Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Folktales - Brer Anancy

Shannon's Anancy
Anansi (a.k.a  Anancy) the cunning spiderman came to Jamaica with the slaves from West Africa. So his stories contain lions and tigers and even an ‘asunu’ (elephant)  which we certainly don’t have in Jamaica. However, Anansi stories are  part of our cultural heritage. Jamaica embraces Anansi to the extent that some people think that his trickster mentality is a national trait. A prominent educator once stirred up a storm in a teacup by saying that Anansi stories should be banned from our schools since they encouraged the children to think that  ‘trickery’ is the best way to succeed. However, with the advent of round- the- clock televison and cable facilities, and the demise of story time when old folk would entertain by telling and re-telling our folk tales, many Jamaican children now know few, if any, Anansi stories.

Anansi stories invariably show hero Anansi getting the better of his opponents by tricking them into doing what he wants. But, every now and then he gets his come-uppance; meets his match. Quite a few of the stories deal with the problem of famine or shortage of food, but often while others starve, Anansi manages to get a bellyful. In his introduction to “Anancy and Miss Lou”  (Miss Lou is the Hon Louise Bennet-Coverley -a famous Jamaican poet and storyteller) Mervyn Morris has this to say:

“In many of these Jamaican stories, Anancy is credited with godlike power. He is the prime cause why pig mout long, why rat live in a hole, why mongoose love chicken meat, why fowl eat cockroach, why dog fight cat, why owls hoot, lizards croak and mosquitoes hiss. - Is Nancy mek it.” He is a past master of using the other animals’ vanities to bring about their downfall.

Miss Lou herself describes Anansi: “the trickify little spiderman who speaks with a lisp and lives by his wits, is both comic and sinister, both  hero and villain of Jamaica folk stories. He points up human weaknesses and shows how easily we can be injured by our greed, or stupidity, or by confidence in the wrong people and things.”

Anansi stories are best told in the ‘patois’ (English-based creole) spoken by most Jamaicans. Writing or reading the stories robs them of  the richness of the patois and the nuances which can only be communicated orally. Like most stories in the oral tradition, the details of the stories change as they pass from mouth to mouth, so although the main storyline will be recognisable, several versions of a story will exist. Also, depending on the teller, the language will range from standard English to deep patois sometimes even in the same sentence. The story will also be embellished in different ways to suit the particular audience at the time of telling.

Another time I’ll tell you one of my favourite Anansi stories which my mother told me, and which I have recently had the pleasure of  telling my grandchildren on an night when there was no electricity and, as in the old days, storytelling was the best way to entertain ourselves.

Please see my new ebook on amazon Mr. King's Daughter which is a modern folktale referencing Anansi. You can read a sample on the page. Also you can download a free app which allows you to read kindle books on your PC http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=dig_arl_box?ie=UTF8&docId=1000493771 Have fun.


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