Anansi and Nyamé

IN THE African tradition, stories were meant to instil values in children. Now, laments Theodora Ulerie, a story-teller for over 15 years, the story has lost much of its integrity.

“When each people came (to T&T), they brought their culture,” said Ulerie. “When the slaves came, they brought their stories.”

Stories were a way of communicating with the gods, she said, but in T&T, are used only for entertainment.

Artist and storyteller Makemba Kunlé explained that the storyteller is the descendant of the West African griot.

Essentially a travelling historian, the griot travelled from village to village, telling of the achievements of peoples and kings, often covering thousands of years of history.

“Traditional African society is an oral one,” said Kunlé. “The griot would be trained from young to perform the task—he wasn’t an entertainer, although he did entertain.

“It was a respected, revered position.”

Kunlé believes that the attraction of motion pictures and video games may account for the reduced interest in traditional folklore characters.

“But if we were to put some douens and characters from folklore into film and video games,” mused Kunlé, “they would become popular.”

The character Anansi is derived from Giza, the trickster spider-man of the Hausa of northern Nigeria. Like Anansi, Giza could be hero or villain.

Ulerie tells an old West African Anansi tale of how all the stories in the world came to be. Notice the tendency to repeat expressions.

“Back when the world was young, all the stories in the world belonged to Nyamé, the sky god. They lived in a golden box beside his royal stool.

Now, Anansi, the spider-man, wanted the golden box of stories, so he spun a web up to heaven and entered Nyamé’s court.

“Oh Nyamé, Nyamé,” said Anansi, and bowed low. “I have come to ask for your stories. What is your price?”

“A-kyee, kyee, kyee,” laughed the sky god. “My price, Anansi?

“You must bring me Osébo, the leopard of the terrible teeth; Umbolo, the hornets who sting like fire and Mwatiya, the fairy who men have never seen.

“Very well, Nyamé,” said Anansi, bowing his head. “I am ready to pay your price.”

The sky god laughed aloud.

“How can you, Anansi—so small, so small, so small —pay my price?”

For every man who had tried to pay his price had been eaten by Osébo, stung to death by Umbolo and turned into a frog by Mwatiya.

Anansi did not reply, only bowed low and returned to earth.

He pulled down a thick creeper vine from a stout tree and went in search of Osébo, the leopard of the terrible teeth.

“Aha, Anansi!” said Osébo, baring his teeth. “You are just in time to be my lunch!”

“As for that, whatever happens will happen,” said Anansi, quietly. “But, first, Osébo, perhaps we can play the binding, binding game.”

Osébo was very fond of games.

“The binding, binding game?” he said excitedly. “Quick, how do you play it?”

“I will bind you up with this vine,” said Anansi, “and then, I will untie you and you can tie me up.”

“Okay,” said Osébo, planning to eat Anansi as soon as his turn came to do the binding.

So, Anansi took his vine and tied Osébo by his foot, by his foot, by his foot, by his foot and hoisted him up into a tree.

“Now, Osébo,” said Anansi, dancing around the tree, “you are ready to meet the sky god.

Then, Anansi took a frond from a banana tree and filled an empty calabash with water. He crept up to the nest of Mbolo, the hornets who sting like fire.

He poured some of the water onto the banana leaf and emptied the rest over the Mbolo’s nest.

“It is raining, raining, raining!” called Anansi to the Mbolo. “Will you not fly into my calabash so the rain does not tatter your wings?”

“Thank you, thank you,” hummed the Mboro, and flew into the calabash.

When the last hornet entered, Anansi stuffed the opening fast—kaff!

“Now, Mbolo,” said Anansi, “you are ready to meet the sky god.”

Next, Anansi took some wood from the gum tree and carved a small gum baby. He tied one end of a long string round the gum baby’s neck and then covered it with sticky latex glue.

He placed the gum baby under the flamboyant tree, where fairies love to dance, and put a bowl of pounded yams beside it.

Then, Anansi took the loose end of the string in his hand, and hid among some bushes.

At last, along came Mwatiya, dancing, dancing. She stopped when she saw the gum baby and the bowl of pounded yams.

She loved yams.

“Gum baby, may I have some of your yams?” she asked.

Anansi, from the bushes, pulled the string and made the gum baby nod.

Mwatiya took the bowl and ate up all off the pounded yams.

The gum baby said nothing.

Mwatiya became irritated, for she was an ill-tempered fairy.

“Do you not speak to me when I thank you?” she demanded.

The gum baby was still.

“If you do not speak to me, gum baby, I’ll slap your crying place!” she shouted. (The “crying place” is the cheek.)

Still, the gum baby was silent.


Mwatiya slapped the gum baby hard in the face, then found her hand wouldn’t come away!

“Let me go, or I’ll slap you again!” she bellowed.

Pow! She slapped the gum baby with her other hand, and it also stuck fast. She pushed against it with her foot, then with her other foot, until she was completely stuck to the gum baby.

Then, Anansi came out of the bushes and stood over the angry fairy.

“Now, Mwatiya, you are ready to meet the sky god.”

Anansi spun a web around Osébo, Mbolo and Mwatiya, then spun a web up to heaven, and took them to the court of Nyamé.

“Oh, Nyamé, Nyamé,” said Anansi, and bowed low. “See, I have brought your price: Osébo, the leopard of the terrible teeth; Mbolo, the hornets who sting like fire; Mwatiya, the fairy who men never see.”

“Anansi, the spider man, has paid my price for my stories,” Nyamé announced to his assembly of elders. “Sing his praises.”

The assemby of elders obeyed.

“Let the golden box of stories be given to him,” he proclaimed, “and, from now on, let these stories be called “spider stories”.

Anansi bowed low and took the golden box of stories down to his village.

There, he opened the box, and every kind of story, of every shape and size and colour, flew out of the box and to every part of the world. And that is how this story came to be.”


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