Anansi (/əˈnɑːnsi/ ə-NAHN-see) is an Akan folktale character. He often takes the shape of a spider and is considered to be the spirit of all knowledge of stories. Taking the role of trickster, he is also one of the most important characters of West African and Caribbean folklore.
Anansi tales are some of the best-known amongst the people of Ghana, the place of their origin, as Anansi’s name comes from the word in the Akan language for “spider”. They later spread to West Indies, Suriname, Sierra Leone (where they were introduced by Jamaican Maroons) and the Netherlands Antilles; also Curaçao, Aruba, and Bonaire.
Anansi is depicted in many different ways and with different names, from “Ananse”, “Kwaku Ananse”, and “Anancy,” to his New World iterations, such as “Ba Anansi”, “Kompa Nanzi” and/or “Nanzi”, “Nancy”, “Aunt Nancy”, and “Sis’ Nancy”. While often-depicted as an animal, Anansi has many representations, not only acting as a man but appearing as one. In others, Anansi is an anthropomorphized spider with a human face, or conversely, a human with spider-like features, such as eight legs. Anansi also has a family in several folktales involving him, consisting of his long-suffering wife Okonore Yaa – known in other regions as Aso, Crooky, or Shi Maria; Ntikuma, his firstborn son; Tikelenkelen, his big-headed son; Nankonhwea, his son with a spindly neck and spindly legs; finally, Afudohwedohwe, his pot-bellied son. Anansi also has a beautiful daughter named Anansewa in other tales, like those introduced in the work of Efua Sutherland: in Efua’s tale, he embarks on a scheme to ensure that Anansewa can have an appropriate suitor.
Anansi stories were part of an exclusively oral tradition, and Anansi himself was seen as synonymous with skill and wisdom in speech. Stories of Anansi became such a prominent and familiar part of Ashanti oral culture that they eventually encompassed many kinds of fables, evidenced by the work of R.S. Rattray, who recorded many of these tales in both the English and Twi languages, as well as the work of scholar Peggy Appiah: “So well known is he that he has given his name to the whole rich tradition of tales on which so many Ghanaian children are brought up – anansesem – or spider tales.” In similar fashion, oral tradition is what introduced Anansi tales to the rest of the world, especially the Caribbean, via the people that were enslaved during the Atlantic slave trade. As a result, the importance of Anansi socially did not diminish when slaves were brought to the New World.
Instead, Anansi was often celebrated as a symbol of slave resistance and survival, because Anansi is able to turn the tables on his powerful oppressors by using his cunning and trickery, a model of behaviour utilised by slaves to gain the upper hand within the confines of the plantation power structure. Anansi is also believed to have played a multifunctional role in the slaves’ lives; as well as inspiring strategies of resistance, the tales enabled enslaved Africans to establish a sense of continuity with their African past and offered them the means to transform and assert their identity within the boundaries of captivity. As historian Lawrence W. Levine argues in Black Culture and Consciousness, enslaved Africans in the New World devoted “the structure and message of their tales to the compulsions and needs of their present situation” (1977, 90).
The Jamaican versions of these stories are some of the most well preserved, because Jamaica had the largest concentration of enslaved Ashanti in the Americas, and akin to their Ashanti origins, each carry their own proverbs at the end. At the end of the story “Anansi and Brah Dead”, there is a proverb that suggests that even in times of slavery, Anansi was referred to by his Akan original name: “Kwaku Anansi” or simply as “Kwaku” interchangeably with Anansi. The proverb is: “If yuh cyaan ketch Kwaku, yuh ketch him shut”, which refers to when Brah Dead (brother death or drybones), a personification of Death, was chasing Anansi to kill him; its meaning: The target of revenge and destruction, even killing, will be anyone very close to the intended, such as loved ones and family members.
However, like Anansi’s penchant for ingenuity, Anansi’s quintessential presence in the Diaspora saw the trickster figure reinvented through a multi-ethnic exchange that transcended its Akan-Ashanti origins, typified in the diversity of names attributed to these Anansi stories, from the “Anansi-tori” to the “Kuenta di Nanzi”. Even the character “Ti Bouki,” the buffoon constantly harassed by “Ti Malice” or “Uncle Mischief”, a Haitian trickster associated with Anansi, references this exchange: “Bouki” itself is a word descending from the Wolof language that also references a particular folk animal (the hyena) indigenous to them. The same applies to Anansi’s role in the lives of Africans beyond the era of slavery; New World Anansi tales entertain just as much as they instruct, highlight his avarice and other flaws alongside his cleverness, and feature the mundane just as much as they do the subversive. Anansi becomes both an ideal to be aspired toward, and a cautionary tale against the selfish desires that can cause our undoing. Anansi has effectively evolved beyond a mere a trickster figure; the wealth of narratives and social influences have thus led to him being considered a classical hero.
Popular Anansi stories
Among the countless stories attached to Anansi, one explains how he became known as the owner of all stories in the world. It’s so popular that it has been studied and republished many times, including as children’s books, like the Caldecott Medal-winning A Story a Story by Gail E. Haley, which follows Akan oral tradition by beginning the tale with: “We do not really mean, we do not really mean that what we are about to say is true. A story, a story; let it come, let it go,”. Haley’s story later continues it by concluding: “This is my story which I have related. If it be sweet, or if it be not sweet, take some elsewhere, and let some come back to me,”. The following folktales listed will not only include this notable folktale, but also feature a few others that arose out of the Anansesem tradition.
Anansi wins all of Nyame’s stories
As the tale generally goes, there were no stories in the world. The Sky-Father, Nyame, had them all in a giant box. Anansi liked the world, but without stories he felt it was boring, so he went to Nyame and asked if he could buy them from him. Nyame did not want to give up his stories, but Anansi impressed him because he’d used silk string to reach Nyame, whose home rested in the sky where no others could reach. As a result, Nyame entertained Anansi’s offer, but he set a high price, hoping it would be impossible for Anansi to accomplish: Anansi had to capture three of the most dangerous creatures in the world, known as Onini the Python, Osebo the Leopard, and the Mmoboro Hornets. Hatching up a plan, Anansi set about capturing them.
First, Anansi went to where Onini the Python lived and sat outside of his home. Anansi pretended to debate with his wife, named Aso, over the length of Onini’s body and questioned whether the python was as large as Aso claimed, said to be longer than a palm branch. Onini was very vain and soon heard Anansi arguing, so he came to Anansi and asked the spider what he was arguing about. Anansi explained the debate, and Onini quickly agreed to help Anansi prove the claim was true by laying beside a palm tree, unaware of Anansi’s trickery. Yet, when Onini stretched beside it, he couldn’t do so without coiling. Anansi said that Onini’s actual length was impossible to determine because of this, and the snake asked for a solution. Anansi suggested he tie Onini to a palm branch so that the snake’s true length could be known, and Onini agreed, oblivious to Anansi’s deception. When he was completely tied, Anansi took Onini to Nyame. Nyame acknowledged Anansi’s accomplishment but told Anansi he still had the others to capture, and refused to think Anansi would succeed in completing the challenge; he imagined in secret that Anansi would fail on his next try.
Anansi then plotted against Osebo the Leopard, and went to where Osebo normally ventured. Anansi then dug a deep hole inside of the ground, covering it with bush, and waited in the trees overnight, knowing that Osebo would stumble into the pit eventually. Sure enough, when Anansi awoke, Osebo was trapped in the pit that he had dug. Anansi approached the Leopard and then asked if he needed help. Osebo said yes, and Anansi offered to help him with his silken webs, telling the leopard – who often boasted of his strength – that he could simply use it to climb out of the hole. However, Osebo soon became tangled, and Anansi in turn offered him more of his string. Osebo kept attempting to climb, but soon became completely entangled in Anansi’s webs by the time he’d reach the top of the pit he was trapped in. Too weak to move, Anansi tied the leopard up and carried him away to Nyame. Nyame also acknowledged Anansi’s achievement this time as well, but he still was not convinced Anansi would succeed entirely and told the spider he still had another task, certain that the spider would fail to complete one of the most difficult tasks he’d given him.
Lastly, Anansi went to the land where the Mmoboro Hornets lived, but knew it would not be easy to capture them, as they lived in a nest and never left alone, only together. Anansi wouldn’t be deterred, however; he found a calabash and hollowed it out, filling it with water afterward. He collected a banana leaf, holding it above his head. He poured some water from the calabash over him and then poured the rest over the nest. This only made the hornets angry, and they all came out of it, ready to attack Anansi. However, Anansi showed them his banana leaf – still wet – and explained that it had been raining, advising them to seek shelter. The Hornets asked what they should do to avoid the rain, and Anansi suggested they get into the calabash. The hornets flew inside and filled the calabash, then Anansi quickly sealed the opening. Anansi soon returned to the Sky-Father and handed the last of his captives over to him, completing the task Nyame thought it would be impossible for Anansi to fulfill. Though he still didn’t want to give over his stories, Nyame was a man of his word and was impressed at Anansi’s talent, so he rewarded Anansi by making him the god of all stories.
There are substantial variants of this tale, such as one in which Anansi’s wife Aso helps him capture the creatures by giving him advice. In another, Anansi is not required to capture Python, while a Caribbean version sees Tiger as the one whom the stories come from. A very common variant sees Nyame give Anansi an additional task: the capture of Mmoatia, an irritable fairy capable of becoming invisible at will:
In this iteration, Anansi was given the task of capturing Mmoatia and pondered what he could do to trick her. After some time, he decided upon a plan: he carved a doll out of a gum tree and covered it in his silk, making it sticky. He then enlisted the help of his wife Aso, who pounded yams into a paste, a food that Anansi knew he could use to tempt Mmoatia, for all fairies had a craving for it. Once it was made, Anansi went to the land of fairies and placed the doll in front of a tree, tied a string around the doll’s head, and then sat the bowl of yam paste in front of it, hiding behind the tree while he waited for Mmoatia to appear. Just as he suspected, Mmoatia came, lured by the yam paste, and asked the gum doll if she could have some of it. Anansi tugged the string and the doll nodded its head, which made Mmoatia excited; she eagerly devoured the yam paste. Mmoatia thanked the gum doll but Anansi did not tug his string. The gum doll did not nod to acknowledge Mmoatia’s gratitude. Slightly upset, she thanked the doll again, and Anansi still didn’t make the gum doll’s head nod.
Then, Mmoatia became furious and slapped the doll in the face, only to get stuck. She then struck at it with her other hand, and then her feet as she raged, only to become completely immobile. Then Anansi came out of hiding and taunted Mmoatia, so she turned invisible. Yet, she still could not move so she was unable to escape Anansi this time and he carefully captured Mmoatia by covering her in his silk entirely. As the last of the creatures Nyame had tasked him with capturing, Anansi succeeded in completing the challenge and became the master of all stories.
Anansi and the dispersal of wisdom
Another popular story tells of how Anansi once tried to hoard all of the world’s wisdom in a pot (in some versions a calabash).
In this story, Anansi was already very clever, but he wanted more knowledge, so he decided to gather all the wisdom that he could find and keep it in a safe place. Soon Anansi collected all of the wisdom found throughout the world and sealed inside of a pot. However, he was still concerned that it was not safe enough, so he secretly took the pot to a tall thorny tree in the forest (in some versions the silk cotton tree). His younger son, Ntikuma, saw him go and followed him at some distance to see what he was doing. Ntikuma noticed the pot was much bigger than Anansi could handle; he couldn’t hold it while trying to climb the tree. As a result, Anansi tied the pot in front of him and then resumed his attempt. Yet, the pot still obscured Anansi and caused him to slip down the tree as he climbed. Each failure caused Anansi to become increasingly frustrated.
Ntikuma laughed when he saw what Anansi was doing. “Why don’t you tie the pot behind you, then you will be able to grip the tree?” he suggested.
Anansi was so annoyed by his failed attempts and the realization that his child was right that the pot slipped from his possession. The pot soon crashed into the ground, and all of the wisdom that the Spider had stored inside of it spilled out of it. To make matters even worse, a storm arrived and caused a mighty rain throughout the forest. The deluge of rainwater covered the ground and washed the wisdom that had spilled away from them, until it washed into the river stream nearby. The currents of the stream carried the wisdom Anansi had collected out to sea, and soon it spread throughout the entire world, ruining Anansi’s plan and making his goal impossible. This angered the Spider.
Anansi then chased his son Ntikuma home throughout the rain, but he soon came to an epiphany and accepted his loss once he finally caught up with his son: “What is the use of all that wisdom if a young child still needs to put you right?” Thus, Anansi failed to steal the world’s wisdom that day, and instead, a little of it lives in everyone.
How Anansi’s hind became big, and how his head became small
In this story among many recorded by Rattray, it is said a famine came and Kwaku Anansi told his family that he’d search for food so they could eat. He soon went to a stream and met some people, who he discovered were spirits. The spirits were draining the water in the hope that they would be able to catch some fish to eat. Anansi was intrigued and asked if he could join them, and the spirits in turn gave him their permission. The spirits were using their skulls to drain the river, and when Anansi approached, the spirits asked if they could remove his as well. Anansi said they could, and they did so, giving him his skull so that he could join them.
While they drained the water, the spirits sang a beautiful song: “We, the Spirits, when we splash the river-bed dry to catch fish, we use our heads to splash the water. Oh, the Spirits, we are splashing the water.” The song intrigued Anansi and he asked if he could sing it also. They allowed him, and together they continued to sing until they finally drained some of the stream. The spirits gave Anansi his own share of fish in a basket and restored his skull, but warned him never to sing the song again on that day, or his skull would open and fall off again. Anansi said that he had no reason to sing it again, because they’d given him more than enough to eat and he wanted nothing else. The Spirits bade him farewell, and Anansi went away. The spirits soon left, and went elsewhere to catch more fish.
Soon, the spirits began singing their song again, and Anansi eventually heard it. He began to sing it again, and as soon as he finished, his skull fell off again like they’d warned him. Anansi picked his skull up in embarrassment and cried out to the spirits that his head had fallen off. The spirits heard him, and decided to return to him, to hear him explain himself. Anansi begged them for help and apologized to them, asking them to restore his skull. The spirits said they would, but warned Anansi that if he disobeyed them again, they would not return to help him, and bade him leave before heading off on their own. Yet, just as soon as they’d left, Anansi heard them singing their song and repeated it himself.
Anansi’s skull detached and fell again, having disobeyed the spirits another time. Before it hit the ground, he caught it with his rear-end and he fled from the riverside. So it is that Anansi has a small head and a large bottom, because of his hard-headedness.
Why men commit evil at night, children play in moonlight, disputes are settled in daytime, and Anansi is Nyame’s messenger
In another story recorded by Rattray, Nyame had three children one day: Esum, or Night; Osrane, the Moon; and Owia, the Sun. He raised them well and had them go out on their own. While each successfully built their own village, Nyame considered Owia his favorite child and wished to make him a chief. He harvested a yam known as “Kintinkyi” in secret, and decided that the son who could guess it would become chief and receive his royal stool as proof. Soon, Nyame blackened his royal stool and asked his subjects if any could guess what his thoughts were. Anansi happened to be there, and said that he knew. Nyame told Anansi to gather his sons from the villages, and Anansi left. However, Anansi didn’t truly know, but secretly decided he would learn.
Anansi gathered feathers from every bird known and covered himself with them, and then flew above Nyame’s village, startling the villagers. Nyame saw Anansi but did not recognize him within his disguise, and mused to himself that if Anansi were present, he’d know the name the of the bird – because he’d said he knew that Nyame wished his son Owia to receive his stool and that he would give whomever could guess his yam’s name the seat. He continued to ponder in secret while Anansi overheard Nyame’s plan and finally flew away, removing his disguise. He went to Esum’s village first and told him that his father wished to see him, but kept Nyame’s plans secret. Night gave him roasted corn to eat as thanks and Anansi soon went to Osrane’s village. Osrane was told the same, and he gave Anansi yam as thanks in return before the spider left for Owia’s village, keeping the truth from Osrane as well. Soon, Anansi arrived and told Owia the same. Owia mentioned that he wished his father could see what he did so that he could know Owia’s true intent, but decided he would treat Anansi the same, for his father had chosen him as his messenger and he wanted to treat him as he would his father Nyame. Owia then prepared the best sheep for Anansi to eat as thanks, and in return Anansi decided to tell Owia of his father’s intentions in secret, revealing the name of the yam he’d harvested.
Anansi then made a pair of drums that would shout the yam’s name so that Owia would remember the name of Nyame’s yam, which was Kintinkyi, and the two returned to the other sons of Nyame. Anansi brought them each before Nyame, and Nyame called an assembly together so they could welcome Anansi and Nyame’s sons. Anansi said he’d completed Nyame’s task, and the Sky-Father revealed his intentions to his three sons. He then told Esum, who was oldest, that he would be allowed to guess first. Yet, Esum did not know, and said its name was “Pona”. The villagers booed him. Osrane, the second-oldest, was given a chance, but he also failed to guess the yam’s name, assuming it was called “Asante”. The villagers booed him also. Owia, the youngest, was then given a chance to guess. Anansi played the drums as he had promised, and Owia remembered the true name of Nyame’s yam, “Kintinkyi”. The assembly cheered instead.
Nyame then spoke to Esum, his eldest son, and punished him, for he had not paid attention to him while Nyame had raised him. Evil things thus would be done during Esum’s time. Next Nyame scolded Osrane, who had also not listened to him while he raised him. Only children would frolic during his time. Finally, Nyame spoke to his youngest son Owia, and praised him. Nyame made him chief and told him that any issue that needed to be settled would take place during his time. He gave him the rainbow to protect himself from his brothers if they ever wished to harm him, and promised that it would remind his subjects who saw it that danger would not befall them. Lastly, he gave Anansi his blessing for knowing his inner-thoughts, and said Anansi would be known as his messenger.
How diseases were brought to the tribe
In this tale, Anansi went to the Sky-Father Nyame one day. He wanted to take one of Nyame’s sheep, named Kra Kwame, and eat it. Anansi told Nyame that if he was allowed, he would bring Nyame a maiden as a gift from one of the villages in return. Nyame agreed and gave him the sheep, so Anansi left and set out for his home, later preparing the sheep. Once he was finished preparing it, Anansi searched for a village and discovered one where only women lived; the Spider settled there and gave each of them some of the sheep he had killed, marrying every woman in the village and forsaking his promise to Nyame. Soon however, a hunter visited the village that Anansi had settled in and witnessed what he was doing.
The hunter soon left and went to Nyame, reporting what he’d seen in the village. Nyame became furious upon learning of Anansi’s deception and ordered his messengers to go the village Anansi was living in and take every woman there. His messengers obeyed and took every woman, save one that was ill at that time, and presented them to Nyame. Disappointed, Anansi wasn’t sure what he’d do as he now only had one remaining wife, as she was too sick to help him. He asked her and she simply told Anansi to gather a gourd and bathe her, filling up the gourd with the water he’d used afterward; that water would then house all of the diseases that had afflicted her. Anansi obeyed his wife and she became incredibly beautiful; Anansi realized she was more beautiful than any of the other wives he’d taken on while living in the tribe, in fact, and smitten by her, Anansi remarried the woman. Yet, the hunter visited the village again. He saw Anansi’s wife, now beautiful beyond comparison, and returned to Nyame to report what he’d discovered.
The hunter told Nyame that Anansi had tricked him, because the women that Nyame had taken from Anansi were all hideous in comparison to the beautiful woman Anansi had as his current wife. Nyame was furious again, then ordered his messengers to send for her, and they went to Anansi’s village looking for the woman. Anansi met them and they told him of Nyame’s wish. He complied, showed them where his wife was, and they took her with them to Nyame. Anansi however, had a plan of his own, and began his scheme once they left.
Anansi searched for the gourd that had the water he’d bathed his wife with, and then took a skin and made a drum with it. He then made another drum and called for his son Ntikuma. Together the two began beating the drums and dancing while singing vulgarities. Anene the crow, another messenger of Nyame, saw what Anansi was doing and told Nyame about the dance. Nyame then sent his messengers and asked them to bring Anansi to him, as he wanted the Spider to perform the dance for him. Anansi however, told them that he could only perform his dance around his wives and that he needed his drum. He promised that he would dance before Nyame if he agreed to this, so the messengers informed Nyame and he agreed to Anansi’s terms. The messengers then brought Anansi to the harem where his wives were kept and he began playing. Soon Nyame came and danced to the song while the former wives of Anansi joined in.
Anansi’s final wife however, recognized the gourd Anansi’s drum was made from and decided not to dance, suspecting Anansi’s trickery. Yet, she was coerced into joining Nyame in the performance. Before she could begin however, Anansi opened the drum and tossed all the water from the gourd. All of the diseases that were once washed away returned and sickness fell upon the tribe. So it is that the Sky Father caused Anansi to bring all illnesses to the world.
How Kwaku Anansi took Aso as his wife, and how jealousy came to the tribe
A long time ago, Aso was not yet married to Anansi. Instead, she was married to another man, known as Akwasi-the-jealous-one. Befitting his name, he was very possessive of Aso and wanted no one else to see or interact with her, so he built a small village where only the two of them lived. Akwasi-the-jealous-one was especially worried of losing Aso because he was sterile and knew that others would take her away from him if they lived among other people.
One day, Nyame grew tired of Akwasi-the-jealous-one’s failure and told young men in the other villages about his marriage with Aso. Nyame told the men that the first man to take Aso from Akwasi-the-jealous-one and sire a child could marry her. However, all of the men who accepted his challenge failed to capture Aso. Anansi watched all that transpired and soon went to Nyame himself; he promised Nyame that he could accomplish what other men had not. The Sky-Father asked if Anansi was certain and the Spider answered that he would be able to as long as he was given the items he requested to help him, namely medicine to make guns as well as bullets. Nyame accepted his request and gave Anansi what he needed.
Soon, Anansi went throughout many villages and told them that Nyame had told him to bring the powder and bullets to them so that they could go hunting for him. Anansi told them that he would return and then take the meat they collected so that he could give it to Nyame. They agreed to his request and he then distributed powder and bullets amongst them until all villages had some. Anansi then left for a time and wove a palm-leaf basket, returning when he had finished to the villages he’d distributed hunting supplies to. In turn, he received all they’d hunted and soon headed for Akwasi-the-jealous-one’s settlement.
Eventually, Anansi came upon a river where Akwasi and Aso drank, then took some of the meat and placed it into the water. He then carried the basket with him, which still had more than enough meat, and reached Akwasi-the-jealous-one’s village. Aso noticed Anansi arrive and called out to her husband, surprised that Anansi had come. Kwasi-the-jealous-one came out and inquired who Anansi was, and the Spider replied that he’d come by the order of Nyame to rest on his journey. Akwasi-the-jealous-one came out praised Anansi and then welcomed Anansi to his village. Aso, on the other hand, noticed the meat Anansi had left in the river and told him what she’d discovered. Anansi simply replied that she was welcome to have it as he didn’t need it, and then informed Aso that she could feed any pets they possessed with it. Thus, Aso collected it, offering the meat to her husband. Anansi then asked Aso cook him some food, and she obliged, preparing to make Fufu.
Soon, Aso began preparing Fufu for Anansi, but he told her it was not enough when he learned what she was making. Anansi then asked her to use a larger pot, and when Aso did so, Anansi offered more of the meat he’d collected, with one caveat: out of the meat he possessed, Aso could only cook the thighs, which numbered 40. Aso obliged and she then placed the food alongside the rest she’d prepared when she finished cooking it. Aso then collected her own portion and the rest began eating as well. Anansi, however, was not satisfied and complained, saying that the fufu Aso had prepared lacked salt. Akwasi-the-jealous-one then asked Aso to bring some to Anansi, but the Spider objected: he told Akwasi that it was rude to command her to gather the salt when she was eating and suggested that he get the salt instead. Akwasi-the-jealous-one accepted Anansi’s advice and left to find more salt, while Anansi secretly snuck medicine from his pouch and put it into Akwasi’s fufu.
Akwasi-the-jealous-one soon returned, but Anansi informed Aso’s husband that he was full and no longer needed any; Akwasi sat the salt aside and began eating his fufu again, completely oblivious to what Anansi had done. Eventually, Akwasi-the-jealous-one realized he did not know Anansi’s name, and asked the Spider what he was called. Anansi replied that his name was “Rise-up-and-make-love-to-Aso,” which startled Akwasi, so he asked his wife Aso if she’d heard his name as well. Aso acknowledged that she did, and Akwasi left to prepare a room for Anansi as a result. When he finished, he told Anansi to sleep there, but Anansi replied that he couldn’t, because he was Nyame’s Soul-washer and only slept in a room with an open veranda. His parents had also conceived him there, so he was forbidden from sleeping in closed rooms.
Akwasi-the-jealous-one thus asked Anansi where he wished to sleep instead, but Anansi then made another excuse: the open room had to be in a house that belonged to Nyame. To do otherwise would make Akwasi equal to Nyame and break the commandment Anansi’d been given. Thus, Anansi asked Akwasi-the-jealous-one to give him a sleeping mat so he could sleep in front of their room while they slept. Soon, Anansi laid upon the sleeping mat and waited for Akwasi and his wife Aso to sleep and then sang a song to the gods while he played his sepirewa, certain the plan he’d concocted would be successful: “Akuamoa Ananse, today we shall achieve something today. Ananse, the child of Nsia, the mother of Nyame, the Sky-god; today, we shall achieve something, to-day. Ananse, the Soul-washer to the Nyame, the Sky-god, today, I shall see something,”. Once Anansi finished, he put his sepirewa aside and fell asleep.
Suddenly, Anansi awoke to hear Akwasi-the-jealous-one calling out to him. Akwasi, however, refused to call the Spider by the name he’d been given, so Anansi remained silent; the medicine Anansi’d poisoned Akwasi-the-jealous-one with had worked. Akwasi tried another time, but refused to call Anansi by the name he’d given him again, so Anansi did not answer him. Eventually, Akwasi succumbed and finally pleaded “Rise-up-and-make-love-to-Aso,” falling for Anansi’s scheme. Anansi responded to Akwasi-the-jealous-one and opened his door, asking Akwasi what troubled him. Akwasi said that he needed to leave for a moment, and then left.
Once Akwasi-the-jealous-one was gone, the Spider went into the man’s room and saw Aso was awake. Anansi asked her if she’d heard what Akwasi had said, and she instead asked him to tell her. Thus Anansi repeated the name he’d given to them, implying that he was to make love to her. Aso accepted Anansi’s answer and the two made love, going back to sleep once they finished. Akwasi-the-jealous-one returned, completely unaware of what had happened, and soon went to sleep as well. However, his stomach would trouble him again and he’d call Anansi out for help using the same name Anansi had given him. Akwasi-the-jealous-one would leave while Anansi snuck into their bedroom to make love with Aso, for a total of nine times before morning came. Anansi left Akwasi’s village when the next day arrived and did not return. Two moons eventually passed and Aso’s pregnancy became visible. Akwasi-the-jealous-one asked his wife how she’d gotten pregnant, because he was sterile and could not sire children with her. Aso told Akwasi that he in fact had told her to make love to Anansi, explaining that the child she’d conceived was his. Akwasi thus decided to take her to Nyame’s village and the two left. However, Aso gave birth on the way, so she rested a moment. The two took the child to the village of Nyame afterward and told him what had taken place.
Nyame did not believe the two’s story and said that no one had left his village, urging them to point out the culprit among the villagers. Aso agreed to do so and soon saw Anansi sitting on a ridgepole in the distance. She pointed to Anansi and told Nyame that he was the one who’d impregnated her. He moved further down on the ridgepole in an attempt to hide again, but Aso found him there. However, this caused Anansi to fall over, dirtying himself, and in return Anansi complained that their actions had defiled him, for he was Nyame’s Soul-washer and Nyame’s wishes had been ignored. As a result, Akwasi-the-jealous-one was seized by Nyame’s subjects for disobeying the god’s command and ordered to sacrifice a sheep as penance. Utterly embarrassed, Akwasi finished his sacrifice and then told the Sky-Father that Anansi could have Aso, giving her to the Spider to become his wife.
Yet there was another cost for what had transpired: the child Anansi had sired through Aso was taken and killed; what remained of its body was scattered throughout Nyame’s village as a reminder. So it is that Aso became Anansi’s wife, and jealousy came into the tribe.
How Anansi got a bald head
Sometime after they were married, it is said Kwaku Anansi the Spider and his wife Aso were living together. One day, they had returned from a visit to the plantation outside of the village, when a messenger came to them. Anansi approached the messenger and asked him why he’d come, and the man responded that Anansi’s mother-in-law had died the previous day. In response Anansi told his wife Aso what had taken place, and told Aso that they would go to the village to mourn her mother, as the funeral would take place within a few days. Soon the messenger left, and the next morning came. Anansi spared no time and went to the others in the village for a favor and found Odwan the Sheep, Okra the Cat, Okraman the Dog, Akoko the Fowl, and Aberekyie the Goat. Anansi told them of his mother-in-law’s passing and asked if they could accompany him to her funeral, and they agreed. Anansi thanked them, and then returned to his home to prepare.
Anansi made clothes to wear to the funeral, sewing a hat from leopard’s skin; he dyed his cloth russet, and had the attire he wished to wear prepared. Thursday eventually came and it was time to head out toward the village where the funeral of Aso’s mother would take place. He called those who’d agreed to accompany him, and they left the village, but not without supplies – guns, drums, palm-wine, and other things first so they would have things to share with the rest of those who attended as they celebrated his mother-in-law’s memory. Soon, Anansi reached his mother-in-law’s village and fired their guns in the air to signal they had arrived, and went to the home where her wake was taking place. Anansi shared all that he’d brought, giving palm-wine to those mourning. He then presented an offering to help pay for the funeral: six peredwan packets of gold dust, a velvet pillow, two cloths, a wool blanket, shell money (to barter with ghosts), a sheep, and more palm-wine. They accepted his offer, and the others matched it.
The next morning, everyone ate and invited Anansi to eat as well. However, Anansi said that he was not allowed to, as it was his mother-in-law’s funeral and he would not eat until the eighth day. Instead, Anansi said he’d gather some for his neighbors who’d accompanied him and remain while they left. True to his word, Anansi asked Aso to find them food and she brought it to them. Anansi bade them farewell, and he remained at the home. Days passed and he resisted eating, but when the fourth day came, he was too hungry to resist eating, and went to search for food inside the home where he was staying. He went into the kitchen and saw that there was a fire going, and at that fire there were beans boiling in a pot. Anansi decided he would eat those, so he took his leopard hat and scooped some of the beans inside once he was sure no one was watching him. However, just as soon as he placed on his hat to hide the beans, he saw Aso enter the room. Startled, Anansi hatched up another plan and told Aso that a hat-shaking festival was taking place in his father’s village; he intended to go there himself. Aso became suspicious and asked Anansi why he had not told her of the festival before; she reminded him that he had not eaten anything and advised the Spider to wait until the next day. However, Anansi refused to listen to his wife’s advice and she stormed off.
Aso gathered the people in the village and told them what Anansi was planning so they could hopefully keep him from leaving, and then headed back to her husband. Anansi saw Aso returning with the crowd and grabbed his hat, singing: “Just now at my father’s village they are shaking hats! Saworowa, they are shaking hats! E, they are shaking hats, o, they are shaking hats! Saworowa!” Anansi began to panic, because the beans in his leopard’s hat were burning him, and he told them he was leaving and would not remain whatsoever. Anansi left, but the villagers followed him, even when he told them to leave. In panic he sang again, “Turn back, because: Just now at my father’s village they are shaking hats! Saworowa, they are shaking hats! E, they are shaking hats, o, they are shaking hats! Saworowa!”
Now, the beans were unbearably hot upon his head, so Anansi threw his hat with its beans away. When Aso realized what Anansi had done, she and the villagers booed him and he ran away down the road. He promised the road that he would thank it if it helped him escape, and it agreed to, leading him away from the villagers and to medicine he could use. So it is that Anansi has a bald head, from the airs he gave himself during his mother-in-law’s funeral.
Why Anansi runs when he is on the surface of water
One day, Kwaku Anansi went to Okraman the Dog and told him he wished to build a new village to live in. Okraman heard Anansi’s suggestion and agreed with it, and Anansi then explained his plan: Okraman was to collect a rope-creeper on the Monday following the next Sunday Adae. Anansi would do the same, and the two would then meet together. Anansi told Okraman that he would gather a gourd and fill it with water and wished the Dog to do so also; the pair would have water in case their destination lacked it. Okraman agreed again and the two both prepared once the Sunday Adae began; Anansi even put honey into his gourd for extra measure. Then, the two traveled the next Monday.
Okraman and Anansi had reached the half-way point on their journey when the two became exhausted, and the Dog recommended they both rest for a moment and drink some of the water they’d prepared. Then, Anansi suggested that they play a game to pass the time while they rested. Okraman asked the Spider which type of game he wished to play, and Anansi replied that he wished to play a binding game. Anansi then explained the rules of the game: Okraman would tie Anansi, and then Anansi would tie Okraman. Anansi would give Okraman a signal, and the Dog would try to escape his bindings. Okraman however wanted Anansi to tie him first. Anansi disagreed, scolding the Dog, and reminded Okraman that he was his elder, causing Okraman to accept Anansi’s terms in their game. Thus, the two began and Okraman tied Anansi first.
However, Anansi did not know that Okraman was also hungry and had no true desire to play Anansi’s game. Instead, the Dog bound Anansi and carried him away, hoping to sell the Spider for food. Once Anansi realized Okraman’s plan, he began mourning, but the Dog paid him no mind, continuing to carry Anansi away until they both reached a stream. Soon, someone else noticed Anansi’s cries and came to investigate them: Odenkyem the Crocodile. He asked Okraman about the matter but the Dog was too frightened to respond. Instead, Okraman dropped Anansi and fled, while Odenkyem freed Anansi from his bindings. Anansi thanked the Crocodile and asked if there was a means he could repay him for his kindness, but Odenkyem said that he didn’t want anything in return. Yet, Anansi was insistent and told Odenkyem that if he had children he would come and style them, dressing their hair so that they could be very beautiful. Odenkyem accepted this, and did not suspect Anansi’s deception.
Anansi returned home after speaking to the Crocodile and told his wife Aso that he needed palm-nuts and onions for a stew he planned to make; he’d bring a crocodile back to supply meat for it. Aso did so, while Anansi gathered a knife, sharpening it. He mashed some eto, and carried it with him to the stream where Odenkyem lived. Next, Anansi called out to Odenkyem and told the Crocodile that he’d prepared a reward for him, sitting the eto in the water. Odenkyem heard Anansi and soon came, ready to accept Anansi’s gift. However, the Spider had tricked him; Anansi withdrew his knife and cut the Crocodile with it, but the blow he dealt to Odenkyem was not fatal; Anansi didn’t realize this however, and left for home without a second thought. Aso noticed Anansi didn’t have the crocodile he’d promised to bring home to prepare stew and asked him where it was, but Anansi became defensive, scolding his wife for bothering him when he’d just returned home. Aso however, saw through Anansi’s attitude, and told her husband that she could tell he had not gotten Odenkyem like he’d planned. Anansi could only remain silent, and said nothing else about the matter for the remainder of the evening.
Morning began and Aso told Anansi she was going to the river. The Crocodile was still laying there when she arrived, and flies now surrounded him; Aso took note of this, and told Anansi what she’d observed when she returned to their home. Anansi explained to Aso that he’d used a special medicine to kill Odenkyem and thus had to wait until the next day before he collected his kill; he then thanked her for confirming the crocodile had died and set about for the stream on his own, with a stick he’d prepared for defense. Anansi soon arrived and noticed Odenkyem was still laying in the riverbank. He carefully strode over to the Crocodile’s body, poking him with his stick. Then, Anansi prodded Odenkyem’s body and asked the Crocodile if he was dead, shifting his body over as he examined him, but Odenkyem did not respond. Little did Anansi know that the Crocodile may have been motionless, but he was far from deceased.
Anansi eventually stopped prodding the Crocodile with his stick, convinced he was dead, and edged closer to Odenkyem’s body, stretching his hand out to check the Crocodile a final time. Yet, Anansi’s action would prove to be a mistake, for he immediately found himself trapped between the Crocodile’s jaws when he clasped the Spider unexpectedly. After a great contest between the two, Anansi wiggled himself free from Odenkyem and fled the river, rushing back home. So it is that Anansi always runs while crossing the water, careful to never give Odenkyem another chance to capture him again.
How Dew tricked Anansi
It came about that Anansi became friends with Dew, and that they both helped each other develop their own crops. One day, Anansi saw his friend Dew’s crop and noticed the corn Dew grew was much finer than his own. Anansi became very jealous of Dew and craved the corn that Dew had grown more than his own, so he decided he would trick Dew. Anansi approached Dew and bragged, saying that his corn was better than Dew’s, and suggested that Dew cut his corn so it would be as fine as his. Anansi promised Dew that if he cut his own crop, his corn would grow back and be the same quality as Anansi’s corn was. Anansi however, was lying.
Nonetheless, Dew fell for the Spider’s schemes and agreed to cut his corn crop in the mistaken belief that his corn would grow again. Later that evening, neighbors in their village saw Dew’s corn had been cut down and wondered why he did so, noting that the corn he had was very fine once. They asked Dew who’d convinced him to cut down his corn crop, and he replied that Anansi had convinced him to do so, in the hopes that his corn crop would be better than it was before. The neighbors sighed and told Dew that he’d been tricked, for his corn would not grow again. This upset Dew, but he promised them that he would trick Anansi just as he had tricked him. Dew, however, would trick Anansi with his mother instead of with corn like Anansi had him.
As time passed, Dew worked especially hard and tirelessly to build up a large amount of wealth. He bought a scythe, hoe, axe, new clothes, and other equipment. Dew then told his mother his plan: he would tell Anansi that she had died and would then make a mock coffin in which to bury her. In the meanwhile, Dew wished for his mother to hide in their home upstairs while he prepared, so she did. Dew then made a coffin and announced her death to the village, inviting them to come see her burial. Once they had arrived, he snuck his mother from upstairs and had her hide underneath the floor where the mock coffin lay, as well as the many things he’d purchased, as he knew Anansi’s greed would spurn him to steal from Dew if he saw them laying around. Now that the plan was in order, it was time for the mock burial to begin.
Dew began to cry and lament that his mother had died so suddenly and left him nothing to remember her by, not even a single tool. On-cue, Dew’s mother extended the scythe and other tools he’d purchased through the plank in the floor. Anansi saw what was happening and grew jealous of Dew, wishing his very own mother was dead so he could get what Dew was getting from his own mother as well. Dew continued to mourn, and lamented that he longed for a blessing from her in the form of money, so Dew’s mother took the money he had also given her alongside the equipment and threw it through the floor at him also. Thus his display was successful, the burial they’d staged went well, and those who had come to mourn his mother’s passing went back to their homes.
Anansi’s jealousy of Dew caused him to bicker with his own mother for days, on all matter of issues. Then, one day, they were arguing and the Spider asked his mother why she herself couldn’t have died just like Dew’s mother did. Soon, the arguments reached a climactic point and Anansi smote his own mother with a stick in a fit of rage. Anansi’s mother then died and he soon set about preparing for her burial just as Dew had before him. Then came time for the funeral, and Anansi cried just as Dew had, and told her all the things Dew had told his mother while grieving. Yet, nothing that he told his mother, no matter how much he cried, caused her to do the things that Dew’s mother had done for her son. The funeral was a failure, so Anansi went ahead with his mother’s burial.
About a week passed, and Dew had his mother come visit him while he worked outside in the fields. Anansi noticed Dew’s mother had come and asked if the woman he saw was in fact her. Dew replied that it was his own mother, and that it was payback for Anansi deceiving Dew about his corn crops. Dew then bragged that he instead had tricked Anansi about his mother, rather than his corn, and such was true: Dew’s mother was still alive, but Anansi’s mother was now dead because of his own jealousy.
Gun is dead
One morning, Anansi was very hungry and needed food for his children. He went to the bush and spoke with his friend Hunter, and told Hunter his dilemma, asking Hunter if he could have Gun. Hunter did so and gave the Spider his gun, then Anansi set about to concoct a scheme to obtain food. He told the animals in the village that it was time for them to bury Gun, their arch-enemy, for Gun had died. The animals knew Gun was very evil, for he had been killing many of them whenever he went through the bush. Thus when word of Gun’s passing reached them, the animals all rejoiced, and agreed that they would come to celebrate Gun’s death when Anansi buried him.
While the animals gathered to meet at Gun’s funeral, Anansi set a trap for them. Anansi made each of the animals pass in front of Gun’s coffin during the funeral while he and his children claimed that they would carry Gun to be buried. He pointed Gun at them all while they remained oblivious to his true plan. Soon, all those Anansi had called to the funeral were lined up in front of Gun’s coffin, and Anansi then struck. Anansi began using Gun to kill each of the animals that had arrived, until none else were alive or able to escape. Anansi then took their meat when the deed was done, and was able to feed his family with it.
Anansi becomes a preacher, and why Cockroach and Anansi are enemies
Anansi went to the King one evening and asked him if he could become a preacher. The King entertained Anansi’s offer and said that if he wished, he could preach the following Sunday. So Anansi prepared himself a sermon, and on that Sunday he preached a message. However, the King was busy that morning, and could not come to hear Anansi’s sermon. The King thus told Anansi that he wished him to preach again the following Sunday, and he gave him a black suit that he wished for the Spider to wear when he did.
It is said that Anansi lived beside Cockroach, and that between their homes was a fence that divided them. In addition to this, was a coconut tree that grew in Cockroach’s yard. However, it was a tree with branches covered in coconuts, some of which hung over the fence above Anansi’s yard. Anansi saw them hanging on his side of the yard one day, and took a machete. He then cut the bunch of coconuts directly in half, and took the ones that hung on his side of the fence for himself. Cockroach noticed this and took great offense at Anansi, asking him why he’d taken the fruit from his tree, as it clearly belonged to him. Anansi agreed that the tree belonged to Cockroach, but replied that the coconuts he’d cut down were hanging extremely low. The Spider explained that he only took the half that hung on his side, but Cockroach did not accept Anansi’s excuse. He vowed to get even with Anansi for what he’d done.
Soon, it was Saturday and Anansi would then have to preach before the King the next morning. Anansi asked his wife if she could clean his black suit so that it would be ready in time for the sermon, and she agreed. His wife took the black suit the King had given him and then hung it outside to dry. Cockroach however, noticed this taking place, and saw that half of Anansi’s suit hung above the fence separating his yard from Anansi’s. Cockroach then took his own machete and, eager to enact vengeance Anansi for cutting his coconut fruit, cut the half of Anansi’s suit that hung over his yard off.
The next morning, it was time to preach but Anansi saw what had happened to his suit and was unable to meet the King and deliver his sermon. The King thus did not get to hear Anansi preach at all and became very angry. In a fit, he had Anansi arrested and saw to it that the Spider was thrown into jail for offending him. Soon Anansi’s time was served, and the next time he saw Cockroach again, the Spider told him that he would never forgive Cockroach for his treachery. He would never forget it for as long as he lived, for Cockroach’s actions has cost him the job he wanted. So it is that Anansi tried and failed to become a preacher, and Cockroach became Anansi’s enemy.
How Death came to the city
A long time ago, Death had no presence for he had not come to the cities yet. Death preferred to live deep inside a village in the bush. But a famine came one day and made Anansi very hungry, so he took Gun along with his hunting bag and decided to hunt for food. Anansi searched throughout the bush, but soon found that there were no animals he could find in the bush to eat. Anansi however, did not give up. Instead, Anansi continued to venture deep within the bush, searching for animals to hunt, and stumbled upon the village that Death lived in, and Death was seated in front of its entrance. Anansi did not want to offend Death, so he approached him and greeted him first. Anansi then told Death his plight, and noted that he had searched throughout the bush for an animal to kill for food, but had found none. Death told Anansi he could come into his village, and he would cook food for him.
Inside the village, Death brought Anansi to the house where meat was cooked, and Anansi saw that Death had a great amount. Anansi became enticed by all of the meat that Death was cooking, and saw that an enormous amount remained even after Death let the Spider have his fill of it to eat. Anansi thanked Death for his hospitality, but was still curious how Death had acquired such an impressive amount of meat, and asked him afterward. Death asked Anansi if he didn’t recognize who he was, and the Spider responded that he did, realizing why he had not been able to find meat in the bush; Death owned it all. Anansi thus asked Death for a favor, explaining that he had come to the bush so that he could find food for his family during the famine. Anansi wished to bring some meat back to them and asked for Death’s permission to do so. Death agreed, and gave Anansi meat that he could provide to his family.
Anansi took the meat that Death gave him and returned from the bush to his village in the city, where he met his family again and told them of his discovery. He told his wife that he could go to visit Death and take meat when necessary. However, Anansi’s greed overcame him and he told her that he could even steal meat from Death. Thus, instead of asking like he had before, Anansi returned to Death’s village while he was away and stole meat from him. Anansi’s scheme would not last, for Death noticed that meat was missing from his village, although he did not know who’d stolen it. Death decided to wait in secret to see if he could discover who the thief was.
Anansi came to Death’s village one day, completely unaware that he was still present, and then gathered a large basket of meat from his stores as he normally did. Death immediately surprised Anansi and asked him why he had chosen to steal from him, but Anansi was too afraid to answer his question. Instead, Anansi fled Death’s village and Death soon chased after him. Try as he might, Anansi could not lose Death, no matter how fast he ran through the bush, and by the time Anansi had reached the city the Spider looked behind him and saw that Death was still close to reaching him. Anansi then cried out to the people that Death was coming, and that they should shut their doors if they wished to live. Yet, many people could not shut their doors in time, and Death took them. So it is that Death now lives in the city; had Anansi not stolen from him, Death would still remain quietly in the bush where no one could find it.
Relationship between Anansi and Br’er Rabbit
Anansi shares similarities with the trickster figure of Br’er Rabbit, who originated from the folklore of the Bantu-speaking peoples of south and central Africa. Enslaved Africans brought the Br’er Rabbit tales to the New World, which, like the Anansi stories, depict a physically small and vulnerable creature using his cunning intelligence to prevail over larger animals. However, although Br’er Rabbit stories are told in the Caribbean, especially in the French-speaking islands (where he is named “Compair Lapin”), he is predominantly an African-American folk hero. The rabbit as a trickster is also in Akan versions as well and a Bantu origin doesn’t have to be the main source, at least for the Caribbean where the Akan people are more dominant than in the U.S. His tales entered the mainstream through the work of the American journalist Joel Chandler Harris, who wrote several collections of Uncle Remus stories between 1870 and 1906.
One of the times Anansi himself was tricked was when he tried to fight a tar baby after trying to steal food, but became stuck to it instead. It is a tale well known from a version involving Br’er Rabbit, found in the Uncle Remus stories and adapted and used in the 1946 live-action/animated Walt Disney movie Song of the South. These were derived from African-American folktales in the Southern United States, that had part of their origin in African folktales preserved in oral storytelling by African Americans. Elements of the African Anansi tale were combined by African-American storytellers with elements from Native American tales, such as the Cherokee story of the “Tar Wolf”, which had a similar theme, but often had a trickster rabbit as a protagonist. The Native American trickster rabbit appears to have resonated with African-American story-tellers and was adopted as a cognate of the Anansi character with which they were familiar. Other authorities state the widespread existence of similar stories of a rabbit and tar baby throughout indigenous Meso-American and South American cultures. Thus, the tale of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby represents a coming together of two separate folk traditions, American and African, which coincidentally shared a common theme. Most of the other Br’er Rabbit stories originated with Cherokee or Algonquian myths. In the USA today, the stories of Br’er Rabbit exist alongside other stories of Aunt Nancy, and of Anansi himself, coming from both the times of slavery and also from the Caribbean and directly from Africa.
Anansi as a spiritual figure
Anansi is often depicted in popular tales interacting with the Supreme Being and other deities who frequently bestow him with temporary supernatural powers, such as the ability to bring rain or to have other duties performed for him. As Kwaku Anansi, he is sometimes also considered an Abosom (lesser deity) in Akan spirituality, despite being commonly recognized as a trickster. Thus, Kwaku Anansi is similar to Legba, who is also both a trickster and a deity in West African Vodun. It is important to note, however, that Akan spirituality writ-large does not generally emphasize the worship of Anansi as an Abosom to the same extent that other established African trickster deities are worshiped in their respective religions; his connection to the sacred is ultimately believed to be irrelevant in comparison to his importance in Akan society, leading to an extensive debate on the subject. Nonetheless, those who do recognize Anansi in a religious context in Akan spirituality acknowledge him as the Obosom of wisdom; he is even said to have created the first inanimate human body, according to the scholar Anthony Ephirim-Donkor. In the New World on the other hand, alternative religious views of Anansi have greater prominence in addition to his role as a folkloric character; followers of Haitian Vodou, for example, honor him as a Gede Lwa, responsible for maintaining the connections between the deceased ancestors and the living.
Bru Nansi (Virgin Islands)
Annancy or Anancy (Jamaica, Grenada, Costa Rica, Colombia, Nicaragua)
Anansi (Trinidad and Tobago)
Anansi Drew (The Bahamas)
Aunt Nancy (South Carolina)
Cha Nanzi (Aruba)
Kompa Nanzi (Curaçao, Bonaire)
Kwaku Anansi (Akanland)
Ba Anansi (Suriname)
Gede Zariyen, Zarenyen, or Ti Malice(Haiti)
Bra Anansi, Nansi or bra spaida (Jamaica, Sierra Leone)
Ba Yentay (South Carolina)