Ecuadorian folktale "Tio Tigre y Conejo"
is one version of an African-influenced story told
throughout the Americas.
"Conejo. Muerto," said one, scratching his head
“Why is this rabbit lying dead in the road?” said the
other, holding out his arms and shaking his head.
I listened, I could see that they were skilled storytellers:
They moved in and out of each other’s space like dancers,
telling the tale in tandem, each allowing the other the
spotlight in the crucial part of his story.
But it wasn’t their skill that held my interest.
It was their story.
There was Juan Garcia, an Ecuadorian who had never
previously been in the United States, telling in Spanish
a story that was similar to one I had heard long before
in English. I
had even told it a number of times.
Even with my limited Spanish, I knew that Chuck Kleymeyer
was doing more than translating Garcia’s story. Each told the tale as he had originally heard
it. The rhythm
of their words and movements and the obvious enjoyment
with which they worked suggested they had performed this
way many times before.
As, indeed, they had.
In 1979, Kleymeyer’s work for the development agency
Inter-American Foundation took him to Ecuador.
There he met Garcia.
The men found that they had a mutual interest in
folktales. Garcia had grown up in a traditional culture where storytelling
was still a part of the community’s activities, and Kleymeyer
had been exposed to storytelling in church and summer
camp. As adults,
both had become tellers and collectors. In their sharing, they realized that some of
the stories they had collected were the same.
Their discovery led them to create presentations—such
as the one I was witnessing at the annual storytelling
festival of Voices in the Glen—“not for the heck of it”
but as a way to promote cross-cultural communication and
Garcia’s story was a trickster tale called “Tio Tigre
y Conejo,” or “Uncle Tiger and Rabbit.”
In the tale, Conejo tricks Tio Tigre out of his
possessions by lying in the middle of the road pretending
to be dead. The
first time Conejo lies down in the road, Tio Tigre, tempted
by the prospect of a rabbit dinner but burdened by baskets
of food, leaves the “dead” rabbit in the road.