Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Anansi Stories - Trickster Tales from West Africa


At times clever and cunning, often greedy and lazy, Anansi can beguile a man eating python yet is known to be fooled when his own tricks are turned against him. Whether depicted as spider (most often), man (sometimes) or spider like man (on occasion), he is always a trickster

A West African god that often takes the form of a spider, Anansi is one of the most important characters of West African folklore. Also known as Ananse, Kwaku Ananse and Anancy, he's considered to be the god of all knowledge of stories, and thanks to him stories and wisdom were given to the people. There's even an Anansi story as to how he came about getting these stories from the sky god, Nyame, through a series of challenges he overcame with trickery and cunning. 

The word "anansi" means "spider" in the Twi language

It's believed that Anansi tales originated as part of the oral storytelling culture of the Ashanti people of Ghana hundreds of years ago. The stories spread to other Akan groups in Ghana, throughout West Africa, and even across the ocean during the Atlantic slave trade. He features so prominently in the Ashanti oral culture that the word anansesem, "spider tales", is used to describe all kinds of fables. Many of the oral stories were written in the 1950s & 1960s so they could be used in schools, and to this day they continue to be taught in schools in Ghana.

Although Anansi stories originated in Ghana, they continue to be told throughout West Africa to children as a means of imparting moral messages and as a means of entertainment. 

Books, Videos, Activities & Crafts


Find the list of books further below

I recommend getting your hands on some of the great Anansi picture books available (see below), but to get you started right away here are some online stories and videos:

  • World Stories has a retelling of the story Why Anansi has Eight Skinny Legs. What's great about this site is that you can read it or listen to it online, download a PDF to print, or download it in MP3 file to keep. Even better - there is an English and Akan version of all of these options, for a glimpse of what this story sounds like in Ghana. 
Activities & Crafts

  • Anansi stories are traditionally passed down from generation to generation as part of the oral tradition. A good activity to incorporate this aspect of West African culture is to have kids practice storytelling by recounting an Anansi story without using a book.
  • Recount a tale or follow along with finger puppets. Make this spider puppet, and print and color these finger puppets  of many animals that are used in Anansi stories (scroll through the options by clicking on the smaller image to the right of the center image).
  • Of course, pretty much any spider craft can lend itself as an Anansi craft, but here are our favorites:
- This mobile was made with this template from Martha Stewart. We just used the template guide on page 1 onto cardstock (rather than make the really large spider as the craft is intended). It calls for cutting two pieces of each body part, gluing the string to one set, then gluing the second set of body parts over the string - essentially, sandwiching the string between pieces of cardstock. This proved tricky, probably because we were impatient. To do it this way, I recommend lining up the pieces, glue the string to one piece, let it dry completely, then sandwich the second piece of cardstock. Move on to the next body part and do them one at a time. Or, keep things simpler by not sandwiching the string, and just taping it to the back of of the spider body pieces.


- Make this collage with this spider paper cutout. Glue on a contrasting paper, then add colorful paper cuts/design to Anansi's body and head

- Or make a collage inspired by the bold illustrations in the book "Anansi The Spider" (see first book below) like these these or these.








Books

It was exciting to find so many picture books retelling Anansi stories, since it's been a challenge finding a variety of books when focused in West Africa. Here's a list of the ones we read available at our library. Some of these books are no longer in print, but you might be able to find them at your local library (like we did) and I've linked those to Better World Books, a site that sells second hand books (I am not affiliated with them).


Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti retold by Gerald McDermott. This is one of the few stories in which Anansi isn't portrayed as a foolish or greedy trickster. This is the story of how his six sons rescue him from peril by using their unique gifts (for which they are named). Afterwards, he couldn't decide which son was more deserving of a reward, since they all helped equally. Turning to the God of All Things for guidance, the god finds a way to reward them all. The illustrations are colorful, bold and very geometric - and lend themselves to inspiring great collages :) *see above, in crafts & activities


A Story, a Story retold by Gail E. Haley. This is the story of how Anansi became the god of all knowledge of stories. In this story, Anansi is a man. All the stories of the world belonged to Nyame, the sky god, who kept them in a box. The people were unhappy, and Anansi wanted to bring the stories to them. He finds Nyame, who gives Anansi three seemingly impossible challenges: if Anansi can bring back dangerous and wily creatures to the sky god, he will trade the stories for them. Anansi, though not strong, cleverly succeeds in doing just that and in opening the box, releases the stories to the world. I especially like elements of Ashanti culture, the many Akan words used in the telling, and the Ashanti storytelling rhythm: repetition of words, and using ideophones (words that mimic sounds to create sound effects). 


Anansi Does The Impossible!: An Ashanti Tale (Aladdin Picture Books) retold by Verna Aardema. This is another version of how Anansi got the stories to the world. In this version Anansi is a spider, and the clever one is his wife whose suggestions Anansi uses and succeeds with. The collage art is great, and the telling also includes ideophones which makes for a great read aloud. I think younger kids would enjoy this version better, but I can't say we have a preference between the two.
The Pot of Wisdom: Ananse stories retold by Adwoa Badoe. This is a great collection of ten Anansi tales, each with one full page illustration. Sometimes Anansi succeeds in his trickery, but mostly he learns a lesson. I think it's fun to note that most of the stories in this book where told to the author when she was growing up in Ghana.







Ananse's Feast: An Ashanti Tale retold by Tololwa M. Mollel. In this tale, Ananse is preparing a feast for himself, but the wafting scent brings Akye, the turtle to his door. Not wanting to share his food, Ananse tricks Akye, who leaves without having eaten anything. Akye, however, finds a way to trick Ananse in return. 






Don't Leave an Elephant to Go Chase a Bird retold by James R. Berry. This tale is rather different in that Anansi, a spider-man, works to help others with a series of trades. At the end though, he tries to trick a herd of elephants into an unworthy trade, but they see it coming, and he ends up with nothing. We especially liked these colorful illustrations inspired by West African sculptures and carvings. 


Ananse and the Lizard: A West African Tale retold by Pat Cummings. In this tale, Ananse plans to marry the village chief's daughter and rule half the kingdom. The chief has made it known that anyone who can guess the princess' name can marry her - a name that has never been spoken outside the palace. Being a spider, Ananse finds his way inside the palace and happily overhears her name. Because of his pride though, Ananse ends up being tricked in the end



Oh, Kojo! How Could You! retold by Verna Aardema. In this book Kojo is a young man who continues to be tricked by Anansi because of his laziness, and frankly lack of sense. In the end, thanks to luck, magic and an extremely intelligent cat, Kojo gets the best of Anansi. 








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Eric Kimmel's retellings are the first books that pop up when searching for Anansi stories - the quirky illustrations perfectly compliment the trickster stories, making for fun reads. Though we enjoyed these stories, the use of the word "stupid" comes up a few times - not something I recommend for a children's storybook. In Anansi and the Moss-covered Rock, Anansi uses a magical rock to trick his friends and neighbors and pilfer the food stores but ends up outwitted by deer; in Anansi Goes Fishing, he thinks he'll trick turtle into doing all the work so he can reap the rewards of fish; in Anansi and the Talking Melon, Anansi bores a hole into a melon, gorges himself, and is then too large to get out - to pass the time, he tricks everyone into thinking they have found a talking melon; in Anansi's Party Time, he invites Turtle to a party and plays many tricks on him, after which Turtle returns the treatment (same basic story as Ananse's Feast, above). 


I hope you have a chance to enjoy Anansi and all of his antics.


Find all of our posts with children's books about West Africa here.



Find more cultural and historical activities at the following linkups:


Find more creative and enriching activities at the following linkups:
AfterSchool Activities & Laugh & Learn Linkup

Find more reviews for Children's books the Kid Lit Blog Hop

Kid Lit Blog Hop 

Books are a wonderful way to experience new worlds and ideas. Our house is filled with books, most of which are borrowed from our public library. Public libraries are an incredible resource, making books accessible to everyone, and we highly encourage everyone to discover theirs. If you are hoping to build your own home library, I've made it easy by linking book titles to Amazon.com. Please note that I have become affiliated with them, which means that if you make a purchase, you are also supporting this website

11 comments:

  1. I didn't know Anansi was a god. I love both crafts that are pictured. Anansi stories are always fun to read.

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    1. They are a fun read, I can see why the folktales are so popular throughout West Africa.

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  2. I think we might have an Anansi books somewhere! I hadn't realised it was such a popular story! I love all your creations as always (quite a good time of year to be doing spider activities!)

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    1. Elle has relegated our Anansi mobile for future Halloween decorations :)

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  3. Ever since I did a report on a country in Africa (and I don't even remember what country it was) in 6th grade I've been intrigued and amused by Anansi. But then I've always liked trickster characters.

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  4. What a great collection of Anansi tales. Love the videos and all those crafts. This is simply book heaven. I'll share with everyone !!

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    1. Thanks Valarie - it's always great when there are multiple resources available to pull together into one post.

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  5. Wow, an incredible list. Thanks so much for sharing it with us on the Kid Lit Blog Hop

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  6. I hadn't heard of Anansi tales, but an absolutely intrigued. I love the craft ideas and the cover images are amazing. Thank you for sharing these great stories.

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  7. Up to last night, on demand, I told two Ananse stories. A timeless and peerless character.

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