- Origin: Ashanti
- Cult Center: West Indies, parts of Africa
- Role: Storyteller / Deity
- Symbol: Spider
- Parents: Asaase Yaa, Nyame
- Spouse: Aso (or Konori)
- Children: Ntikuma (others, unnamed)
Who is Anansi?
Anansi is the King of Stories, the trickster, the joke maker, and the teacher of those who would follow these traditions. Anansi can be summoned by those with a gift for stories, either to listen to a well-told tale or to help someone who is talented but just beginning to become a master storyteller.
Anansi’s origins are from the Ashanti people of Ghana, who brought the traditions to the Caribbean with them where they truly blossomed. Other stories are told throughout West Africa, but they are most prolific in locations such as Jamaica.
Anansi is the child of the godly manifestations of his mother the Earth (Asaase Yaa) and his father the Sky (Nyame), so is a true representation of all things on heaven and earth. He has many children with his wife Aso, but the most notable child is Ntikuma, a boy who plays a significant part in one of the more popular legends, regarding the bringing of wisdom to the world.
Anansi appears to those he interacts with as a spider, a man with spider-like features, or some mix of both, most commonly a spider with a man’s face or head, or a man with eight legs. He is always playing tricks, telling stories, or causing some other form of mischief. His interactions in the world have been very important because he brings both stories and wisdom.
Anansi Brings Stories to the World
Anansi looked around him, enjoying the world, but seeing that it was a rather boring place. Realizing that the people had no stories to tell because his father Nyame was hoarding them in a box in the sky, Anansi set about a plan to take them from his father.
He rose into the sky on a silken thread that he spun, and approached Nyame to ask if he could give them to the people so that they could enjoy the stories and learn from their wisdom. His father was impressed that Anansi had even found a way to approach him, so even though he did not want to release the stories, assigned Anansi with what he thought was an impossible task. Nyame told his son that if he could bring four creatures to him, he would trade Anansi the stories for them. The creatures were the most fearsome in creation; Onini, a huge python, Osebo, a hungry leopard, the deadly Moboro Hornets, and the invisible fairy Mmoatia who was famous for her pride, greed, and quick temper.
As Anansi left, declaring that he would do these tasks, Nyame laughed to himself thinking that each was impossible, and all four combined would be insurmountable.
Anansi himself wondered how he could do this, but he was determined. Soon he realized that in order to beat the best traits of the four creatures, he would have to use his best trait – his trickery. He devised plans to defeat each one and put them into motion.
First, he sat outside of Onini’s lair and pretended to argue with himself. First, he would say, “Is not!” and then follow it with “Is so!” Soon the python’s curiosity was aroused, and he asked Anansi what he was doing. Anansi told Onini that his wife said the stick he was holding was longer than the snake, while he thought the snake was longer. Onini said that there was an easy way to sort it out. He would stretch himself out next to the stick. Anansi suggested that since it was difficult for the snake to stretch his curves to the full length of the stick, they should tie him to it or he might not be longer. Onini agreed, and this is how his vanity allowed Anansi to capture him for Nyame.
Next was Osebo, whose strength was legendary. Anansi dug a deep pit. The next morning, he found Osebo trapped in it. Offering to help, he spun a rope from his webs, daring Osebo to use his strength to get out of the pit. When Osebo began climbing, he became entangled in the web. The more he struggled to get higher, the more tangled he got. Finally he could not move, and this is how Anansi used Osebo’s own strength to capture him.
For the next creature, Anansi cut a small hole in a gourd and made a plug for the hole. He then gathered water on a huge leaf. He poured half over his head, and half on the hornet’s nest, ruining it. When the Mmoboro hornets angrily flew out, Anansi exclaimed that the rains had come early, but that the hornets could hide in the gourd. The first flew in, and the rest of the hornets followed closely. This is how Anansi use the hive-mind that gave the hornets strength in numbers against them.
Finally, he had to trap the crafty fairy Mmoatia. He knew this final task would be the most difficult, but he also knew of her weakness for yam paste. Anansi crafted a gum baby, attached a web line to its head, and set a bowl of yam paste that Ano had made into its lap. Soon Mmoatia came along and saw the yam paste. She could not resist and asked the gum baby for permission to have some. Anansi pulled the web, making the gum baby’s head. Mmoatia dug in, eating all the paste. When she was finished, she thanked the gum baby. Now, Anansi did not pull the web. Mmoatia was annoyed, and thanked the gum baby again, who remained silent. This caused Mmoatia to become angry, and she slapped the gum baby. Her hand became entangled in the gum, and she attacked with her other arm, which also became entangled. As her rage grew, she attacked with her legs, until she was finally fully trapped. Anansi had used Mmoatia’s pride and anger against her.
Taking this final creature to his father, Nyame announced that Anansi had successfully completed the tasks that had been set for him, and presented Anansi the box containing all the stories of the world.
Anansi Brings Wisdom to the World
There are many stories of Anansi because of his global influence. But the other story that matters the most is that of how he also brought wisdom to the world, even if it was only by accident.
The first this that should be noted is that it is possible that wisdom and stories are one and the same in this case. This is because the stories that were given to Anansi by Nyame were often teaching tools, as well as entertainment.
Anansi was troubled. He had a pot containing all the wisdom of the world, and every day Anansi would look in the pot and learn some new and wondrous thing. He wanted to keep it safe, and for himself, even though his father Nyame had instructed him to share it. He began looking for a hiding place. His son, Ntikuma, was very curious, and when he saw his father skulking about, he decided to follow him.
Anansi looked far and wide for the perfect hiding place. Finally he came upon a very tall tree and decided that he would tie the pot to the top of it where nobody but he would know it was. He fashioned a long rope of vines and began to climb it while holding the pot.
No matter how he tried, though, the pot made it impossible for him to climb very high. He kept falling, endangering the pot each time. Finally, Ntikuma could not keep his silence. He stepped out and said, “Father, why do you not use some of your vines to tie the pot to your back. That way you can carry it up without it bumping your belly or requiring your grasp!”
Anansi did this and was able to quickly climb to the top. But as he sat there, contemplating what his son had said, he realized that even with the pot of wisdom his son had given him wise advice that he had not thought of himself. This taught him that wisdom is best when it is shared. He threw the pot from the top of the tree and when it struck the ground and shattered, the wisdom was dispersed in the water and the winds to anyone that wanted a little of it. This is why everyone has some wisdom, but nobody has all of it.
As the King of Stories, Anansi is the patron of both storytellers and those who live by their wits. Like many primarily Caribbean deities, he can be summoned with an offering of treats, smokes, and liquor. But if you can’t spin a good story to keep him interested, don’t expect him to stick around for very long, because he will not tolerate boredom.