Home Page
Louisiana Anthology

Alcée Fortier.
“I. The Elephant and The Whale.” English.

One day Compair Lapin and Compair Bouki were going on a journey together. Compair Lapin often took Bouki with him to make fun of him, and to hear all the news which Bouki knew. When they reached the seashore, they saw something which was very strange, and which astonished them so much that they stopped to watch and listen. It was an elephant and a whale which were conversing together.

“You see,” said Bouki, “they are the two largest beasts in the world, and the strongest of all animals.”

“Hush up,” said Lapin, “let us go nearer and listen. I want to hear what they are saying.”

The elephant said to the whale: “Commère Baleine, as you are the largest and strongest in the sea, and I am the largest and strongest on land, we must rule over all beasts; and all those who will revolt against us we shall kill them, you hear, commère.”

“Yes, compair; keep the land and I shall keep the sea.”

“You hear,” said Bouki, “let us go, because it will be bad for us if they hear that we are listening to their conversation.”

“Oh! I don’t care,” said Lapin; “I am more cunning than they; you will see how I am going to fix them.”

“No,” said Bouki, “I am afraid, I must go.”

“Well, go, if you are so good for nothing and cowardly; go quickly, I am tired of you; you are too foolish.”

Compair Lapin went to get a very long and strong rope, then he got his drum and hid it in the grass. He took one end of the rope, and went to the elephant: “Mister, you who are so good and so strong. I wish you would render me a service; you would relieve me of a great trouble and prevent me from losing my money.”

The elephant was glad to hear such a fine compliment, and he said: “Compair, I shall do for you everything you want. I am always ready to help my friends.”

“Well,” said Lapin, “I have a cow which is stuck in the mud on the coast; you know that I am not strong enough to pull her out; I come for you to help me. Take this rope in your trunk. I shall tie it to the cow, and when you hear me beat the drum, pull hard on the rope. I tell you that because the cow is stuck deep in the mud.”

“That is all right,” said the elephant. “I guarantee you I shall pull the cow out, or the rope will break.”

Compair Lapin took the other end of the rope and ran towards the sea. He paid a pretty compliment to the whale, and asked her to render him the same service about the cow, which was stuck in a bayou in the woods. Compair Lapin’s mouth was so honeyed that no one could refuse him anything. The whale took hold of the rope and said: “When I shall hear the drum beat I shall pull.”

“Yes,” said Lapin, “begin pulling gently, and then more and more.”

“You need not be afraid,” said the whale; “I shall pull out the cow, even if djabe were holding her.”

“That is good,” said Lapin; “we are going to laugh.” And he beat his drum.

The elephant began to pull so hard that the rope was like a bar of iron. The whale, on her side, was pulling and pulling, and yet she was coming nearer to the land, as she was not so well situated to pull as the elephant. When she saw that she was mounting on land, she beat her tail furiously and plunged headlong into the sea. The shock was so great that the elephant was dragged to the sea. “What, said he, what is the matter? that cow must be wonderfully strong to drag me so. Let me kneel with my front feet in the mud.” Then he twisted the rope round his trunk in such a manner that he pulled the whale again to the shore. He was very much astonished to see his friend the whale. “What is the matter,” said he. “I thought it was Compair Lapin’s cow I was pulling.”

“Lapin told me the same thing. I believe he is making fun of us.”

“He must pay for that,” said the elephant. “I forbid him to eat a blade of grass on land because he laughed at us.”

“And I will not allow him to drink a drop of water in the sea. We must watch for him, and the first one that sees him must not miss him.”

Compair Lapin said to Bouki: “It is growing hot for us; it is time to leave.”

“You see,” said Bouki, “you are always bringing us into trouble.”

“Oh! hush up, I am not through with them yet; you will see how I shall fix them.”

They went on their way and after a while they separated. When Compair Lapin arrived in the wood, he found a little dead deer. The dogs had bitten him so that the hair had fallen off his skin in many places. Lapin took off the deer’s skin and put it on his back. He looked exactly like a wounded deer. He passed limping by the elephant, who said to him: “Poor little deer, how sick you look.”

“Oh! yes, I am suffering very much; you see it is Compair Lapin who poisoned me and put his curse on me, because I wanted to prevent him from eating grass, as you had ordered me. Take care, Mr. Elephant, Compair Lapin has made a bargain with djabe; he will be hard on you, if you don’t take care.”

The elephant was very much frightened. He said, “Little deer, you will tell Compair Lapin that I am his best friend; let him eat as much grass as he wants and present my compliments to him.”

The deer met a little later the whale in the sea. “But poor little deer, why are you limping so; you seem to be very sick.”

“Oh! yes, it is Compair Lapin who did that. Take care, Commère Baleine.” The whale also was frightened, and said: “I want to have nothing to do with djabe; please tell Compair Lapin to drink as much water as he wants.”

The deer went on his way, and when he met Compair Bouki he took off the deer’s skin and said: “You see that I am more cunning than all of them, and that I can make fun of them all the time. Where I shall pass another will be caught.”

“You are right indeed,” said Compair Bouki.


  1. Compair Lapin. Brother Rabbit.
  2. Compair Bouki. Brother Hyena.
  3. Commère Baleine. Gossip Whale.
  4. Djabe. We have changed the text back to the Creole “Djabe.” Fortier translated the word as “devil”; the word “djab” is indeed derived from the French word “diable” (devil), but the idea behind the djab is unrelated to the devil in the Christian sense of the word. Instead, it is an earthbound voodoo spirit, a spirit that can be associated with an individual. They are thus like the Djinns (genies) of Islam. The djab can perform various tasks, including draining the life out of the victim. During the Hatian Revolution, they were publically credited with protecting the revolutionaries. They are still in important component of Haitian Vodou among the bokors that conjure them. This djab shows up looking like Papa Ghede or Baron Samedi. (Special thanks to Denise Alvarado for helping with the note.)

Edited by:

  1. Ryan Acheson
  2. Marcus Hall
  3. Bruce R. Magee
  4. Devin Osbourn


Fortier, Alcée, trans. “Compair Bouki and Compair Lapin No. 5.” Louisiana Folk-Tales in French Dialect and English Translation. Ed. Alcee Fortier. Boston: American Folk-Lore Society, 1895. 3-6. Internet Archive. 2005. Web. 25 February 2014. <http:// archive.org/ details/ ajs8769. 0001.001. umich.edu>.

Home Page
Louisiana Anthology