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Anansi
Anansi
Biographical Information
Name

Anansi

Meaning

Spider (Ananse)[1]

Gender

Male

Species

Spider

Familial Information
Family

Unnamed wife
Unnamed son
Unnamed mother-in-law

Media Information
Appears

Rafiki Remembers

I would like all the stories that are told about you to be told about me instead.
—Anansi to the Sky God

Anansi is a male spider. He is the most prominent figure in his culture, being the subject of most folk tales.

Long ago, most tales were told about the Sky God, but Anansi asked to be made the subject of these stories instead. The Sky God relented, but only if Anansi could complete three difficult tasks: bring him a swarm of bees, a python, and a leopard. Despite his small size, Anansi was clever and managed to fulfill all three tasks. At their completion, the Sky God gave up his title to Anansi, who became the new subject of most tales.

Biography

Stealing the Sky God's title

Anansi begs the Sky God to let all the stories told about the god instead be told about Anansi. The Sky God agrees, but only if Anansi brings him a swarm of bees, a python, and a leopard. Anansi agrees and goes home to think.

Anansi bees

Anansi traps a swarm of bees in a gourd to take to the Sky God

For the first task, Anansi puts a drop of honey in an empty gourd and carries it around until he encounters a swarm of bees. After telling the bees that his friend doesn't believe that a swarm of bees can fit inside the gourd, the bees prove it to him by flying inside, and Anansi shuts them in and takes them to the Sky God. Next, Anansi cuts himself a long stick and tells a python that his friend believes that pythons and cobras are about equal in length. Indignant, the python stretches out to his full length and lets Anansi tie him to the stick to stop him from squirming. With the python captured, Anansi carries him to the Sky God.

Now on the final task, Anansi digs a hole and waits for a leopard to fall into it. When a leopard at last falls for the trap, Anansi ties his feet to a stick to help him out of the hole. However, instead of letting the leopard free, Anansi takes him to the Sky God, who finally grants him his wish.

Learning to weave

Anansi weaves

Anansi learns to weave using a mysterious stranger's loom

During a hunt, Anansi falls asleep at the foot of a tree. He awakes to find a beautiful piece of cloth next to him, which he takes home and sells at a good price. The next day, he returns to the foot of the tree to see if he can spot the weaver of the cloth, but no one is there. Once again, Anansi falls asleep and awakes to find a beautiful piece of cloth next to him, this one even more beautiful than the last.

Anansi continues to visit the spot, hoping to catch sight of the weaver, until one day, he hears singing. He follows the voice to where a little man swings before a loom that is suspended between two trees and watches him for a time. Soon after, Anansi returns to the tree and falls asleep. Upon awakening, he finds another beautiful piece of cloth next to him.

The spider is so enthralled by the cloth that he resolves to weave some himself. The next day, he listens intently to the little man, who sings to weave and halts his work with a magic word. Once the man departs, Anansi climbs onto the loom and begins to weave using the little man's song. Though at first unsure of himself, Anansi eventually picks up the little man's talent and begins to swing wildly from the loom, weaving his own silken thread. His antics become so wild that he swings far over the waters, away from Africa, where his descendants still weave to this day.

Sharing knowledge with the world

Anansi gourd

Anansi spreads knowledge throughout the world

Anansi believes himself to possess the greatest knowledge in the world, making him the smartest of all the creatures. In order to keep this knowledge to himself, Anansi locks it away in a gourd and proceeds to hide it in a corner of the ceiling, where none of the other animals can reach it.

As he is climbing to the top of the ceiling, Anansi is approached by his son, who notices his father struggling to carry the gourd. The young spider suggests his father swing the gourd over his shoulder in order to put the weight behind him, and Anansi gratefully takes the youngster's advice. As the older spider climbs, however, he realizes that his son has just taught him something that he did not know; thus, Anansi is no longer the chief champion of knowledge.

In a split-second decision, the spider reaches the top of the ceiling and turns the gourd upside down, pouring knowledge onto the floor, where it spreads among the animals. This is how knowledge was spread throughout the world.

Shaming himself

When the mother of Anansi's wife dies, Anansi sends his wife ahead to arrange the funeral, while he stays behind. A day after she departs, Anansi asks several animals to accompany him to the funeral to show what an important creature he is. The animals agree, and the party arrives at the home of Anansi's wife, where they are greeted by the family.

Anansi shamed

Anansi throws off his hat, revealing the food he has been stealing while pretending to fast

Over dinner, the group discusses their roles in the funeral service, and Anansi volunteers to provide the coffin in which his mother-in-law will be buried and to pay for the funeral feast. The guests clap for him, and he revels in the attention, feeling important. After the meal, Anansi refuses more food, declaring that he will not eat for a week due to his grief over his mother-in-law. Once again, the animals clap, praising Anansi for his extraordinary character.

A few days later, Anansi begins to feel hungry due to his fasting for his mother-in-law. Not wanting to be seen by the others, Anansi searches for food that he can eat in secret and finds a bowl of hot porridge cooling outside. He fills his hat with the porridge, but as he is about to eat, he overhears voices. Quickly, he puts the hat onto his head and approaches his wife.

Anansi lies that he must return home for a meeting, and his wife suggests that he eat something for the road. Though Anansi tries to escape, the other animals crowd around him, insisting he have something to eat. At last, the pain becomes too much for Anansi, and he throws off his hat, revealing the hot porridge on his head. The animals gape at him and mock him for pretending to mourn his mother-in-law while hoarding food for himself. Anansi is so ashamed that he hides himself in the grass, where spiders can be found to this day.

The bearded stone

Anansi the spider happens across a bearded stone that will strike dead anyone who says, "This stone has a beard." Wanting to use this to his advantage, Anansi tricks Little Buck into proclaiming that the stone has a beard, and the stone strikes the buck dead. Anansi makes quick work of the dead animal, using Little Buck's carcass to feed his family for days.

Anansi uses this trick many more times, and his family feasts for many months. Finally, Anansi decides to use his trick on Rabbit, but when the clever rabbit doesn't comment on the stone's strange appearance, Anansi questions Rabbit on whether the stone looks odd or not. Sensing a trap, Rabbit evades all of Anansi's tricks, until Anansi can take no more and yells at Rabbit to say, "This stone has a beard!" Hearing these fateful words, the stone strikes Anansi dead, and Rabbit chuckles over his victory.

Physical appearance

Anansi is a massive spider who is about half as long as a leopard. His abdomen is brownish-red in color, and his middle is white with black markings. Anansi has a pale face with red strips on either side of his face, and black hair that is worn in straight spikes.

Personality and traits

Anansi is well-known for his cunning nature. Despite being small and weak, he uses his intelligence to his advantage in order to trick larger animals. He is quite confident in himself and likes to be looked up to by other creatures. His concern is usually on his own reputation, as he only grieves for his mother-in-law in order to look good in front of the other guests.

Though boastful and shrewd, Anansi is self-reflecting and capable of humility, as seen when he is humbled by his son's advice.

Appearances

Trivia

  • Anansi is a real African legend, one of the most important characters in West African and Caribbean folklore.[2]

References

  1. Ananse - Translate Akan words to English. Kasahorow. Kasahorow Foundation. Retrieved on October 22, 2016.
  2. Anansi. Blackwell Reference Online. Blackwell Publishing Inc. Retrieved on October 10, 2016.

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