Anansi is one of the best-known figures in the West African pantheon. Originating as a character in the folklore of the Akan people, natives of the Guinea Coast, Anansi became a cultural figure in the Caribbean and beyond. Anansi is a shapeshifter, but his typical form is that of a spider. He is known for his wit and humor, and he often plays the role of the trickster figure in West African folklore. Read on to see what tales Anansi can spin.
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According to some legends, Anansi was the son of Nyame. Nyame, also known as the Sky God, was the principal deity of the Akan People. Anansi is credited with some of his father’s divine power. According to some legends, he was responsible for determining the boundaries of the oceans. According to others, he taught humans the arts of hunting and agriculture. Some of these actions would cause conflict between Nyame and Anansi.
Anansi is often depicted as a spider or some hybrid of spider and man. There are various legends as to how he acquired this form. According to one story, Anansi killed a ram and attempted to blame it on a spider. When the King who owned the ram discovered the deception, he kicked Anansi so hard he split into two pieces and became a spider.
Anansi had several children with his wife, Okonore Yaa (also known as Aso). Those children included his firstborn, Ntikuma; Tikelenkelen, his “big-headed” son; Nankonhwea, his very thin son; Afudohwedohwe, the “pot-bellied,” and in some stories a daughter named Anansewa. In one Anansi story, Anansi attempted to hide the world’s knowledge in a gourd. Thanks in part to the questions of his son Ntikuma, however, Anansi realizes it’s foolish to hoard knowledge and eventually agrees to share it with the rest of humanity.
ALL THE STORIES OF THE WORLD
One of the most famous Anansi stories, occurring in multiple traditions, relates how he distributed the stories of Nyame to the people of the Earth. The myth claims that Anansi won the right to all the world’s stories by bringing four seemingly uncatchable animals to Nyame: the hornet swarm Mmoboro, the python Onini, the leopard Osebo, and the fairy Mmoatia.
RELATIONSHIP TO BR’ER RABBIT
Although Anansi is often likened to Br’er Rabbit, a popular trickster figure in African-American and Caribbean oral traditions, the two are separate characters originating from different African myths. However, like Br’er Rabbit, Anansi has tussled with a tar baby, a sticky figure who traps the hero the harder they hit at it. Unlike Br’er Rabbit, Anansi has used a tar baby for his own purposes as well. The mischievous fairy Mmoatia, mentioned above, was captured using a doll covered in sap.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
Read how Anansi managed to trap Onini, Mmoboro, and Osebo to see how his brains triumphed over brawn.
Anansi’s practical wisdom is remembered wherever his stories are told.
Check out this article to learn more about some of Anansi’s fellow trickster gods.
The Akan people have a vibrant musical as well as literary culture:
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