Tag Archives: virgin islands

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 Night of the Silent Drums

BACKGROUND: BB is the interviewer’s mother. For several years in the 1980s, she lived on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands while working for the local resort.

BB: “When I lived and worked on St. John, USVI, in the 1980s I heard a story about how, when there were sugar cane plantations on the island (then part of the Danish West Indies) in the 1700s, there was a rebellion of slaves that went something like this: slaves had coordinated attacks on their captors by using different drumming patterns as codes. The slaves were unaware of the naval and land coordination of their Danish captors. The weapons they used were machetes, which they were given to clear the fields. After a particularly long and bloody battle between the slaves and their captors, in which slaves were cornered at the eastern end of the island, on a high cliff above the treacherous Sir Francis Drake Channel, hundreds of slaves jumped to their deaths.
I don’t know how much of this story is true, but it always fascinated and horrified me — and that a place of such serene beauty (now) could have such a sad and tragic history.”

ANALYSIS: This is a historical event that has become interwoven with the cultural tapestry of St. John. Even though BB did not see ghosts, there’s a ghostly quality to this story, the stains of slavery now shrouded by the serene beauty of the Caribbean. For another telling of the story, see:

Anderson, Lorenzo John. The Night of the Silent Drums. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1975.