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The Rabbit Dance
- according to the oral traditions of the Iroquois people

See Also: Tales of the Iroquois


In a wild section of the Adirondack Mountains, there camped a hunting party of Mohawks. During the Leaf-Falling Moon (around October) many of the Mohawks left their main villages along the Mohawk River, and traveled north to the mountains where the hunting was good. There, in the heavily-forested mountain valleys, the hunters would store up deer meat and deer skins for winter use. When a goodly supply had been gathered, the people followed the hunting trails south to the main Mohawk settlements. Some of the hunters usually remained in the mountains during the winter months because of the good trapping of fur-bearing animals in that region. Beaver skins were valuable for trade even before the white man came with his guns and fire-water to exchange for them.

In this particular hunting camp lived two little boys. One was called Onowara (the Turtle) and the other was nicknamed Oweya (the Wing).

Early one morning while the hunters were making preparations for a deer drive, the Turtle and the Wing set out on a little exploring trip of their own. In their hands, they carried their little bows. A quiver of arrows was strapped across each of their backs. The little boys walked on and on through the forest. They walked silently and were very careful not to make any noise, for their eyes were on the lookout for game. Perhaps they could surpise a chipmunk or a squirrel. After walking quite a distance from camp, they came to a little clearing in the Pines. As they approached this clearing, they noticed little trails or paths running into it. These, they knew, were rabbit runways so they tightened their grip on their bows and were more on the alert for game. The boys walked to the center of the clearing and looked around for Rabbits.

Suddenly, there was a loud thumping sound. It seemed to come from the ground. Looking ahead, the boys, to their amazement, saw a huge brown rabbit. The huge creature was as large as the boys. It stood for a few moments looking at the little Mohawks. Turtle and Wing fogot all about hunting rabbits - never before had they seen such a huge rabbit. At first, they were frightened, but as the Rabbit made no move to harm them, their fears left them.

After looking the boys over, the Rabbit again thumped the ground with his hind legs. Immediately, a long line of Rabbits appeared, running rapidly down one of the runways. Quickly they approached the clearing, where to the surprise of the two boys, they performed all sorts of queer antics. There seemed to be hundreds of Rabbits. There was an endless line of Rabbits running, hopping, skipping, and chasing each other down the narrow rabbit path and into the clearing. They seemed to be everywhere and all were very frolicsome as they hopped and skipped about. Sometimes they seemed to be playing the game, "Follow the Leader."

They ran here and there, several in a line, all following one Rabbit. Occasionally, they ran in circles, hopping and kicking as they went. Meanwhile, the large chief Rabbit remained near the boys. He watched his lively People, but in no way did he take part in the rabbit games except to stand guard.

As the boys watched the Rabbits skip and hop around them, they forgot their fear of the big chief Rabbit. Boylike, they wanted to play tag with the Rabbits. Turtle made a grab for one of the Rabbits, and when he missed him, set out in pursuit. Wing also forgot the big chief Rabbit and joined the chase.

Without warning, a loud thump! Thump! THUMP! was heard. The big chief Rabbit was warning his People. Immediately every Rabbit stopped still in his tracks! They seemed to be frozen to the ground, so motionless did they become. The now startled boys ceased their running and gazed in fright at the big Rabbit. The chief Rabbit gave two more thumps. Immediately, the other Rabbits jumped into action! Following each other in single file, they left the clearing and disappeared up the runway from where they had come.

The big chief Rabbit waited until the last Rabbit had left the clearing. Then giving a final thump, he too hopped up the rabbit trail and was soon lost to view.

The two boys were very surprised at what they had seen. Quickly, they returned to the hunting camp where they told their father what they had seen. Their father laughed and said they were good story tellers. But their wise old Grandfather said that the boys were fortunate to have seen what had happened.

"You saw the Rabbit Dance," said he. "The Rabbits, like the People, have their own trails and their own council ground. They hold councils and move from place to place. They have secret signals which are given by thumps on the ground with their hind legs. Very few people have seen the Rabbit Dance, and those who are so fortunate as to have seen it usually become very good hunters. The big Rabbit that you saw was the big chief Rabbit, and he was watching over his People," and the Old Man wisely shook his head as he went back into the bark house.

(The correct pronounciation of the Adirondakcs, in Mohawk, is Ah-dee-LOON-dacks)

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