Anansi (Ananse) Ashanti (Ghana) The spider, a trickster and culture hero. Anansi is one of the most popular characters in West African mythology. He is often referred to as Kwaku (Father) Anansi. As a trickster figure, Anansi was renowned for his cleverness and ingenuity. In some stories, Anansi served as the intermediary of the sky god Nyame, his father. (In other tales, Nyame was Anansi’s friend rather than his father.) As a culture hero, Anansi was regarded as the creator of the Sun, Moon, and stars and therefore responsible for day and night. He also brought rain and taught humans how to sow grain. anansasem One story tells how Anansi came to own all the tales that are told. In the beginning, all tales belonged to Nyame. Anansi wanted to own the stories himself, so he offered to buy them. Nyame told Anansi that he was willing to sell the stories, but the price was high. He wanted three things: Mmoboro, the hornets; Onini, the great python; and Osebo, the leopard. Anansi was confident that he was clever enough to perform these tasks. He first cut a gourd and made a small hole in it. He then poured water on himself and on the tree where the hornets lived. Anansi then told the hornets that they were foolish to stay in the rain, and he offered the gourd as shelter. When the hornets flew into the gourd, Anansi plugged up the hole and took the hornets to Nyame. Next, Anansi cut a bamboo pole and went to visit Onini, the python. He told Onini that he and his wife had been arguing over whether Onini was shorter or longer than the pole. Onini suggested that Anansi measure him against the pole, and he stretched out along it. Anansi convinced Onini to let him tie the python to the pole to keep him straight. He then carried the bound python to Nyame. To capture Osebo, the leopard, Anansi first dug a pit and covered it with branches and leaves. When Osebo fell into the pit, Anansi offered to rescue him. He bent a tall tree toward the ground and tied it in place. Next, he tied a rope to the top of the tree and dropped the other end of the rope into the hole. He told Osebo to tie his tail to the rope. When Anansi released the rope that held down the tree, the tree sprang upward, leaving Osebo dangling in the air. Anansi had no trouble capturing the helpless leopard. When Anansi presented Osebo to Nyame, the sky god agreed that the price had been paid. From that day onward, all stories belonged to Anansi. Another Anansi story explains why some people are wiser than others. In the beginning, Anansi was renowned for his wisdom, because he owned all the wisdom in the world. No one did anything without first seeking Anansi’s advice. However, not everyone seemed grateful for Anansi’s wise counsel. To punish people for their lack of gratitude, Anansi decided to stop giving advice and to repossess all the wisdom he had given out. He went from house to house, collecting all the bits of wisdom. He stored the wisdom in a large pot (or a gourd), which he planned to hide at the top of a tall tree. Anansi tied a rope around the pot and hung it on his chest. When he tried to climb the tree, however, the dangling pot prevented him from getting a good grip. After Anansi had made several unsuccessful attempts to climb the tree, his son, Ntikuma, shouted that he might have an easier time of it if he hung the pot on his back. Anansi angrily responded that he must have failed to gather up all of the world’s wisdom, since Ntikuma still seemed to possess some. With the pot on his back, Anansi quickly reached the top of the tree, but his anger made him clumsy. As he tried to tie the pot to the tree, it slipped from his hands. The pot fell to the ground and smashed on a rock, setting free all the bits of wisdom. People came from all over to snatch up as much wisdom as they could. The first to arrive were able to collect a great deal of wisdom, but the latecomers found very little left to collect. (In a slightly different version of the tale, Anansi ignored his son’s advice and fell to the ground, scattering his collection of wisdom.) See anansasem for a story about why Anansi is the oldest animal.
King of Stories
ALSO KNOWN AS:
Nanzi; Nansi; Bro’ Nansi; Brother Nansi; Mr. Nancy
Anansi, divine trickster and sacred spider, mediates between humans and spirits. He is a master of illusion and deception. Crucially, Anansi is the owner of stories.
Anansi stars in Neil Gaiman’s 2006 novel, Anansi Boys, and steals the show in his 2001 novel, American Gods, where, as Mr. Nancy, he manifests as an elderly black man with a pencil mustache, lemon-yellow gloves, and a checked sport jacket.
In the Western Hemisphere, Anansi is the star of Anansi stories. Many are wickedly funny little fables. This may lend the impression that the little spider is a trivial deity, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Kweku Anansi, sacred clown, is the child of Asaase Yaa, the Earth, and Nyame, the Sky. He serves as their eyes and ears on Earth. Anansi is a water spider, serving his parents (and people) by bringing rain to stop destructive fires and determining the boundaries of flooding rivers and seas. In some myths, Anansi creates or hangs the sun, moon, and stars. In others, he teaches people all kinds of valuable survival information.
Beckon and propitiate Anansi by telling stories full of exciting twists and turns. If you are not yet a good storyteller, ask for his help. If you are a performance artist, stand-up comedian, or any kind of speaker who is not holding your audience in the palm of your hand, petition Anansi for assistance. He’s the master. (Cultivate a sense of humor: he will take you for a ride while providing instruction.)
Storytellers; those who live by their wits
As a man, a spider, or anywhere in between. He can be any kind of spider he chooses, tiny or supernaturally large. (Ifyou’re scared of spiders, be warned: he may have some fun with your fears.) Ananse is the Ashanti word for “spider” and Anansi’s identification with spiders is profound. Even if he appears as a man, look for some little arachnid sign: a tie tack, ring, or clothing motif, something.
Consort: Mrs. Nancy’s name is Konori or Konoro, but in Jamaica, she’s called “Crookie,” possibly derived from the Hausa word for “female spider,” koki.
Spirit ally: Anansi’s frequent companion (and occasional victim) is his son, Ntikuma (Jamaican spelling: Tacooma). The Ashanti proverb “No one tells stories to Ntikuma” describes someone who has heard it all.
He likes treats, liquor, and cigarettes but should be entertained with stories, songs, and jokes, too. He won’t stay where he’s bored. (Alternatively, he’ll liven up the atmosphere himself.) If you can’t make them up, find clever jokes and stories and read them aloud.
Anansi arrived in North America and played a trick: he transformed into she, becoming Aunt Nancy. Explicit memories of the African deity were forgotten, but the stories were recalled. Anansi sounds like Aunt Nancy, and Aunt Nancy must be a woman, right? Of course, the stories are still full of spiders. In the United States, Anansi stories may be called Aunt Nancy stories.
Asaase Yaa; Aunt Nancy; Bori
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.