The leftover baskets on store shelves have been chucked; the gigantic rabbit costumes have been folded and tucked away; and the bags of jellybeans and synthetic grass have been marked down 70 percent.
Wait, hold on. Not so fast… Bed-Stuy resident Aisha Cousins begs to differ.
This Sunday, the bunny rabbit celebration continues! Except this installment will highlight another historical hare– one first known throughout the Antebellum South as “Br’er Rabbit.”
Similar to the children’s folklore of the bunny who hides eggs at Easter, Cousins’s “Br’er Rabbit Day” is just as childlike, equally as playful and totally, well… imagined.
“So, I was thinking about what could be possible if we used this fascination with the Easter Bunny, but instead talked about Br’er Rabbit,” said Cousins.
Br’er Rabbit Day is based on the adventures and lessons of Br’er Rabbit (loosely translated as “brother rabbit”) a trickster character who succeeds by his wits rather than physical strength and by manipulating authority and sometimes bending social mores, often in scenarios where he is at a great disadvantage.
The stories are believed to have origins in Ghana and are identical to the West African tales of his cousin, “Anansi the Spider,” which were passed down to American slaves through an oral tradition that speaks to the skill, wisdom and ability to hide certain aspects of culture within speech.
“I found that people saw Br’er Rabbit as a visible symbol of strength and art and the persistence of African culture. And it also came from an opportunity to celebrate things that are essential to the identity of the black community.”
Those things, said Cousins, were creativity, intuition, resourcefulness and a wit strong enough to survive even the toughest of circumstances. Just as these gifts were key to Br’er Rabbit’s success, she said, they were values essential to black people meeting the challenges and life adventures in Africa and the Diaspora.
“It’s one part Black History Month and one part April Fool’s Day,” she said.
Cousins already has held three successful Br’er Rabbit Day celebrations, in 2011, 2012 and 2013, where kids are invited to a play space to do arts and crafts, participate in exercises where they push their imaginations and, of course, hear the ancient Br’er Rabbit stories— passing on the tradition.
Each year, the Br’er Rabbit celebrations grow. The first year attracted a few dozen children. Last year’s celebration garnered 200 participants.
Given the growing popularity of the celebration, the Arts Council awarded Cousins a grant to work with Gather Brooklyn to restructure the event to accommodate more people and help Br’er Rabbit Day develop into a permanent annual event.
This year’s Br’er Rabbit Day community celebration will take place Sunday, April 27 at Freebrook Academy, located at 375 Stuyvesant Avenue, from 12:30pm – 5:30pm.
“Chanel from Ancient Song Doula Services will be running a briar patch sculpture-making station; Freebrook Academy will host a glow-in-the-dark rabbit ears station; Hillary from BreadLove is bringing rabbit cookies,” said Cousins rattling off all of the neighborhood participants. “Karenga from Jakada Juice is leading an African origins food demo; Coire Williams’s art studio is screening a short film he made about trickster characters from around the world…”
The collective groundswell around the project is quite impressive. And children of all backgrounds across Brooklyn are welcomed, Cousins points out.
“…There’ll even be a family photo booth where we’ll help you create your own tall tale about how you celebrate Brer Rabbit Day,” said Cousins, excited. “Taneya from Macon Library’s African American Heritage Center is lending her personal collection of Brer Rabbit books, to make a mini reference library reading room; Crystal from Brownstone Books offered to sponsor snacks… “
“Making a holiday from scratch is a great way to think critically about holidays,” said Cousins. “More importantly, the inventors of these holidays have little to do with why or how we celebrate them now. We celebrate because people we respected told us to. We celebrate however they did.
“Celebrating a holiday is like voting for it to continue. And sharing your celebration with younger folks in your family or community plants the seeds for how future generations will celebrate.”
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