATU 291: Deceptive Tug-of-War

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