Anansi is part human and part spider and a favorite character in the folktales and lore of West Africa. He is renowned for his cleverness and trickery and his ability to to turn the tables on large and more powerful opponents, but it has to be said he is no angel. Presented her is a retelling of a story from West Africa called Thunder and Anansi collected by W.H. Barker and Cecilia Sinclaire in their book, West African Folk-tales which tells how Anansi learnt an important lesson.
Thunder and Anansi
There was a time when a long and terrible famine came upon the land where Anansi lived and he struggled to find food to feed his wife and family. One day as he walked by the seashore he looked out over the ocean and was surprised to sea rising from the waves a small island with a tall palm tree growing upon it that he had never seen before. As he gazed at the island he thought maybe there were a few coconuts on the tree that he could bring home to his family. He was confident he could climb the tree to get the nuts, therefore, he set about thinking about how to cross the sea to the island.
The Island and the Coconuts
As he strolled along the beach thinking he came across the an old broken fishing boat. Looking at it closely, he thought maybe he could fix it and set about making repairs with bits of wood he found washed up on the shore. When he he had finished it did not look very seaworthy at all, but Anansi was desperate and decided to try it anyway. His first six trials ended in failure with the boat quickly sinking and needing to be dragged back to shore for further repairs. When he had at last made it watertight each time he managed to get out to sea a large wave would wash him back to the shore. Despite this, Anansi persevered and eventually managed to steer the boat all the way to the island on the seventh attempt. He found it was a indeed a very small island with just enough room for the tree to grow upon it. Quickly, he tied the boat to the tree to stop it floating off, then he climbed up the tree to get the those coconuts which ready for harvesting. Then he realized he could not carry them all down in one go and did not want to drop them because the island was so small and he feared they would land in the sea and float away.
Therefore, each time he picked a coconut he dropped it aiming for it to land within the boat, but his aim was not very good. To his frustration and dismay, just as he had feared, every one he dropped landed in the sea and floated away until he had only one remaining. Taking great care he aimed it for the boat and dropped it but it too landed with a splash in the sea. To his annoyance he had lost all of the coconuts without even getting a taste of one and now there was none left.
Anansi Meets Thunder
Hungry, angry and frustrated and not being able to bear the thought of going home empty handed he threw himself off the tree into the sea thinking he would drown. To his complete amazement instead of drowning he found himself standing at the bottom of the sea in front of a very quaint little house. As he gazed on in wonder the door opened and out stepped a very old man. To Anansi’s surprise the old man politely asked him what it was that he so desperately wanted that had caused him to come to Thunder’s house in search of it.
The Magical Cooking Pot
Anansi told him all about the great famine and how he had seen the coconut tree on the island, repaired the boat and sailed out to pick the coconuts and now had nothing to feed his family with. Thunder, listened very carefully and very sympathetically while Anansi told his tale and then he went back into his house and rummaged around finally came out again carrying a cooking pot. He presented this to Anansi and told him that with this pot he and his family would never again go hungry because it would magically supply and cook enough food for him and his family. Thunder then told him to return home all he need to to was think of himself in the boat. So Anansi thought if himself in the boat and found himself back there carrying the pot.
He untied the boat and it began floating slowly towards the shore. Realizing he had not asked Thunder how the pot worked he sat in the boat thinking and then said, “Cooking pot, cooking pot, cook for me as you did for Thunder!”
To Anansi’s surprise and delight the pot immediately became full of the most deliciously cooked food and Anansi greedily ate his fill. When he reached the shore he jumped on to the beach holding the pot thinking he would run to his family and give them a good meal from the marvelous pot. Then a thought hit him and he stopped short.
Inside of him a greedy, selfish fear, had awoken and was whispering to him saying, “Wait, wait, wait! If I use it to cook them a meal all of the magic will be used up and how will I replenish it? I will keep the pot secret and only use it for myself I will be able to enjoy a meal whenever I want and the magic might last longer.” With this he hid the pot in a safe place so that he could return in the night to sneak it into his home, where he would hide it again without his family knowing.
When he arrived home his wife and children were all delighted to see him but they were all weak and tired from lack of food. Anansi pretended he too was hungry and weak and selfishly ignored their plight. That night, when they were all asleep, he went back for the pot and hid it in his room congratulating himself on his luck and cleverness.
While his family grew weaker and weaker through hunger, he would at times disappear to his room and close the door and enjoy a good meal from the pot. While his wife and children grew thinner and weaker, he grew fatter and stronger. His family saw this and they grew suspicious and at last Kweku Tsin, his eldest son decided he would watch his father and investigate what he was up to.
The Truth is Revealed
Kweku Tsin was a shapechanger who had the power to turn himself into anything he wished and so he changed himself into a tiny fly and followed his father everywhere he went without being noticed by him. He followed him into his room and saw him take out the hidden pot and heard what he said to it and saw the fine meal it cooked for him. Then he watched where his father hid it when he had finished eating.
Afterwards his father went and announced to his family he was going in search of food for them and went out. Kweku Tsin, now knew this was a lie and when his father had gone changed back to human form and took out the pot and showed it to his mother and family. They all sat down and Kweku Tsin told the pot to cook as he had heard his father tell it and for the first time in ages they all had a good, delicious meal.
The Pot Melts
The family were all shocked, angry and disappointed with the greed of their father and Mrs Anansi decided she would punish her husband and took the cooking pot to the village where she intended on cooking everyone a good meal. However, because the pot had so many people to cook for at once it grew red hot and melted. Knowing her husband would be angry Mrs Anansi told everyone not to mention the cooking pot at all and act as if they did not know of its existence.
That evening when Anansi came home he had been looking forward to a tasty supper from the pot. Saying to his family he was tired and would have an early night he went to his room. Closing the door shut, he went to fetch the pot from its hiding place, but was aghast to see that it was gone. He looked high and low but could not find it and grew angry and knew his secret had been discovered. Realizing the thief must be someone in his own family he decided he would punish them all.
Return to Thunder’s House
So he said nothing about his missing cooking pot and in the morning at daybreak he went down to his boat at the seashore. As soon as he sat down the boat moved away under its own power towards the island. As soon as he arrived he tied the boat to the palm tree and climbed the tree looking for coconuts. He soon found some and this time deliberately tried to drop them in the water, but each time they landed safely in the boat. When he had picked all the coconuts he climbed down to the boat and began throwing them into the sea and then threw himself in after them.
The Stick of Thunder
Just like before he found he did not drown but was safely standing at the bottom of the sea in front of the house of Thunder. The door opened and Thunder came out and asked him to tell his tale. The old man listened attentively and sympathetically just as he had done the first time. Then, he went back into his house and came out with handsome looking stick which he presented to Anansi and said goodbye to him.
As he had done before Anansi thought himself as being in the boat and found himself there carrying the stick in his hand. Curious to see what marvelous magic the stick possessed he said, “Stick, stick, stick, what you did for Thunder do so for me!” Immediately the stick began to beat him all over his head and body so hard and fast that he had to jump into the sea to escape it and swim back to shore as the boat floated off. Then, he went sheepishly home, bruised and battered all over, mournfully wishing he had acted with more love and less greed towards his loved ones from the start and vowed to always think of his family first!
© 06/06/2018 zteve t evans
References, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright June 6th, 2018 zteve t evans