Anasi Stories

The following notes are taken from an article by Richard Hadel in National Studies journal, Vol. 1, No. 1 from January, 1973.

Anansi stories were original came to Belize by slaves brought from Africa. Stories of Kweku Anansi are still told by the Ashanti people in Ghana. Similar stories with different heroes are told elsewhere around the Caribbean: Rabbit is the main character in the stories in the French West Indies, southern United States, and East Africa; in Nigeria Tortoise is the mischief-maker.

The phrase ‘Anansi story’ is used in Belize today to refer to any sort of folk tale. Even ‘true’ Anansi stories don’t necessarily include John Anansi as a character. Sometimes Anansi stories are used for ‘etiological’ purposes, that is to explain why as certain animal is as it is today. For example, a story may explain why spiders (Anansi) live in wood piles, or tigers live in the bush. In the days of slavery Anansi stories were told as a comfort to the slaves. They saw themselves like the powerless but clever Anansi, and hoped for times when they would have victory like Anansi over Tiger, who represented the slave-master.

The telling of Anansi stories is an important aspect of Caribbean cultures where high value is placed on the ability to use words and the ability to perform. A person who can argue well and use words as a means of performance is given high status. In previous times, most villages had several people who were noted as story-tellers. This was valued in rural villages where there was less access to entertainment and recreation.

For further research see: Kernan, Keith T., John Sodergren, and Robert French. 1977. Speech and social prestige in the Belizean speech community. In Blount, B. and M. Sanches, eds., Social Dimensions of Language Use. NY: Academic Press, 35-50.