Anansi is perhaps the best known mythological figure out of Africa. He is a spider trickster god who can appear in any form he wishes, but most often his alternate form is that of a man.
His origins are said to be in the Ashanti tribe of West Africa in what is now Ghana, but he has become a common figure of folklore anywhere connected to where the slave trade went.
If you now hear a rapidly beating heart, and shallow breathing that is simply me trying to get through my Arachnophobia.
I’m not alone for it is one of the most common phobias, but knowing I’m one of a crowd doesn’t make it any easier.
Arachnophobia is an irrational and persistent fear of spiders, or in my case pictures of spiders, or mention of spiders or…
As I was saying Anansi is the most well-known figure of African folktales and myths. I cannot skip him.
Unfortunately, most cultures seem to have spider myths so I will be repeating this exercise in the future with Aunt Nancy, Spider Woman, Anasazi, Arachne, Nareau, Neith, Tsuchigumo, and Jorōgumo.
There are also giant fictional spiders such as Shelob (Tolkien) and Aragog (Rowling) and a number of these creatures in other popular stories such as Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web and the spider from Little Miss Muffet.
Back to Anansi.
In this post I’m only writing about the Ashanti Anansi. The stories of the Ashanti oral tradition are known as Anansesem or “Spider Tales”.
Once there were no stories in the world. Anansi’s father the Sky-God Nyame had them all of them. When Anansi asked for them, he was set the task of capturing 4 dangerous and elusive creatures (python, leopard, hornet, and dwarf).
Anansi tricked all of four and brought them to the Nyame. Nyame rewarded him by making him the god of all stories. Since then all stories have been dubbed “Spider Tales”.
Anansi is also known for trying to keep all of the wisdom of the world sealed in a pot, but he worried it was not safe enough so he tried to take it up a tree. He was not having much success and his son made fun of him and told Anansi how to actually get his hoard of wisdom up the tree.
Anansi dropped the pot and it shattered and spilt the wisdom into a stream and the stream took it to the sea. From the sea, the wisdom spread all around the world, so that there is now a little of it in everyone. I like that sentiment – “a little bit of wisdom in everyone”.
While he is an unpredictable trickster, Anansi is also responsible for creating the sun, the stars and the moon, as well as teaching mankind the techniques of agriculture.
The best one paragraph description of Anansi I have found is from Myths Encyclopedia – “West Africans originally considered Anansi to be the creator of the world. He often acted as a go-between for humans in their dealings with the sky god Nyame, and he supposedly persuaded Nyame to give both rain and the night to people. In most stories, however, Anansi is a crafty and cunning trickster who makes life more enjoyable for himself (or more difficult for others) by fooling humans, other animals, and even the gods themselves, often using his cleverness and knowledge of his victims’ ways of thinking to trick them and achieve his purpose.” – http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Am-Ar/Anansi.html
One of my all-time favorite sources for Anansi and his tales (and you know it’s good if I can appreciate reading about a spider) http://www.angelfire.com/planet/mythguide/anansi.html
So next time you hear a good story remember to thank Anansi.
A thorough look at Anansi http://www.digplanet.com/wiki/Anansi
African Cultural Center folktales http://www.africanculturalcenter.org/5_4_3folktales.html
A great set of Anansi stories for kids http://anansistories.com/index.html
“Will you walk into my parlor?” said the Spider to the Fly.
A random fact to keep everyone with arachnophobia up at night: There are nearly 40,000 species of spiders worldwide.
“The difference between utility and utility plus beauty is the difference between telephone wires and the spider web.” – Edwin Way Teale