Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

NOVA Online (click here for NOVA home)
Island of the Spirits
Site Map


Hare Hare
Ainu Legends
Hare

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.

Next: Albatross
Back to Ainu Legends



Photo: Corbis/Tom Brakefield

Origins of the Ainu | Ainu Legends | Find Your Way
Resources | Transcript | Site Map

Editor's Picks | Previous Sites | Join Us/E-mail | TV/Web Schedule
About NOVA | Teachers | Site Map | Shop | Jobs | Search | To print
PBS Online | NOVA Online | WGBH

© | Updated November 2000

Support provided by

For new content
visit the redesigned
NOVA site