|Haitian Folktales||Jamaican Folktales||General Anansi Stories|
One hot summer day, Uncle Bouki was working hard in his garden. He had been digging and plowing for hours when at long last he decided it was time to quit.
"I've spent enough time in the garden," he said. "It's time to make a little money for my labor."
He then packed a big burlap sack with a great many yams and peas, and he set off for the market.
Uncle Bouki forgot to eat before he started walking, and when he was only halfway to the village, his stomach began to growl with hunger.
"My, my, I'll have to find something to eat very soon," he said. He walked a little farther, and he came upon a man squatting by the side of the road.
When Uncle Bouki saw that the old man was eating, his stomach nearly leapt out of his body. You see, the old man was eating a bowl of calalou -- crabmeat, pork, onion, okra and, naturally, a great many peppers. The old man was clearly relishing his feast, licking his lips and fingers.
"Hello," Uncle Bouki called, "how are you?" He was dreaming of tasting some of that crabmeat -- and perhaps some onions, too. Maybe, he thought, the old man would share the bowl with him.
But the old man was deaf, so he didn't hear Uncle Bouki. He was so wrapped up in a haze of happiness as he devoured his food that he didn't even notice poor Uncle Bouki.
"Please, sir," Uncle Bouki stepped closer, "could you tell me where I can get some of that fine food you're feasting upon?"
Again, the old man didn't answer, and Uncle Bouki's mouth began to water. "Please," he begged, "just tell me what you call that fine repast you seem to be enjoying so?"
It just so happened that right at that moment, the old man bit down on a hot pepper, a pepper so hot that he felt as if his tongue had caught fire. He opened his mouth wide and wailed, "Wheeeeeeai!"
"Thank you!" said Uncle Bouki, "I've never heard of Wheeeeeeai."
He smiled and hurried off to the market, determined to buy himself a big bowl of the stuff -- or at least as much as 10 coins would purchase.
When Uncle Bouki reached the market, he hurried to sell his yams and peas. Then he began to walk from stall to stall, searching for this food discovery. At each stall he pulled out his coins and said, "Excuse me, I'd like to buy some Wheeeeeeai."
Each time the vendor only laughed and said, "You must be mad!"
Everybody laughed at him and whispered behind his back, and that's how Ti Malice heard the story.
When he learned that Uncle Bouki was searching for a treat called Wheeeeeeai, he had an idea. He hurried home, ahead of Uncle Bouki, and just around the bend from Uncle Bouki's house, Ti Malice climbed down to the river and cut some cactus leaves and stuffed them into a burlap bag.
By the time Uncle Bouki had turned to walk home, he could think of nothing but finding some of that Wheeeeeeai. His stomach growled, and his mouth watered. His imagination soared. And all the way home he thought about Wheeeeeeai. He dreamed of how good it must taste!
Just before he rounded the last bend in the road, he saw Ti Malice.
"Good day, Uncle Bouki," Ti Malice said. "And how are you today?"
"I'm fine," Uncle Bouki said, "except I'm dying to eat a bowl of Wheeeeeeai. Do you know where I could find some, Ti Malice?"
Naturally, Ti Malice said he did. While Uncle Bouki was still walking home from the market, Ti Malice had placed a few oranges atop the cactus leaves in his burlap sack. And on top of these oranges he put a pineapple. And at the very top he placed a big potato.
"I just happen to have some Wheeeeeeai in this bag," he said. "Here you go."
Uncle Bouki could not believe his great luck, and without thinking of all the tricks Ti Malice had played on him in the past, he reached into the sack.
He pulled out the potato. "This isn't Wheeeeeeai," he complained.
"Reach in again," Ti Malice said. So Uncle Bouki did.
This time he pulled out the pineapple. "This isn't Wheeeeeeai," he said, but he reached in again. Next he brought out the oranges. "And this isn't Wheeeeeeai, Ti Malice. You're making fun of me!"
"I'd never do that," Ti Malice said, smiling. "Reach in once more. I'm sure you'll be surprised at what you find!"
So Uncle Bouki reached in one more time, and this time he touched those cactus leaves. The sharp needles pierced his hands, and he jumped into the air and cried, "Wheeeeeeai!"
Ti Malice grinned. "There you go, my friend," he said. "You've found your Wheeeeeeai!"
Anansi and Snake
Tiger was the undisputed king of the forest. Tiger Lilies were named after him. Tiger Moths were named after him. And the stories of the forest were called Tiger Stories.
Anansi was a nobody in the forest hierarchy. When the animals gathered together, they would ask idle questions like "Who is the strongest animal?" or "Who is the bravest?"
All together, they would chorus "Tiger!". And just to poke fun, they would say, "Who is the weakest?" Like a church choir, they would all sing out "Anansi!".
Anansi got sick and tired of it all.
One day he met Tiger face to face in the forest. Anansi bowed low to Tiger, but Tiger did not acknowledge Anansi in the least. He had no time to waste on such an insignificant speck.
"Tiger," said Anansi, "you have it all. Can't you just ease me up and let me have one thing named after me?"
Tiger wanted to ignore Anansi, but his curiosity got the better of him. "And just what is it you want to bear your name, Anansi?"
"The stories," replied Anansi. "I want them to be called Anansi stories."
Now Tiger loved those stories, and did not intend to give them up to this crawling nobody. Still, even the undisputed king of the forest needed a laugh sometimes. So he said to Anansi, "If you can do one small thing for me, I will let you call the stories Anansi stories or any other name you like."
Anansi didn't like the sound of this. "What one thing would that be, Tiger?" he asked cautiously.
"Nothing too hard... just capture Snake for me by the end of the week, and all the stories will be known as Anansi stories forever more."
Good thing Anansi had eight legs to stand on, because at least four of them buckled same time! This Snake was not your flimsy garden variety snake. Snake of the jungle was big. Very big. And Anansi was small. Very small.
But Anansi could think big, so he said "I'll do it."
At that, there was a huge burst of laughter from all the other animals who had been eavesdropping on the conversation. They went home, tears of amusement rolling down their faces.
Anansi went home, very worried. But thinking.
This was on Monday.
Anansi went on the trail he knew Snake travelled on every day. He made a large noose out of a strong vine, and placed some of Snake's favorite berries inside it. He hid in the bushes, holding the other end of the vine.
Snake came slithering along the path. He spied the berries and his mouth watered. But he also spied the noose. He lay the weight of his body on the vine, then reached in and ate the berries quickly. Anansi tried and tried but he could not pull the vine to close the noose. Snake's body was too heavy!
Anansi went a little further down Snake's favorite trail, and dug a pit in the ground. He placed a luscious hand of ripe bananas in it, then smeared the sides of the pit with grease, so that Snake would slip in when he tried to get the bananas.
Snake came along the path. He spied the bananas and his mouth watered. But he also spied the grease. So he wrapped his tail around a thick tree trunk, then reached into the hole with his head and ate the bananas. If he had lips he would have licked them. He raised his head out of the pit, unwrapped his tail, and slithered away.
Anansi made a square trap out of sticks, with spaces on three sides, and a door on the other. He put some mangoes inside. Soon a piglet came along and went straight for the mangoes. He didn't notice when Anansi shut the door behind him. Anansi figured that Snake could get inside the trap through the spaces, but that he would be too fat to get out after he had eaten the piglet.
Snake came along, and saw the piglet. The creature was so terrified when he saw Snake that he went berserk, squealing at the top of his lungs and smashing the trap into pieces. The piglet fled into the bushes, and Snake's mouth did not even get the chance to water. Anansi muttered to himself, "Fool-fool, good for nuttn pig."
It was Friday, the end of the week, and Anansi was still Snakeless. He went directly to Snake's house, and sat outside, looking dejected. Snake came out and looked at Anansi in surprise. "But you bright, eeh? All week long you trying to catch me, and now you sitting here barefaced in mi yard?"
Anansi looked at Snake and sighed. "Yes, is true. But I was trying to catch you for a worthy cause. Now the other animals will continue to talk behind your back."
"What you talking about, Anansi? What they saying about me?"
Anansi said, "Well, I really shouldn't be telling you, but they saying that you believe you are the longest thing around, and that you think you are God's gift to longness, when even the shortest bamboo around here is longer than you!"
Snake was outraged. "Measure me, Anansi, measure me! Cut down the longest bamboo you can find and let me shut up those backbiters!"
Anansi ran and cut down the longest bamboo. He rested it on the ground and Snake stretched out beside it. "Call them, Anansi. Let them see that nothing around here can test me!"
Anansi scratched his chin. "Well, Snake, there's a problem. You look longer than the bamboo, but how do I know that when I go up by your head you not crawling up to look longer, and when I go down by your tail you not shifting down on that end?"
"Tie mi tail, then Anansi. if you don't believe me."
By this time curious animals were gathering around to watch.
Anansi tied Snake's tail tightly to the bamboo with some vines. Then he said to Snake, "Stretch, Snake, Stretch. You almost there. Stretch till you eyes shut and you can't stretch no more."
Anansi had never seen a snake sweat. Snake stretched till his eyes were squeezed shut, and in a flash Anansi tied his head to the pole, then his middle.
The animals who had been watching were silent. There was no laughing at Anansi this time. He had said he would capture Snake, and he did.
And from that day to this, the stories have been called Anansi stories.
Jack Mandora, mi nuh choose none!
General Anansi Stories
The tale below is based on the artist's 1980's comic strip story "How Anansi Came to the Americas". It is the first illustrated explanation of how Anansi came to the "New World".
When we read the history of people of African descent in the Americas... who came from their old homes on the continent, the story of their journey often begins... with slavery or ends with despair. Sometimes we learn about the rich heritage of African music. Or emotional outlets provided through gospel, the blues, jazz, rock & roll, salsa, calypso, reggae, rap, and more. The art of storytelling is often over-looked. Yet African storytelling survives in many parts of the world today. Some stories remain exactly as they were told many centuries ago. The purpose remains the same. They teach people how to live in this world. Some stories were brought by Kweku Anansi the Spider. This tale is How Anansi Came to America. One morning, before the cock-a-doodled, Anansi picked up his machete and spear...
Anansi walked for many miles into the bush until he came upon some fresh tracks of a warthog. He followed the tracks deep into the grassland. Sometime later he saw signs which indicated that the warthog was not too far away. His mouth began to water. His stomach started to grumble. He dreamed of sinking his teeth into juicy roasted meat.
Upon reaching a patch of tall grass, Anansi saw the warthog lying on its side. The warthog had been killed by someone else. However, there was nobody around to claim it.
"Ah, I wonder who was so kind to leave this meat for me? Maybe it was my father Nyame the Sky God. Nyame must have seen that his son was tired and hungry", Anansi thought to himself. "He took pity on me and struck the beast down with his lightening so that I would not have to do the hard work of killing it. I must thank Nyame." Anansi said.
Without giving thanks to Nyame, he quickly picked up some dry sticks and made a fire. Soon the warthog was roasting.
Before the roasted meat had time to cool, Anansi began to eat. He did not stop eating until he had eaten almost all of the meat, except for a piece of the foot.
Suddenly, Osebo the Leopard appeared out of the bushes carrying some firewood, a large gourd filled with water, and a cooking pot. He looked around for the warthog that he had killed. It was gone. However, in its place was Anansi the Spider, stuffed and pleased.
The story continues when Osebo pursues Anansi who hides out in a medicine bag around the neck of a captive woman on her wretched march into slavery. Anansi is unwittingly transported on to a slave ship bound for the Spanish Americas.
During his perilous journey in the hold of the ship, he has an encounter with Nyame. Anansi pleads with Nyame to return him home to Asanti. However, Nyame has another plan for Anansi.
"I am sending you somewhere, Anansi, but not to Asanti. You must go with these captives to the place called the New World." Nyame said.
"But, Nyame... These people are slaves! I did not have anything to do with them being here. They were the ones who brought me here. It is their misfortune to fall into the hands of the slave traders. Oh, Nyame, punish the people who deal in slavery... But send me back to my people." Anansi pleaded.
Anansi was not sent back to Asanti. Instead, he ended up in the New World. He arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 against his will. There he became "The Comforter of the Enslaved".
Michael Auld. How Anansi Came to America. Anansi Stories. ‹http://www.anansistories.com/Anansi_Came_to_America.html›.