Anansi Tales

Main piece: So, it’s the Anansi Tales, it’s really popular in Jamaica, and my mom grew up in Jamaica so her mom used to tell her the stories. Basically, Anansi was this spider and he was pretty popular in most of the stories but one of them specifically was about Anansi and the snake. So, there was this tiger that was the king of the forest and had a bunch of stuff named after him. And Anansi was like, “I want something named after me.” So he went up to the tiger and was like, “hey you have everything you could ever want, can you just name something after me?” and the tiger was like, “okay, what do you want me to name after you?” and Anansi said that he wanted the stories to be called the Anansi stories because they were originally called the tiger stories. So, the tiger didn’t want to give up his name as the story names. So he was like, “ok fine I’ll entertain this idea for a second.” And he decided to make a deal with Anansi. So he was like, “Okay, here’s the deal bro, capture the snake, then I’ll change the name to the Anansi stories.” And Anansi was like, “Okay, BET.” So, he was thinking about how he could capture the snake. And his first plan he got a noose and some berries, and put the berries in the noose, I think. But, the snake managed to get the berries without getting caught. So Anansi was like, “Aw dang. What’s another way I can do this?” And so then he went a little bit further down the trail — like he did this on a trail that he knows the snake normally goes down — and then he went further in the trail and dug a pit and put some bananas in it. Oh, and then he put grease along the side so that the snake wouldn’t get out. So the snake saw the bananas, but he also saw the grease so he was like “no” and he tied his tail or something to like the tree that was next to it, and he went in and got the bananas just fine. So then, Anansi was like, “alright cool. What can I do now?” So, then he made this trap and put mangos in it and then this piglet walked by and was like “whoa” so he got trapped in the trap. So basically there was enough room in the trap for the snake to go and eat the piglet but not get out. But then when the snake arrived, the piglet started to go crazy and he like broke down the trap and ran away and the snake didn’t get caught. So then the next day Anansi was sitting outside the snakes house and the snake was like, “oh okay, so after you try to kill me on multiple accounts, you’re just going to sit outside my house? Smart idea” and then Anansi was like, “Yeah, you’re right but like I was doing it for a good cause, people are talking about you behind your back. And the snake was like, “What do you mean?” and he [Anansi] was like, “They’re saying that you’re not the longest creature here. They’re saying you’re not even like as long as bamboo.” And the Snake was like, “Hell nah I am. Get the longest piece of bamboo you can find and like measure me next to it” and Anansi was like, “Okay here’s the issue: what if like I’m measuring, and when I go by your head you make yourself seem longer, but when I goby your tail you move closer to make it seem longer.” Cause obviously Anansi can’t see the whole length of the snake like all the time, so the snake told him to tie his tail to the bamboo. So, Anansi does and then goes down to measure the head. But, what he really does at that point to that snake is he quickly ties the head to the bamboo and to the middle. And at this point, everyones kinda gathered around and watching and they’re like “oh, what the fuck—” Oh sorry— “Anansi caught the snake!” and then ya all the animals were like “Okay respect, we’re not gonna laugh at you anymore. They’re the Anansi Tales now.” And that’s how they became the Anansi tales, but there’s a ton of other stories and they’re super popular in Jamaica. 

Background: My informant is a Junior in college. She is American, but her Mom is an immigrant from Jamaica and her Dad is an immigrant from Nicaragua. Here she talks about a tale that her mom heard when she was a kid, and then passed it on down to her kids. The informant says that they’re not well known stories here, in Jamaica the characters and stories of the Anansi tales are like kids stories, that the culture holds very fondly. It is important to note that my informant acknowledged the fact that this wasn’t going to be the exact same as the way her mom tells it, but she remembers most of the ‘specifics.’

Context: This story was told during the day in a group setting. What was nice is that time didn’t seem to pass as we heard this story, as the informant shared it in a way that was aimed towards us. The language used was casual and engaging, and the group was listening to the story with the same engagement of watching a netflix show. I could also tell that the informant fed off this energy and began to have fun with the tale. 

My Thoughts: What I think is super important here is the idea that two versions of the same story could stem from the same house. Of course, the informant’s mother’s version is great as it was listened to many times by the informant. However, the informant has created her own version in sharing the story with me and a few others. The way she performed it for us was very informal and modern in terms of language, which made the story engaging and hilarious for the audience. I found myself rooting for Anansi at the end of the rather long narrative, and also curious as to what other adventures this spider has gone on, both in a traditional sense, but also in a non traditional sense. I mean, the stories this spider has inspired from passing from person to person. I am excited to try this one out on my younger siblings, and I am sure my version will not be the same, but still hold some of the Anansi magic. Of course, I have no intense personal ties to the Jamiacan roots of this story, however the informant’s genuine love for her childhood tale is inspiring to keep that tale alive.