I made an interesting observation. Have you’ve noticed how African folktales use animals and nature to tell stories that impart wisdom, ethics, and highlight moral dilemmas? Anansi stories are an example of this. They are funny stories embedded with lessons through the light-hearted trickery of a spider named Anansi. Sometimes Anansi’s deceitful tactics work out for him, sometimes they don’t, pretty much like how it happens in real life.
In Western folktales, like Rupunzel and Hansel and Gretel, human children are most likely the main characters. And these characters battle the dark side: evil, fear, and the range of complex human emotions using stories that sometimes have a magical element. Evil step-mothers, forest-dwelling dwarfs, evil witches, mean giants, and evil spells, etc. make up the antagonists of these stories.
Unlike the benign rabbits, deer, and other amicable animals that make up African folktales. Could these more mainstream folktales in the west produce a grimmer imagination in children?
Anansi stories mimic the togetherness and natural interconnectedness of living creatures, I experienced living in Ghana. Over there, there is this unspoken code (or sense) of togetherness.
Anansi Stories originate from Ghana, specifically, from the Akan people. Anansi is a foolhardy spider who tries to one-up the other forest animals, by using cunning ploys, lies, and tricks to get what he wants. Through these stories, morals and wisdom are relayed to children.
Anansi stories made their way over from Africa to America during the slave trade. Anansi stories are part of Jamaican culture too, and are still told in the carribean today. Stateside, African-American folktales about ‘brer rabbit,’ and ‘brer bear’ and other animal characters preceded by the prefix “brer” (brother) come from the African folktale tradition of Anansi Stories.
I’m always interested to learn how these folktales have changed over the years. Zora Neale Hurston recorded some of these stories in her anthropological novel, Mules and Men.
Lately, the girls and I read a whole lot of Anansi stories we check out from the library. The girls LOVE them. I thought the stories of Anansi’s trickster ways would go over their heads. But turns out, the funny consequences of human folly, as personified by Anansi and the other forest animals, really sticks with them. Even my three-year old sits still and listens.
As I incorporate folklore into our reading repertoire, I’m always on the lookout for classic African folktales and Anansi stories. Reading about Anansi is a great way to impart African core values and life-wisdom in the hearts of our children.