Anansi, the trickster god
African folktale | Folktale | Short story

Anansi, the trickster god

An important reflection of silence and wisdom to the people of Africa is the presence of Silent Animals (Because why not?)

Today, I would be talking about a famous spider god. It is common knowledge that West Africans portray spiders as emblems of silence and great wisdom particularly, the great spider god, ANANSI.

Anansi is trickster god amongst the Asante tribe of West Africa located in the present day Ghana. He is depicted in several ways across history but most often pictured to appear in the form of a being with the upper body of a man and the lower body of a spider. Other occasions, he is depicted as a spider wearing a man’s face.

Despite the depictions, he’s considered the god of all knowledge and stories ever told including his own. He has earned multiple nicknames, as his reputation grew in Ghana and even beyond the shores of Africa, the most popular of his names being Kwaku Anansi meaning Anansi, the inventor. He was renowned for his cleverness, ingenuity and ability to overpower, defeat and triumph over more powerful enemies using his cleverness, smartness and wit.

According to Asante myth, Anansi is the son of the sky god, Nyame and the earth goddess, Asase Yaa, and like the Orishas of the Yoruba people of West Africa, Anansi is of lesser divinity to the supreme being. He’s an intermediary between the supreme being (Nyame) who often bestows him with supernatural powers and the mortals who worship him.

In popular mythology, Anansi is known as “the infinite inventor” or “the great designer”. He’s credited with the creation of the sun, the moon and the stars which makes him primarily responsible for the separation of day into night. On account of his father, the sky god, he is also able to bring rain and flood. He also taught humans how to sow grains and use the shovel in plantation fields.

Anansi is also a popular figure amongst the Akon people of Ghana as well as several African tales and mythology generally. He’s also popular amongst the African-americans (known as Aunty Nancy) and the Caribbean folklores. He has so many mythical stories surrounding him but one of the most popular is the one on how Anansi came to own all stories that was ever told.

How Anansi owned all the stories

In the beginning, all stories and tales belonged to Nyame who kept them away from everyone’s knowledge. Anansi found the world boring and devoid of entertainment. Therefore, on a glorious day, he approached his father and demanded that he hand over the stories to him.

Nyame was outraged but at the same time, his manner of approach piqued his curiosity so he decided to test Anansi. He then proceeded to give Anansi four seemingly impossible tasks which if he was able to accomplish, he’d be given access to all the stories in the universe. Anansi being very confident in his abilities accepted the challenge and set out to complete the tasks.

First task

First of all, he set out to capture the Mmboro (The hornets that sting like larva). He harvested a calabash and cut out a small hole the size of his thumb on it, he called rain down upon himself until he was completely wet, then grabbed a wet plantain leaf to use as an umbrella.

When he got to the Mmboro’s nest, he called to their queen informing her that a huge torrent was on its way and that they’d be foolish to stay in their nest as it might annihilate them. The queen asked Anansi for help and he brought out the calabash and asked them to hide inside. He then sealed it up with his webs the moment the last hornet was in.

Second task

Having completed his first task, Anansi was overjoyed and decided to complete the second task as fast as spiderly possible. He cut out a bamboo pole and went to visit “Onini the great python”. He told Onini that he and his wife had been arguing, he said he informed his wife earlier that Onini was the longest animal in the kingdom but she had trouble believing him. Onini hissed and asked them to put it to the test. Anansi decided to taunt it further and said that no animal was longer than the bamboo pole with him. Onini getting increasingly pissed off decided to wrap itself around the pole.

Anansi decided to goad him further and asked if he could tie it to the pole so as to keep the great python straight since it’s tail kept curling anytime he tried to compare their lengths and Onini quickly agreed wanting to return to the meal he was on before Anansi showed up. Anansi then proceeded to tie Onini to the bamboo pole and quickly secured it with his spider webs.

Third task

“Two out of four, this is too easy,” Anansi said to himself as he set out to capture his next prey. Anansi now had his eyes set on Mmoatia the invisible fairy.

Anansi being a great craftsman crafted a sticky gum and rubbed it all over a doll. He then prepared a very delicious meal from mashed yams and potatoes which was Mmoatia’s favourite. He then proceeded to place them together under a tree where the fairies were rumoured to gather every evening. Mmoatia, on perceiving the sweet aroma of the mashed yam, flew dreamily towards it. Before anyone knew it, she had devoured it all. Anansi knew fairies were well mannered but Mmoatia was short-tempered, he was going to use this against her.

So, when Mmoatia was done eating, she thanked the doll who of course couldn’t reply. She thanked it again, this time raising her voice. When the doll didn’t reply, she struck it hard and as a result was now glued it to it. She cried out for help but Anansi was the only one around, he captured the fairy and hid her where he hid his other trophies. He had now completed three out of the four tasks he had set out on completing, it was going to be a great day for him.

Fourth task

Anansi then set out on the last and the most difficult task so far. He was scared but a mere leopard was not going to stop the great Anansi. Anansi set out to trap Osebo the ferocious Leopard. This great cat had teeth as long as daggers and claws as sharp as hunting knives and was so light on its feet no one could hear it approach.

Anansi went to the Leopard’s hunting ground whilst it was away and dug a hole in the ground. He then dangled himself as bait over the hole hoping that the leopard would be too hungry to notice his trap. When the great leopard arrived the next day, it’s toes curled at the sight of an easy breakfast and he immediately leapt into the air to try and reach Anansi. It realised too late that it was a trap.

Anansi captured the leopard and had no trouble taking it along with his other preys to Nwame. The sky father was amazed by Anansi’s success but he agreed that the price for knowledge has been effectively paid.

From that day forward, Anasi became the god of all stories that were told and would still be told. Including this one.

Kwaku Anansi means the infinite inventor.

This is a story by Olabisi, lead researcher and writer at Spirits of Africa.

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