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Anansi & Turtle's Feast

Trickster tales


Trickster tales have been with us from the beginning of time. Creator, transformer, joker, truth teller, destroyer, sometimes the fool, the trickster is all of these, and there may be no more famous trickster than Anansi, half man, half spider, born of the Ashanti tribe of Ghana in West Africa.

In every culture the trickster figure is all things to all people. Creator and destroyer, vagabond and family man, fool and fooler, the trickster is usually selfish, but his selfishness often winds up benefiting others, as when Maui, the Hawaiian trickster, snares the sun to slow it down and makes life easier for human beings. That wasn’t his intention, of course; he only meant to give his mother more time to cook for him.

Sometimes the trickster wishes to help humankind, but even then, his efforts often backfire as in the story of Marawa, the Melanesian spider god who carved human figures from wood, and planted them in earth so they would grow strong; sadly the figures rotted, and death came into the world.

To the Ashanti, Anansi was King of all Stories. As legend has it, Anansi requested of the Sky God, Nyame, that he become Keeper of Stories. Nyame promised to grant Anansi this honor, but there was a catch. First he must destroy The Jaguar With Teeth Like Daggers, the Hornets Who Sting Like Fire, and the Fairy Whom Men Never See.

Leave it to a trickster to succeed at the impossible! Anansi managed to tie up Jaguar, to trap the hornets in a calabash, and to glue the fairy to a plant with gum. And so his wish came true, and Anansi became King of All Stories.

Now Anansi not only could change shape (see shapeshifters, like the selkie, on The Selkie Bride page), he could show up anywhere and everywhere, and so it is that Anansi stories are found in the Caribbean, too, though in Jamaica he’s known as Anancy, and when Anansi’s stories swept into the US through South Carolina, Anansi became Aunt Nancy. Whether he’s called Kwaku Anansi, Ananse, Aunt Nancy, Yiyi, Nansi, Compe Anansi, or Mr. Jones, Anansi’s stories entertain and instruct, and sometimes, as in Anansi and Turtle’s Feast, the trickster might just be tricked.

For a marvelous site of links and bibiliographical material on tricksters and fools, of which Anansi is one of folklore’s most notorious, see P. Michael’s website at http://members/aol.com/pmichaels/glorantha/foolsparadise.html.

Hundreds of marvelous scholarly and literary works on the trickster exist (and Michaels lists many of the best on his site), but those interested in the study will want to make sure they read Karl Kereny’s “The Trickster in relation to Greek Mythology” and Carl Jung’s “On the psychology of the trickster figure.”

Other of folklore's tricksters and fools besides those mentioned above include Loki of Norse mythology, Till Eulenspiegel of German lore, Birbal of India, Nasreddin Hodja of Turkey, The Monkey King of China, Hermes and Promethus (Greek), dozens of Native North American legendary figures, among them Rabbit and Raven, Coyote, Nanabush, Glooscap, Kokopelli, Inktomi and Thunderbird. There’s Australia’s Namaranganin and Ti Malice of Haiti, and Robin Goodfellow (or Puck) from Great Britain. The list goes on…




Classroom exercises


Ask listeners if they've ever felt snubbed, slighted, tricked, fooled, foolish?

What does that feel like? Was Turtle fair to Anansi? Did Anansi get what he received?

What will happen next? Have listeners imagine the next encounter between Turtle and Anansi and write or tell that story.

What is revenge? Was Turtle's revenge fair, unfair, foolish, wise?

What should Turtle expect next, and how should he respond?

What alternatives exist to revenge? What could Turtle have done instead of turning the tables on Anansi?

Did Anansi learn a lesson? If yes, what? If no, what happened when Turtle tricked him?

Did Turtle learn a lesson? If so, what?

Imagine the story completely differently. What would have happened if Anansi shared his sweet potatoes with Turtle? Write or tell the story from that point onward.