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"The Turtle and the Rabbit Run a Race," #38 Swapping Stories
Bel Abbey, Elton, Louisiana


I'm going to tell you about the story about the Rabbit and the Turtle running a race. They were going to run a race one time. And Rabbit run so fast one time. He liked to run all the time. You know how the rabbit are. He jumped and he run fast and quick, and the turtle can't hardly run, can't hardly move out. They go after the insects, and that's the only time he run fast, I guess.

After a while, he said, "Okay."

But the Rabbit begging to run a race with the Turtle. Turtle said, "No, I can't run now. You're too fast for me. But you can't beat me because I'm running pretty fast all the time." And he said, "Okay, we put that when you're going to run a race."

He said, "All right. Let me know right away." He said, "Let me know right away."

He said, "All right. We'll talk to our people, and we're going to let you know tomorrow morning."

He said, "All right."

And after a while, turtles all get together. Turtles all get together and talk how they going to cheat with the Rabbit. They said, "You know, let's run. We'll run, and go a little ways. They got what they call hill. But it's no hill around here. It's low swamp in here. It's low flat; there's no hills in it. It's called a little mound. We're going to run over the mound and on top of the hill, on the mound. That's where we going to run the race, till there," they said.

Rabbit says, "Okay."

But the turtles talk to themselves, each other. They pick out four turtles. "You start it off first, and hide a little ways out there. And I come out and run a little ways and this one hide. But they're going to come out. And for the last go round, you run first over there in that line." They got four turtles, and they wanted to cheat that rabbit.

When they started off running, the Rabbit jumped and leaped and went off with it. But they find onions and cabbage plants, cabbage farms and onion places. That's where they stopped. They find a good place to eat. So they stop and start eating in there. But the other one had come out. That's where they hide. They come out and started off.

The Rabbit went over there and said, "Where you coming from?"

He said, "Oh, I'm still running. I'm still running."

So the Rabbit passed the second one. After a while, they find mustards, mustard plants. They stop again and start eating. And the other one comes out. The third one comes out. After a while, the Rabbit is through eating, and they start running. Drink water, and he starts running again. He find that Turtle ahead, way ahead. He was way ahead of him. After a while he said, "Oh, how did you pass me?"

He said, "Oh, I'm still running."

After a while, the last one. The last one when they was eating in there, the last one come out first. On the line, they sit down, waiting for the Rabbit. The Rabbit ran over there where there's supposed to be a line in there. And he ran over there, but it's too late. Turtle goes over there first. Rabbit got mad at him. He said, "How did you get here?"

He said, "I run over here."

He said, "No, you don't. You don't pass me."

"I will," he said. Keep arguing, and the Rabbit got mad. He got a stick like this and start beating on top of the back of shell. Break him all up. He tore it all up on the back. That's what you see there now, that's where the marks in there. On the back, the little skulls in there on the back. That's what that's for. They beat him up and they left.

The Turtle was all beat up, broken back, and they laying down. But they calling for help. "Help! Help! I need help!"

What you call it? An ant. An ant heard him. He said, "Somebody need help. Somebody need help somewheres."

"Where?" one said.

"Back in there somewheres," he said.

"Let's go meet him," they said. They all get together and line up, and they all went over to where they needed help. They went over there, and the turtle got hurt. He got beat up.

The third one said, "What you want?"

"I need help. I got beat up. My back is broken. I need somebody help me throw it over. But you eat my fat. I got a little fat in there. That's what I'm going to pay with."

So the ant start eating the fat in there, the blood in there, start sewing him up. Pinch him all together. After that, they got well. That's why the turtle got spots all over him. That's the end of my story. That's my story.


Notes to the Teacher: The story refers to the box turtle, sattapoló, which is marked with lozenges on the shell; thus the story of their origin (GK). This aetiological legend contains many motifs common in both European and Native American traditions. A2412.5.1. Origin of spots on turtle's back; *A2356.2.9. Why tortoise has humpy back; B322.1. Hero feeds own flesh to helpful animal. Many readers will recognize this tale as a close cousin of the famous tale of the hare and the tortoise (AT 275A), but its plot is separately classified as AT 1074, Race Won by Deception: Relative Helpers, in which the contestants are sometimes a rabbit and turtle, but often other animals or even humans. Like AT 200D*, Why Cat Is Indoors and Dog Outside in the Cold, and motif A1671. Why the negro works (see tale #35 in this collection), Bel Abbey's tale describes an ancient race in which the outcome determines the relationship between the contestants for all time. Variants of AT 1074 are widely known among both African Americans and Native Americans. Baer (1981, 44-45) finds African-American versions to be derived principally from Africa (for an example, see Abrahams 1983, 75-78), but the Native American tradition is also rich. Thompson reports variants from sixteen different cultures (1929, 258-59, 359). Published collections suggest that AT 1074 possesses a long history and broad distribution among Native American peoples: see, for example, Lanman's nineteenth-century version (1856, 1:443; reprint in Botkin 1949, 505), in which a turtle races a deer; and a Zapotec version from Oaxaca, in which a toad tricks a rabbit (Boas 1912, 214-15) (CL). For a Spanish-language Isleño version of AT 1074 from St. Bernard Parish, and comments on the Spanish-language tradition of this tale, see tale #194, below, and accompanying note (CL).

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