Africa has a rich folklore tradition, especially in regions like South Africa, Nigeria, Rhodesia, and Zanzibar. Animals are often prominent in these tales which do not always have happy endings but do impart lessons onto readers. Some are origin stories that explain how things came to be. This beautifully illustrated children’s book is one such story.
Ananse and Spider Stories
Gail E. Haley retells the African folktale of how the spider man Ananse obtained stories from the Sky God to give to the children of the earth. Ananse the trickster (known in the U.S. as "Aunt Nancy") is arguably one of the most important characters in African, Caribbean, and African-American folklore. In some tales, he is credited with the creation of planets while in others he brings technology to the world such as writing and agriculture. The story in this book recounts the origins of stories themselves. Following Akan oral tradition, she begins the tale as follows: "We do not really mean, we do not really mean that what we are about to say is true. A story, a story; let it come, let it go."
In the tale, Ananse approaches Nyame the Sky God in his spider form, asking to receive the god’s wisdom narratives. Nyame, impressed with Ananse’s courage, gives him three tasks to prove himself – he must capture a jaguar, hornets, and an invisible fairy. Ananse easily tricks and captures these creatures, thus receiving the Sky-God’s stories, thereafter known as Spider stories. According to Haley, these “spider stories,” tell how small, defenseless men or animals outwit others and succeed against great odds.