Jan Carew

Brer Rabbit and Freedom

Brer Rabbit and Tar Baby


Tar-baby is an archetypal symbol of the oppressed—black and indestructible, endowed with the strength and powers of resistance of both male and female.  Its tormentors were themselves worn out raining blows upon its head and in the end the aggressor becomes the victim.  Tar is black, plastic, capable of being poured into any mold; the harder it becomes, the more vulnerable it is, the more easily it can be pounded into dust; its strength lies in appearing to be soft and yielding.  For the slave the rabbit was a communal creature, swift, fragile, cunning, its habit of procreation legendary.  It had survived down the ages when stronger and more ferocious enemies had in their pride rushed into extinction.  The rabbit, too, was gentile, loyal, loving.  Although each warren was a fortress until itself, it lived and survived in groups.

For slaves anxious to conceal their persistent longing for freedom, the animal story was a perfect vehicle.  To those unschooled in the subtleties of an oral tradition in which speech inflections, facial expression, gestures and the infinite variety of feelings that weave themselves in and out of the storyteller’s narrative, animal stories could easily be dismissed as infantile, but because of this, political, historical and cultural messages could be more safely woven into a seemingly amusing or innocuous story.  The storyteller could also implant in every tale the ideas of the moral right of the weak to struggle against the mighty by any means necessary.

Jan Carew, Fulcrums of Change, 84-85







Mural section, Diego Rivera

They plucked our fruit

They cut our branches

They burned our trunk

But they could not kill our roots

Committee of United Campesinos, Guatemala


Culture is a s physical as texture of hair, he of skin, and inflection in speaking one’s language; it is as historical as your mother’s people, their relationship to land and community; it is as traditional as holiday customs or a grandfather’s precise use of tools or language; it is as mythic as symbol and folk tales; it is as spiritual as hope or despair.  Culture is the teacher which instructs us through the voice and eyes of parents or guardians in what it means to be human.  Through folktale, fairytale, or lullaby we learn the ways and values of our people.

In school, official history conveys national culture, which is the story of the dominant culture, the culture of the military, political, and economic dominators—white European culture.  When European culture encountered the culture of the “new world,” a profound clash of worldviews occurred.  Indian and African cultures were subjugated by European culture.  Five hundred years later the suppressed cultures of the Americas have kept alive the cultural vision and values that hold strategic keys to the survival of the earth and the spiritual redemption of the West.  The conquest and its continual legacy exact a cultural price not for the subjugated but also fro the dominant culture.

When the colonizers exterminated the indigenous inhabitants in many regions of the Americas, they severed connections with a vast network of secret tributaries that led into the mainstream of the memory of mankind [sic].  The total reservoir of memory was seriously impoverished by this loss.  The colonizer, reaching into the cultural reserves he believed he had brought with him, discovered that theses were soon exhausted, leaving him with psychic voids that could not be filled.

Jan Carew, Fulcrums of Change, 103


Psychic void and loss of cultural memory confront the West.  How can we recover our identity and cultural meaning without confronting five hundred years of cultural invasion and cultural resistance?  The way to new myths is through the path of truth which uncovers the suppressed history and myths of the defeated.

We live in an age which portends danger and even disaster….the expanding hole in the ozone layer, the “greenhouse effect,’ the accelerating extinction of plant and animal species, and a dozen more….The roots of these problems are cultural in nature.  Humans have been known to inhabit environments for thousands of years with little life-threatening impact.  It is modern Western culture which has created the most alarming of these problems.

The West has achieved world domination.  Western worldviews and political agendas dominate every political capital in the world…Western ideologies, views toward nature, versions of economics, art, literature, popular culture, products, and prejudices are practically universal….The West assumes that, to the extend that other peoples are legitimate, they have the same wants and desires, the same propensity for deviousness and competition, the same or nearly the same ambitions as Westerners….

The West has long erred in the direction of dangerous speculation and absence of respect for the obvious dependency of our species on the world which has in fact created us.  Science and technology could conceivably exist in a cultural environment of respect and reverence with the forces of life designated as nature.  Human knowledge about how natural phenomena function does not necessarily lead to irresponsible behaviors, animal and plant extinction, and the destruction of the biosphere….

The element of our culture which makes a dangerous distance from the natural world is its anthropocentrism—the belief that we are not only different form others, but inherently superior….To recover a relationship to nature we must adopt an art which not only tolerates but celebrates difference and complexity in all things, including life forms and cultures.  The reason whole species of plants and animals are being destroyed is that the West is so anthropocentric that there is simply not enough value placed on other species of life.  Our culture suffers from an inadequate tradition of delight found in things different from ourselves, an inadequate body of stories, images, sounds, and experiences which reinforce that celebration of difference.

John Mohawk, “Toward a Reverence for Nature,” unpublished paper







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