Anansi has long been a giant in the myths of legend and for good reason! Not only are they a genderfluid being, according to the earlier stories told (we will be referring to them as he/him as they are often depicted), but he is often involved in raising the outraged African spirits of those who have been wronged or are suffering. Let’s take a deep dive into Anansi’s history and how he is being taught to people of all ages through the written word and picture!
Who is Anansi?
Anansi is one of the most important characters of West African, African American and Caribbean folklore. Most often he is shown as a spider and trickster derived from traditional Akan culture. He is usually the depiction of the consequences of your bad actions even though his stories are most based around humor. He was believed to have been born through Ashanti legend in Ghana.
Why is Anansi important?
Anansi became famous for his insight, wisdom, and intelligence. Anansi has the ability to transform his weaknesses into virtues of strength and is sought after for his ability to outsmart his opponents through his use of cunning tactics. In legend, he gives his African brothers and sisters the ability to stand up for themselves and get out of tough situations. He is an icon for long suffering, tortured, and helpless souls who still struggle with the bad that comes with having skin of darker color. Probably most importantly, Anansi represents a long-standing icon that generations of Africans and African Americans still seek today.
In 2017, Anansi got a makeover with Orlando Jones, in American Gods, who blew us all away with his version of Mr. Nancy (another name for the trickster god). The character was developed by Neil Gaiman in 2011 when he first published the book series American Gods. In season one, Orlando gave a voice to those downtrodden and faceless slaves through his war cry “Angry is good. Angry gets (cuss word) done!” I have never seen such a thorough and accurate depiction of the humorous, yet serious, myth of Africa. The scene where he tells the slaves to revolt is one of the most moving scenes of all time and one of the most pivotal, if not most controversial, moments in TV history. Not only does Orlando give voice and strength to the legend, he gave a voice to those who were feeling “less than” in those years and the scene was one of the most talked about of the entire series.
In The Spider Weaver: A Legend of Kente, Anansi appears as a orb weaver spider who weaves a beautiful web that inspires two brothers to weave/create their own cloth of designs, now and forever known as Kente. This legend doesn’t go into great detail on who Anansi is but instead focuses on what he brought to this small Ghanaian village that has been directly passed down as important African traditional clothing. This is one of the many important things that Ananse (another derivative name) brings with the tales that are told about him to young African people.
African-American folktales for young readers, is a collection of short stories from a number of professional black story-tellers. There are many tiny tales of the Trickster God in here and, even though they do come with titles, you’ll have fun guessing which ones have undertones of the cunning myth. These are tales that have been passed down orally from generation to generation and have now been put on paper so this is one book you’ll have to invest some time in to really appreciate the nuances. Nanzi (yet another derivative of Anansi) has his hands in all and I think it's high time we all took notice!
In Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman once again dives into the world of American Gods. Although I know the subject of a non-colored person creating tales about a colored god is tricky, we are going into this focused solely on the importance of his mission. Gaiman saw the need for more Mr. Nancy and he delivered! In this story, Mr. Nancy passes and leaves behind two half breed twin boys who find each other and end up causing all kinds of havoc. Even though Anansi isn’t prevalent in this book, his ideals are prominent throughout the entire story. Just another example of the importance of continuing his legacy and passing it down to new generations.
If you haven't already figured it out, Mr. Nancy is one of my all time favorite myths. They are a combination of all that is bad and all that is wholesome about the world and more stories of them need to be out there. Not only is now the right time for them to be mentioned, in my humble opinion, but it's also the right time to have a strong belief in something. Even if that something is hoping things will turn out ok. In the end, all things are.
Do you have a favorite story about Anansi? Where did you first hear about them? Did you know they were genderfluid? Comment below!!
This blog was written by Crystal M. and first appeared in March 2022.