The very popular Jamaica story of the "cowitch tree" is here combined with another equally popular story. (1) Anansi wins a bet to fell a tree in a cowitch property without scratching himself. (2) He loses the reward by being out-tricked by another fellow whom he has himself hoped to dupe and who pretends that the cow has sunk into the ground all but its tail.
The story occurs in Pamela Smith, 75-77; Milne-Home, 89-90; and a confused version in Jekyll, 29-30. Compare also number 52.
(1) The cowitch idea seems to be late Jamaican. In P. Smith, Anansi picks cocoa-nuts in spite of ants and wasps and gets a cow as reward. In Milne-Home, he cuts down the tree without
brushing off ants, and gets the king's daughter. In number 52, Toad succeeds in cutting down the tree the chips of which return magically to their place, and wins the king's daughter. Generally outside Jamaica, the reward is the king's daughter and the difficulty arises from stinging insects or from a useless weapon.
Compare Barker, 159-161; Tremearne FL 21:353-354; Lenz, 31-32; Harris, Nights, 216-222 and note to 222; Jones, 17; Parsons, Sea Islands, 3.
In Barker, the king promises an elephant to the man who can cut down a tree with a wooden axe. Anansi conceals a steel axe and calls the watcher's attention to various animals at a distance while he uses it.
In Harris, Wolf forbids his daughter to all wooers who slap at mosquitos. Rabbit wins her by describing where his grand-father was speckled.
In Jones, the king will give his daughter to Wolf or Rabbit, whichever will endure the sand-fly longest without slapping it. Rabbit wins by describing the colors on his father's horse.
In Tremearne, the task is to remove a heap of manure without either taking food or spitting, and Spider conceals in his quiver the means to fulfil these needs unsuspected. The story ends as in number 44.
In Lenz, the tree is to be chopped down with a single stroke by the one who wants to marry the daughter.
The test theme of the tree-chopping is familiar to European story. In Grimm, 79, the boy has to hew down a tree with a blunt axe as one of the tasks set by the Water-nix; see Bolte u. Polívka 2:140-146. In Grimm 193, the Drummer has to hew down the tree with an axe of lead and wedges and mallet of tin; see Bolte u. Polívka 3:406-417. The idea of stinging insects or plants as a test of self-control seems to be African and may be suggested by such ceremonial initiations into manhood as are described by Hollis, The Nandi, 54.
In Jamaica, the reward of self-control is not a wife but a cow. This the winner desires to eat entirely by himself. The "whole cow" theme so popular in Jamaica, occurs in 19, 22, 30, and in 6, 7, 11, 21, 23, 24, 25, 34, 39, 132 of this collection, the story turns upon a trick to secure the whole of a common food-supply.
The Foolman episode is told by Milne-Home, 109-113, of Anansi's wife and "Quanqua."
In P. Smith, the very popular "Dry-head" episode accounts for the loss of the cow, as in numbers 22 and 30.
In Barker, Anansi intends to get the cow to himself, but he loses it by the trick of stealing the tied animal. See Parsons, FL 28:411-413.
For the trick of tails in the ground, compare Harris, Nights, 234-236; 247-258; Uncle Remus, 101-103; Christensen, 89-90; JAFL 26: (Hitchiti Indians) 215-216; (General) 30:228; (Cape Verde) 230; 31: (Guatemala) 474; 32: (Virginia) 368; (Georgia) 403.