Let’s dive into the enthralling Ashanti culture of the Gold Coast (presently known as Ghana) and unfold the story of the great Ananse. Like most African tales, these stories were not physically recollected, but rather verbally passed down, from one generation to another. Soon enough, the Anansesem, or spider tales, gained popularity throughout the whole of West Africa.
This mythological trickster of West African culture is often referred to as Kweku Ananse. The name Kweku, meaning Wednesday, was given to the spider because it is said that his soul appeared on that day. Kweku has many incarnations, the most well known being the naughty and mischievous son of Nyame, God of the sky, who transformed him into a spider as punishment. In other tales, Kweku is even described to be the creator of the world. Although Ananse is most commonly known as a spider, he often takes human form and possesses an unconventional skillset.
This version of Ananse is persuasive, intelligent, witty and most of all a trickster. This egocentric creature uses his skills to either outsmart more imposing animals or disguise himself to help other animals at his own benefit. Sometimes Kweku Ananse is the hero who is able to survive in a hostile world where his skill and intelligence overcome nefarious forces. He is depicted as cruel, inconsiderate and self absorbed. He would use his target’s habits against them, simply as a source of pleasure or to gain accolades. While every version of Ananse may be different, every story concludes with an intelligible moral.
Over the centuries, Anansesem expanded to theWest Indies and Southern United States, where they became known as the stories of Anancy or Aunt Nancy. During that time, these stories instilled hope, symbolized rebellion and became a source of pride for the slaves who struggled to survive while wrestling for freedom. The Ananse narratives are known for addressing societal issues through moral lessons, but these tales also remain some of the most entertaining and amusing to share. They have become timeless stories and continue to be passed down from generation to generation.
Ananse The Spider, Written by Marion Laubhouet-Akadié and Illustration by Mark Modimola