Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a rabbit with four long legs. Rabbit was a beautiful creature. Everyone said so. But the truth was, although Rabbit might be beautiful on the outside, he was not so beautiful on the inside. He was a very lazy creature. He did not do his share at collecting food or taking care of the forest.
One sunny day, Rabbit went in search of a comfortable place to laze. It was such a perfect day. Rabbit looked at the sunlight sparkling off the water in the river. "How cool that looks," Rabbit said to himself. He jumped in. Soon, his legs got tired of pushing him along and keeping him afloat. Rabbit wiggled his nose. "This is too much trouble," he sighed.
Rabbit kicked back to land and looked around. He looked up at the trees. The leaves rustled briskly in the warm breeze. It was a beautiful sound, a bit noisy but peaceful all the same. "Yes," Rabbit nodded to himself. "That's what I need." He easily climbed up the tree. The branches were low which helped as they were heavy with fruit. Rabbit signed happily. This was perfect. There was food to eat simply by reaching out his hand. Except for the monkeys, who were busily picking fruit to take home to their families, no one could see him. He was that hidden in the rustling leaves. So no one would bother him.
The leaves rustled ever more loudly. They seemed to be trying to tell him something, but Rabbit was too lazy to listen. Instead, he looked up at the sky through the rustling leaves above him and sighed happily.
When the breeze picked up and became a strong wind, the monkeys began to swing by on their way home. Each monkey had one arm full of fruit and one arm free to swing from branch to branch. As each monkey passed him, each suggested, " Rabbit, move to a stronger tree branch. That branch is too weak to hold you when the wind is blowing."
"Later, perhaps," Rabbit yawned.
Suddenly, there was a gust of very strong wind. It cracked the branch on which Rabbit was resting in two pieces. One piece stayed on the tree. The other piece, the piece holding Rabbit, fell to the ground, carrying Rabbit with it. The fall was a bad one. Rabbit's two back legs were broken.
Two kind monkeys dropped to his side. "We need to bring this fruit to our families, but we can each offer you one arm. You can hobble between us until we reach the healer. The healer will set your legs so that they heal correctly."
"That's very kind of you," Rabbit smiled. "Maybe tomorrow. Not today. It doesn't hurt that much, really. And besides," Rabbit yawned. "It's peaceful here, under the trees."
Rabbit lazed at the bottom of the trees for nearly a week. The monkeys, the moles, and even the ants brought him food to eat as they scurried past doing whatever monkeys and moles and ants do. The food left by the ants was not very helpful actually, but still, it was very kind of them to offer. Even the rain helped to keep him comfortable. It rained just enough to fill Rabbit's mouth now and then with cool clean water so that he was not thirsty. Rabbit was quite content.
But, when two days went by without rain, Rabbit sighed heavily. The fruit he had been eating provided some moisture, but he began to want a long, cool drink of water. Rabbit stretched and moved to stand up. His eyes widened in surprise. His legs would not straighten. His legs had healed, but they had healed in a crooked way.
"God of the tree," Rabbit cried. "I need your help!'
"I cannot help you," the tree god whispered, sounding like the wind. "You have done this to yourself."
There was no talking to the god of the tree. Rabbit knew that. Tree gods never changed their minds. Besides, he knew he deserved his punishment. He had been incredibly lazy.
But the tree god was not finished. "Because of you, all rabbits everywhere will be born with bent hind legs. From now on and for all time, each rabbit must do their part for their families and for the forests and the meadows. Any rabbit who does not will starve. That includes you, Rabbit. Their bent hind legs will remind them to stay busy."
With a gulp, Rabbit nodded. "I will get to work right away." And so he did. Rabbit put away his lazy ways. He became very quick. He hopped very fast. He never waited. If he had something to do, he did it immediately.
Rabbit stayed very busy for many weeks, but he was lonely. Other rabbits found him a ridiculous sight. Most had not yet discovered that their own children would be born with crooked hind legs, just like Rabbit, and they were not as kind as other animals in the forest, animals like the monkeys and the moles and the ants, who still smiled at Rabbit as they scurried about doing whatever monkeys and moles and ants do to stay busy.
Time passed. One day, Rabbit hopped by the home of the tree god. At the foot of the tree, he found a beautiful rabbit collecting fruit that had fallen from the tree. She smiled gently at Rabbit. He stopped and helped her collect food. In the way of rabbits, it was not long before she happily agreed to become his wife. "Thank you tree god," Rabbit whispered as they hopped away, together.
Rabbit and his wife had many children. Just like all the other rabbit children all over the world, Rabbit's children and their children and their children were all born with crooked hind legs. "If you have something to do," Rabbit would tell his children, "do it now, or the tree god might bend your front legs too, and then where would you be?"
All the little rabbits shivered at
the horrible thought of it, then ran off to collect food for the
family, just as they did every day.
Why did the other animals bring Rabbit food to eat while Rabbit lazed at the bottom of the tree?
Why didn't Rabbit try to reason with the god of tree?
What is the moral of this story? (There is no right answer. The moral is up to you to decide.)
Why Anansi Has Eight Thin Legs (ancient story retold by Lin Donn)
The Lion's Whisker (ancient story retold by Lin Donn)
Why Rabbit Has Crooked Back Legs (ancient story retold by Lin Donn)