general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Anansi Tales

The following is a tale from Jamaica.  The informant is represented by the letter T and I am represented by the letter K.

Piece:

K: Tell me about some of the folklore you learned growing up.

T: Growing up in Jamaica, my mom used to tell us stories about Anansi, who was a spider.  He was a pretty popular character in a lot of stories.  One of them was about Anansi and a snake.  In that story, there was Tiger, who was king of the forest and had a bunch of stuff named after him, and… Anansi, on the other hand, was a nothing and nobody.  All- all the other animals would make fun of Anansi while they called Tiger the bravest and the strongest… So, one day, Anansi got sick and tired of it all and he… met Tiger in the forest, and he said to Tiger, “Hey Tiger, you have it all. Can you just let me have one thing named after me?” The Tiger wanted to ignore Anansi, but he said to him- because he was curious- so, he asked him, “what is it that you want to have your name, Anansi?” And so, Anansi answered him that he wanted the stories to be called, “The Anansi stories,” instead of the Tiger stories.  So… Tiger didn’t want to give up the name of the stories because he loved the stories, but he wanted to have a good laugh, so he told Anansi that if he could do one small thing for him, then he would let Anansi call the stories the Anansi stories or anything else that he wanted to call them.  So… Anansi didn’t like the sound of it, but he asked Tiger what he would have to do.  Tiger said he wouldn’t have to do anything hard, all he had to do capture Snake by the end of the week. So, of course, Anansi was scared because Snake was very very big, while Anansi, being a spider, was very very small.  So, but- Anansi really wanted to have the stories named after him, so he said that he would do it. So, all the other animals were listening into the conversation and they started laughing. So, Anansi went home worried, but he was thinking about what he could do to capture Snake. So Tiger and Anansi had reached the agreement on Monday and the next day Anansi went down the trail, where he knew Snake always went down, and he cut down a large noose from a strong line and put some of Snake’s favorite berries in it. And, he hid in the bushes, holding the other part of the vine, so that when Snake came along, he would be able to tighten the noose and capture Snake. But when Snake came along, he saw the noose around the berries, so he put his weight on the vine and reached in and grabbed the berries quickly, and Anansi tried and tried, but he couldn’t pull the vines to close the noose because the snake’s body was too heavy.  So the next day, Anansi went further down the trail and… he dug a pit in the ground.  And inside the pit, he put some bananas, but then he also put some grease around the pit, so that when Snake went to get the bananas, he would fall into the pit.  So, when Snake came along the path, he saw the bananas and he wanted to eat them, but he also saw the grease in the pit, so he wrapped his tail around a tree trunk and then reached into the hole with his head and ate the bananas, and then when he was done, he unwrapped his tail and went away.  So, the NEXT day, Anansi made a trap out of some sticks and he put some mangoes inside and when a piglet came along, he went in for the mangoes and Anansi closed the trap behind him.  So… he had figured that… Snake would see the piglet and that he would be able to get into the trap through the spaces he had left in the trap, but he wouldn’t be able to get back out once he had eaten the piglet.  However, when Snake came along… and the piglet saw him, the piglet got so scared that he went crazy and he started squealing and he went berzerk and then he started smashing the trap into pieces and then he ran away as quickly as he could so that Snake didn’t even get a chance to eat him. Sooo, the next day, it was the end of the week, and Anansi was out of time, so he went directly to Snake’s house and sat outside looking all dejected, and Snake came out and he said to Anansi, “boy, you’re bright.  You’ve been trying to catch me all week and now you show up in my yard?” So Anansi looked at Snake and was like, “yeah, it’s true, but I’ve been trying to catch you for a worthy cause. All of the other animals are talking behind your back.” So, of course, Snake was curious and he said, “well what are they talking about? what are they saying?” and Anansi said, “well, I shouldn’t really be telling you, but they say that you believe that you’re the longest thing around and that you’re the mightiest and… and.. God’s gift to longness, when even the shortest bamboo is longer than you.” So Snake was MAD. So he said, “measure me Anansi! Get the longest bamboo you can find and show those animals that I am the longest thing around here.” So… Anansi said to Snake, “well Snake, there’s a problem.  You look longer than the bamboo, but how do I know that when I go up by your head, you’re not stretching to look longer and then when I go down by your tail, you’re not shifting down on that end.” So… Snake said to Anansi to tie him up if he didn’t believe him. So now all the animals were gathering around in curiosity to watch what was gonna happen. So, Anansi ties Snake’s tail to the bamboo with some lines and then told Snake to stretch and so… Snake stretched and then Anansi quickly tied his head to the pile and tied his middle up.  Now all the animals that were watching went silent because Anansi said that he would capture Snake and he did, so now all the animals were no longer laughing at him.  And then from that day on, all of the stories were called Anansi stories.  The end.

Context:

This took place in a hotel room at the Ritz-Carlton in Downtown Los Angeles.  The informant was sitting on the bed, watching TV while playing games on her iPad.  Her husband was walking around the room getting ready to go to sleep.  I was sitting next to the informant and asked her if she had any folklore she learned growing up.

My Thoughts:

This tale clearly has a few “lessons” or “teachings” and is intended for children.  The informant learned this when she was quite young from her mother.  From this tale, we can see that one of the large meanings, depending on perspective, is either to never judge someone’s capabilities based on appearance or to never give up just because something seems too hard to handle.  With all of the animals assuming that Anansi can’t capture Snake, just because he’s little, it’s clear that there’s this idea of great power within something so small. Hearing this as a child, you’re prompted to believe that you have great capabilities within you, despite being so young.  The story also has some undertones of not being too cocky because if Snake hadn’t felt the need to show off his longness, then he never would have been captured, and if Tiger had never assumed he was putting Anansi up to a task he could never complete, then he wouldn’t have lost the title of the stories.  I think this tale is really adorable and there’s a lot more like it that come from Jamaican culture.

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