Date: February 1995
Courlander (1976) explores the evolution and dispersal
of the Anansi legends, noting how the spelling of Anansi’s
name changes with the region (in Jamaica, for example,
it is spelled Anancy,Annancy,or ‘Nancy).
He makes reference to “Aunt Nancy” tales in the
American South, but his is the only reference to a U.S.
Anansi that this author has found.
Until recently, Anansi stories in the Americas were
about the only tales indisputably attributed to Africa. As far back as the 1880s, when Joel Chandler
Harris published the Uncle Remus stories, folklorists
argued the origin of the tales black people told in the
United States. Many
believed the tales’ origins to be Indo-European. The debate centered around the fact that slavers
mixed Africans of different backgrounds. Opponents of the positive African influence theory believed that
without the stimulus of people who shared their traditions,
the Africans who came to the Americas had no incentive
to preserve what they knew. Stith Thompson, renown for classifying tales,
wrote in 1946 about tales found in Africa in terms of
their relationship to Indo-European tales.
In particular dispute were the tar baby stories,
which Thompson said originated in India.
Whatever the Afro-American stories’ origins, folklorists
now agree they were introduced to the Americas by African
and the wisdom tree
ago, in the time of magic, when the animals talked and
the moon walked, Anansi the spider was the most respected
one in his village. Each
night the chief summoned his drummers and dancers and
the people of the village to gather at Anansi’s house
and listen to his words of wisdom.
The drums would call out: “Doon, Doon, Doc! Doon,
Wearing his silken threads, Anansi would dance from
his rooftop, spinning a web to the ground, and pronounce
his great proverbs for the evening:
The end of the story will not harm you,
If…you know the beginning of the tale;
One who falls by one’s foot may rise again,
But…one who falls by one’s mouth may
not be so lucky;
Greed loses what it has gained!
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