African Mythologies

Legba and Ananse

What is the myth of Ananse and storytelling?

Ananse was, above all, a storyteller. The mysterious power of language was crucial to him. An Ashanti myth tells how Ananse stole storytelling from Nyame. Ananse proposed to pay for the stories known only to Nyame, the high god. “Why should I sell them to you?” said the god. “In any case, the price is much too steep for you.” Ananse asked what that price was. “It is the Python, the Leopard, the Hornets, and a Fairy,” said Nyame. Ananse left and consulted with Aso, his wife, who told him what he must do. So, following his wife’s advice, he took a stick with some vines to a place where he found the python. “My wife and I have been arguing about your length,” said Ananse. “Well, measure with that stick,” said the python. Ananse placed the stick next to the snake and then quickly used the vine to tie it to the stick. He delivered the captured python to Nyame. Then, also on the advice of Aso, he dug a hole in the leopard’s hunting trail and set a trap over it with sticks. Naturally, the leopard came along and fell through the sticks into the hole. Ananse pretended to help the leopard out of the hole but managed to wound and capture him instead. He took his captive off to Nyame. Again following Aso’s instructions, he poured water over a swarm of hornets and urged them to take cover from the “rain” in the gourd he was carrying. The hornets did as they were told, and Ananse closed the gourd and took it to Nyame. Finally, with Aso’s help, the trickster carved a little doll, painted it with sticky sap, and placed some yam mash in its hands. He placed the doll in a place where the fairies enjoyed dancing and tied a string to its head. One of the fairies asked the doll for some of the mash, and Ananse, hidden behind a tree, used the string to make the doll’s head nod. When the fairy thanked the doll and it did not respond, the fairy became angry and slapped it. But now she was stuck to the doll (an African version of the American “tar baby”). Ananse took the captured fairy off to Nyame, and the god had no choice but to hand the stories over to Ananse. This is why we have stories in the world, especially the Spider Tales.


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