Books History & Social Studies Language Arts

BHM Series #3: Ananse and the Beginning of All Stories

In honor of Black History Month, I’m reposting a previous series. A few years ago, (2015 to be exact!) I challenged myself to write 28 posts highlighting African-American History. This year I finally reached my goal!!! Check out my original post below which appeared on February 17, 2015. To see more posts in this series, click here.

OK… so in case you didn’t know… black people invented stories. Seriously! It’s true! You can read about it by learning about one of my favorite folktale heroes…

Ananse the Spider Man

Ananse, also known as Kwaku Ananse, and Anancy (and in the American south as Aunt Nancy.) is a West African god who often takes the shape of a spider. He is considered to be the “spirit of all knowledge of stories. He is a spider, but often acts and appears as a man. Anansi tales originated from the Ashanti people of present-day Ghana. He is also one of the most important characters of West African and Caribbean folklore.

The survival of Ananse stories in African-American culture is proof that our cultural heritage and folklore survived the ‘middle passage’ of the slave ships. Sadly, these oral traditions were the one of the only possessions which survived the harrowing journey. (Some Ashanti rhythms have made the journey as well and have even resurfaced in the Charlston dance of the 20’s and the driving beat behind Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean!)

Treasure these amazing stories and share them with your family.

Who is Ananse?

Learn more about Ananse from this child friendly site:

The trickster Ananse, originally a West African spider-god, lives on in the form of stories and tales. Stories were retold as entertainment, to color conversation, to impart a moral lesson or to console grieving families. Why is this figure so universal? Why did so many African-American folk tales recount his exploits, under one name or another? Ananse is the spirit of rebellion; he is able to overturn the social order; he can marry the Kings’ daughter, create wealth out of thin air; baffle the Devil and cheat Death. Even if Ananse loses in one story, you know that he will overcome in the next.

A Story, A Story retold and illustrated by Gail E. Haley

This is MY VERY FAVORITE BOOK of all time! My grandmother brought it back from a trip to Africa. I remember is started my budding acting career by engaging all my friends in the retelling of this amazing story. It has tigers, hornets, Gods and fairies! What could be more amazing. Even more important, it tells how all the stories came to be!

This story (a Caldecott Medal winner) is about Ananse the ORIGINAL “spider man”. Unlike Peter Parker, Ananse often appears as an old man, who many disregard. In this version, Ananse decides to spin a web to the seek a golden box of stories from Nyame, the Sky God. Nyame underestimates Ananse’s skill and gives him what he thinks is an impossible task. Ultimately, though Ananse succeeds, winning the Sky God’s admiration, and brings back the worlds stories for all people to hear.

Anansi Brings Stories to the World

If you are a parent or educator looking for a great audio reading of the story, check this out. (See the picture below.) If you have early readers, this is a great site to have children read while they listen and watch simple animations.

I love Anansi stories. This site has lots of great audio versions of these classic Ghanan folktales.
I love Anansi stories. This site has lots of great audio versions of these classic Ghanan folktales.

Anansi the Trickster, part 2 from the Logonauts

Once you read one Anansi story, you will likely be hooked! If you are interested in learning more about Anansi tales, check out The Logonauts site which brings together a range Anansi stories from a variety of sources.

Read more from this book list.

Learn More About Ananse’s Contribution to American Culture …

Ananse may be an African folktale hero. But when he came to America in the oral tradition of storytelling, he merged and evolved with other African, American and Native American folktale heroes.

Relationship between Anansi and Br’er Rabbit from Wikepedia:

Anansi shares similarities with the trickster figure of Br’er Rabbit, who originated from the folklore of the Bantu-speaking peoples of south and central Africa. Enslaved Africans brought the Br’er Rabbit tales to the New World, which, like the Anansi stories, depict a physically small and vulnerable creature using his cunning intelligence to prevail over larger animals.However, although Br’er Rabbit stories are told in the Caribbean, especially in the French-speaking islands (where he is named “Compair Lapin”), he is predominantly an African American folk hero….

Elements of the African Anansi tale were combined by African-American storytellers with elements from Native American tales, such as the Cherokee story of the “Tar Wolf”,[23] which had a similar theme, but often had a trickster rabbit as a protagonist. The native American trickster rabbit appears to have resonated with African-American story-tellers and was adopted as a cognate of the Anansi character with which they were familiar.[24] …

Thus, the tale of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby represents a coming together of two separate folk traditions, American and African, which coincidentally shared a common theme.

In the USA today Anansi tales live alongside stories of Br’er rabbit and Aunt Nancy tales. Thus tales from Africa, the Carribean and the American South have both merged and coexist in the United States to this day.

Want more ideas? Check out these related reads: Diversify your Child’s Toy ChestWhat Color Crayons are in Your Coloring Box?Books that Get the Conversation Started

How are you actively sharing the richness and of African and African-American culture with your family? Please share your ideas, resources and comments below!

My homework assignment: Inspired by an SNL’s skit, I challenged myself to write 28 posts highlighting African-American culture and heritage (roughly one for each day of the month)… Do you have a great resource to share? Post it in the comments or email me!


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