Informant Data: My informant is an International Relations major here at the University of Southern California. He is African-American, and was brought up on many West African folktales. When he retells the following tale, he speaks emphatically and passionately.
Item: The folk-tale of “Why Anansi has Eight Long Legs.” The following quotations are direct transcriptions of my dialogue with the informant, while the additional information provided is paraphrased.
“Anansi, which means spider in the African language of Akaan, has always been a great trickster. While he has always had eight legs, they have not always looked as they do now. Once upon a time they were small and sturdy instead of long and thin. Anansi was always a lazy spider. Instead of cooking his own dinner, he liked to drop in on his neighbors and sample their suppers. One evening he smelt boiling carrots and went to his friend Hare’s house.
“Those carrots smell delicious,” said Anansi.
“Oh Anansi, what a pleasant surprise,” replied Hare. “I’m afraid they aren’t quite done yet, but you are more than welcome to stay for supper.”
Anansi lied to his friend and said, “I wish I could, but I’m very busy,” too lazy to help prepare the meal. “I know, I will make a web and tie one end around my leg, and you can hold the other. Give it a pull when the carrots are ready and I’ll come back for supper.”
Hare agreed and Anansi went on his way. As Anansi left, he picked up the smell of cooking beans and his tummy rumbled. He stopped in front of Monkey’s house.
“Would you like to have some supper with me?” asked Monkey politely. “The beans are almost done!”
“Ah, if only I could Monkey. But I have many things to do,” said Anansi. “I know, I will make a web and tie one end around my leg, and you can hold the other. Give it a pull when the beans are ready and I’ll come back for supper.”
Monkey agreed and Anansi went on his way, laughing to himself: “Ha, ha, ha!”
Next, Anansi caught a whiff of some boiling potatoes. “Is someone here boiling potatoes?” he asked.
Ah, it was his friend Hog. “I’m making some potatoes right now, would you like to have some for supper with me? I just have to set the table.”
“If only I could Hog. But I have many things to do,” said Anansi. “I know, I will make a web and tie one end around my leg, and you can hold the other. Give it a pull when the potatoes are ready and I’ll come back for supper.”
Hog agreed and Anansi went on his way. He continued on like this until he had a web tied to each of his eight legs. Satisfied with his cleverness, Anansi decided to lie down in the sun and take a nap before dinner.
Suddenly, Anansi was awoken by a tug at one of his legs. He wondered to himself which meal was ready for him first. But then, another leg was tugged from the other direction. And another. And another. And another! Soon Anansi was being pulled in eight different directions! Eventually everyone stopped pulling on their webs, but not before Anansi had been stretched all out of proportion. From then on, Anansi walked on eight thin, long legs and never tried to trick people for their food again.”
Contextual Data: The informant first heard this tale in his early childhood. “I must have been pretty young [when first introduced], my mom used to tell them to me and my older brother when we were little on long car rides, the stories in my family are one of the few cultural things I have from my West African heritage, so Anansi and his many stories definitely hold significance to me.” I asked my informant to describe and, if possible, define “Anansi” and his transcending role in his stories, to which he replied “Anansi is a lazy trickster thief of West African legend who is credited with winning Stories from the Sky God and bringing them to the people of the earth.” He emphasized that “Stories” was with a capital “S” because he was not simply the keeper of stories, but “the origin, the concept and the sharer.” I asked how this made my informant feel and what he thought of Anansi, to which he replied: “I think he’s awesome. I really like his stories, I named my dog after Anansi and still name things after him today, like internet passwords or small things. The messages of his tales are always concise, and there’s beauty in the simplicity.” As for what the message of this particular tale is, he explained it as two-fold: “It serves a purpose, to explain why spiders have long spindly legs. What happened to Anansi is extrapolated to all spiders. But then there is the moral of the story, that laziness and trickery will get you nowhere.” The informant gives the impression that although Anansi is chronically acting on idiotic and selfish whims, only to be reprimanded by an unfortunate fate, he is still a beloved character. The tale serves an anecdotal purpose to explain a natural phenomenon; as if meant for an audience in the midst of childhood curiosity (easily recognized by the questioning of “Why?” to every facet of our existence). Additionally, the folk-tale assists in the implementation of our society’s moral code, illustrating why trickery and laziness are not to be sought after.