Ainu hare-ry legends

The Smithsonian Institution has recorded (Guide to the Carl Etter Papers and Photographs on Ainu Folklore) an Ainu legend of  “The hare god who came down to earth and got the Ainu to include the hares on their list of gods to whom sake should be offered” … while Basil Hall Chamberlain a version of the origin of the snow-hare god in his Aino Folk-Tales, the account of which goes like this:

The Origin of the Hare.

   Suddenly there was a large house on the top of a mountain, wherein were six people beautifully arrayed, but constantly quarrelling. Whence they came was unknown. Thereupon Okikurumi came and said: “Oh! you bad hares! you wicked hares! who does not know your origin? The children in the sky were pelting each other with snowballs, and the snowballs fell into the world of men. As it would be a pity to waste anything that falls from the sky, the snowballs were turned into hares, and those hares are you. You, who dwell in this world, which belongs to me, should not quarrel. What is it that you are making such a noise about?”

With these words, Okikurumi seized a fire-brand, and beat each of the six with it in turn. Thereupon all the hares ran away. This is the origin of the hare[-god]; and for this reason the body of the hare is white because made of snow, while its ears—which are the place where it was charred by the fire-brand,—are black.—(Translated literally. Told by Penri, 10th July, 1886.)”

Hares are considered lucky amulets in many parts of the world, and also with the Ainu people.


Why you should hang the front paws of hares – but never the hind ones – over your door
That the Ainu use the skulls of a great many animals and birds, notably those of bears, foxes, bats, falcons, owls, kites, and the albatross, as fetishes, is patent to all who have carefully observed their customs. They also use the forefeet of hares and falcons’ claws in this cult. It is no uncommon thing to see the forepaws of hares hanging over the doorways and windows of huts. On making inquiry as to the reason and use of this, I find they are placed there as charms against contagious disease. They are supposed to be very effectual in preventing such scourges as small-pox and measles from entering a hut and attacking a family.

Thus we have another proof that even disease as well as animal and vegetable life was conceived of as closely connected with spirit. The people appear to believe that the spirit of the demon of disease walks in at the doors and windows of houses. But for some reason or other this spirit does not like the forepaws of hares and will not come near a place where even a single paw is to be seen….

In order to render themselves further proof against this evil spirit of sickness, they sometimes take the foot and gently scratch themselves with the claws. Or should one have already caught a complaint, a gentle scratching with the claw is supposed to work wonders in driving out the disease and effecting a cure. Curiously enough, the hind-feet are not supposed to have any power at all, and are therefore thrown away.”

Source: Ainu Legends, Hare Nova online

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