Tag Archives: narrative lesson

Myth: Anansi Story from a Coworker


Informant S is a 25 year old graduate student in the film production department of USC SCA and is the collector’s coworker. S is from New Jersey, and their family is from the Virgin Islands. S has “heard various Anansi stories within [their] family. This one [they] remember partially reading it for a project [they] were doing in a class but it also was within the realm of the ones [they] heard growing up [they] just couldn’t fully remember it so [they] just found one.” The informant has studied folklore for their own personal interest in it and employed it in their own filmmaking.


Informant: “Anansi is essentially like an African diaspora. It’s a spider, like a trickster-spider, and it’s everywhere in the Caribbean, it’s in the whole diaspora. And there’s one Anansi story I sort of remember where he’s hungry and he wants dinner. So he keeps getting himself invited to, like, dinner parties and pretending there’s a bunch of people and then he steals the host’s dinner and just, like, leaves. I think he killed one of them at one point. But it’s all these different like creatures of the forest I think, there’s a fox, a wolf, and a crow I believe? And then eventually he keeps coming home, eating all the food he stole, and not bringing any back for his wife and kids. So, I think his wife rats him out and then there’s like a fake dinner party made to get him and he eats so much food he can’t move anymore. And then all the people he stole the food from capture him and basically tie him up and leave him tied against a tree. And then he eats the rope and escapes. That’s not… that’s the gist of it, I can remember.”

Collector: “Like that’s how it ends?”

Informant: “Something like that. They usually have kind of dark endings but the… essentially Anansi is supposed to teach you […] lessons about why not to trick people and be greedy and selfish and a bunch of stuff. […] Anansi itself is like a… almost universal… one of the few universal diasporic concepts. There’s a whole bunch of them, that’s just one I remember.”


I was lucky enough to find an informant for this collection entry that was familiar with concepts of folklore itself. S mentioned that their interest in the African diaspora is rooted in their own personal background, connecting them to heritage or family as we’ve discussed in class. It seems like this kind of interest in cultural folklore is common among the children and grandchildren of immigrants in America. S’ story reminds me of the concept of “universal archetype” – though that theory has been disproved, I can see why some folklorists have considered it. The concept of a trickster god, while not archetypal, appears in a number of folklores – notably in Indigenous American folklore, according to Lévi-Strauss’ work in structuralism. Anansi, like Lévi-Strauss’ examples, acts on instincts that are pretty reminiscent of human flaws, and is connected with a specific type of animal – a spider. Though S believes the story is to teach people not to mess with trickster gods, I believe it has to do with human flaw such as greed and gluttony as well. What’s more, I think it’s interesting that the informant specifically mentioned what they believe the story is supposed to teach, and has a pretty clear understanding of this story as a myth.

The Empty Pot

This story, The Empty Pot, takes place in a town in China where the emperor was seeking a successor.  The emperor organized a competition where every kid in the village received flower seeds, and whoever grew the most beautiful flower would be named the next emperor. Everyone was watering their plants and making them grow and everyone’s flowers were blooming except one. On the day of the end of the competition, this boy’s flower hadn’t grown at all and everyone else had these beautiful blooming flowers. Even though his seed hadn’t bloomed, he brought it to the emperor anyway. It turned out that the seeds the emperor had given all the children had been burnt, so they weren’t supposed to grow. Everyone else had grown these beautiful flowers because they did not use the seeds that they were given and cheated by using their own seeds. This boy then became the next emperor because he had been honest.

This was a story my informant (JL) and her brother were told by their parents when they were growing up. She said her parents loved story time in general and it was a large part of her upbringing. This story in particular stuck with her the most, largely because the characters were Asian but also because the lesson stood out to her.  

There’s a clear lesson in this story about honesty, in a creative format that can clearly stick with people throughout their lives. My interpretation of this story is quite similar to that of my informant. I enjoy seeing diverse representations of culture in the media that I consume, especially when it relates to my identity. I think, like my informant’s experience, that this story is a very easily digestible and successful way to teach children a valuable lesson through an engaging story.