Sunday, November 11, 2012

Anansi the Spider

Where do stories come from?

According to a legend from Ghana, once there were no stories in the world. Nyame the Sky God kept all the stories for himself.

Anansi the Spider went to Nyame and asked him how much it would cost to buy the stories.

Nyame named his price, and the price was very high. In order to acquire the stories, Anansi must perform a series of difficult tasks. He must capture four legendary troublemakers: Onini the Python, Osebo the Leopard, the Mmoboro Hornets, and Mmoatia the Dwarf. 

First Anansi went to talk to the Python. 

“I am honored to meet such a great champion as yourself,” said Anansi. "Your size is impressive. Longer than any other serpent’s.”

The Python hissed with pleasure. 

“Is it true,” said Anansi, that you are longer than a palm branch?”


“Of course, some of the beasts say that is only a myth—that no serpent is longer than a palm branch.”

“Ridiculous-s-s-s-s. They are only jealous-s-s-s-s.”

“I know a way we could settle this,” said Anansi. “It is really very easy.”

And so Anansi tricked the Python into stretching out on a palm branch. And then Python permitted Anansi to tie him to the branch, in order to get a more accurate measurement. Anansi then picked up the bound Python and carried him to Nyame.

In a similar manner, Ananse tricked the Leopard, the Hornets and the Dwarf and delivered them all to the Sky God.

Nyame, true to his word, gave the stories to Anansi, and that’s how stories came to be in the world.

Anansi the trickster spider, is a famous character from the mythology of Ghana, Africa. He has mythic connections with other legendary tricksters such as Brer Rabbit, Aunt Nancy ( southern U.S.), Raven (Alaska), Coyote (Native American), and even Spider Man.

Anansi is small and weak. He would be no match for his bigger, stronger adversaries, except for one thing--his wits. Thus, for centuries, the stories of Anansi have brought courage to many underdogs, many Davids facing Goliaths.

My favorite telling of an Anansi story is found in the Caldecott-winning children’s book, Anansi the Spider: a Tale from the Ashanti, by Gerald McDermott. The artwork is visually stunning, and the story is simple and elegant. 

In this story, Anansi the spider has six sons: See Trouble, Road Builder, River Drinker, Game Skinner, Stone Thrower, and Cushion. 

Anansi finds himself in trouble—no surprise there!—and each of his six sons will play a part in saving him. What a lovely parable of how each of us, with our gifts differing, has an important calling that only we can fill.

I'm not so sure that Anansi brought stories to the earth from the sky, but the stories that have been spun about this small spider have circled the earth and made an important contribution to world mythology.


  1. Lovely! I will order Anansi the Spider from the library and read it to Joel. I'm not familiar with the Aunt Nancy character from the southern U.S. Hope you write about her one of these days...

  2. I am doing a project on Ghanaian folk tales, and of course Ananse will feature! This was an interesting read, thank you!