Ancient stories can teach contemporary life lessons

Storyteller Will Hill uses motions and expressions to illustrate the traditional legends he unfolds.

As anyone who's ever heard a story featuring rabbits knows, the mischievous creatures are prone to trouble.

Rabbits who populate Native American legends are no exception.

Rabbit is only one member of a cast of animal characters in the repertoire of Will Hill, a traditional storyteller of the Nogonugojeeh Society of the Muscogean people. Hill tells three tales - one featuring the rabbit - in a video available now through Eastern Oklahoma Library System on its YouTube channel.

While today's audience can enjoy Hill's storytelling skills online, his talents date to millennia before contemporary technology. As long as time has existed, people have sat around the fire, or under the stars, learning and being entertained by similar yarn spinners.

"Our elders used to teach the young ones about the world and the way it works. They were always a source of fun," Hill said.

Animals portray human strengths and weaknesses as they go about their exploits.

"They would say that animals at one time could talk to humans in the far, far away days," Hill said, adding that dogs are the only ones displaying some of these communications skills today.

Hill told three traditional tales.

The first, featuring Rabbit, is familiar to many through modern interpretations, from Disney to Native legends. Will transformed himself into his rabbit character by twitching his nose and moving his hands like paws.

"He was always trying to find a way to get into trouble and have fun," Hill said.

The tale is set in one summer, when all the water dried up. The animals convened a council and decided to dig a well. The deer volunteered to dig with his antlers; the mole to carry away the dirt. Rabbit refused to dig or take any part in the labor, saying he didn't need the water. The other animals chased him off.

When completed, Rabbit butted into the front of the line with a big container for the water. The animals refused him. They discovered he was sneaking in at night to steal water. They consulted the timber wolf, the great rabbit fighter, for advice.

Hill's voice took on a John Wayne-like tone as he counseled the other animals to make a sticky creature to trap the rabbit when he came to get the water. That's what the other animals did.

That night, when Rabbit came for his water, he saw the sticky creature standing by the water and greeted it. The creature refused to respond, so Rabbit punched it with one paw, then the other, then kicked it. With each blow Rabbit became more entangled in the sticky goo.

The other animals thought they'd won. So they mocked Rabbit, then decided to give him the worst possible punishment -- they flung him in the briar patch. Of course, Rabbit was in his natural element there and ran away, laughing at the others.

The motto: Never take someone on what they say, Hill told his audience.

Hill interspersed his stories with occasional flute music, phrases in Native language, and gestures to accentuate the action, as well as a war cry he taught the listeners. He encouraged his audience to participate with the gestures and outcries.

During the presentation, Hill told two additional tales.

One involved a turtle and possum hunting persimmons. A wolf came along and tried to get the persimmons for himself, but was thwarted by the teamwork of the turtle and possum. The moral of that one: Always pay attention to what's going on around you, otherwise a surprise might jump up and bite you.

The final story dealt with a bear who bullied the other forest animals. He had a big bushy tail, and was quite proud of the tail.

In the winter, the bear saw a fox fishing out of a hole in the ice. The bear demanded the fish. The fox, not wanting the bear to devour all his fish, offered to teach the bear how to fish and the bear agreed.

The fox told the bear to put his tail into the hole to attract the fish, and dig into the ice with all four paws. The bear did so. Gradually his tail and claws became frozen into the ice. The fox pulled the bear's nose and slapped him in the face. In order to get out, the angry bear broke off his tail. He chased the fox, but was so tired he went to sleep. That was the beginning of bears hibernating in the winter.

The moral of that one: Never believe everything you hear.

Eastern Oklahoma Library System has a variety of programs for all ages available on Facebook and YouTube. They are featured on the library's Facebook page and website.

Trending Video