How would you like to hear a story about... all of the stories? It’s time to learn about Anansi, the trickster figure of Western Africa and the African diaspora. We share a couple of classic Anansi tales, including how the world got stories, how Anansi (accidentally) shared wisdom with the world, and one featuring, of course, death.
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Amanda: Welcome to Spirits Podcast, a boozy dive into mythology, legends and folklore. Every week, we pour a drink and learn about a new story from around the world. I'm Amanda.
Julia: And I'm Julia.
Amanda: And this is episode 107, Anansi.
Julia: I am very excited. This is going to be a great episode, lots of good stories. I used a lot of primary sources.
Amanda: My favorite.
Julia: If eighth grade AP world history taught us anything, it's that you got to love a primary source.
Amanda: So true. And to me, the e-mail equivalent of finding a great primary is seeing a new patron join us on Patreon. So welcome this week to Rachel as well as our upgrading patrons Velm and Ponders. And thank you as always to our supporting producer level patrons whose support sustains us; Philip, Julie, Christina, Eeyore, Sammy, Marie, Josie, Amara, Neil, Jessica, Phil Fresh and Deborah. And last but not least, as always, our legend level patrons; Jordan, Jess, Zoe, Sandra, Audra, Mercedes, Jack Marie, and Liam.
Julia: You all are like the buckets of knowledge that spread throughout the world making it a better place. You'll see what I mean later. I promise.
Amanda: It's very true. And I'm excited to mention those upgrading patrons because we have something very exciting to announce about our Patreon. It's that we are going to be doing monthly bonus episodes, full length episodes of additional urban legends, every single month for our patrons at the four-dollar tier and above.
Julia: I'm actually just so excited that we get to record more hometowns. They're my favorite.
Amanda: I know. We love doing them so much. And in recording the most recent episode, we were like, "Wait, what if we could do this more often and share that with our supporters on Patreon as a thank you?"
Julia: And we were like, "Oh damn, we can."
Amanda: Hey, wait, we're a one process. Whoa.
Amanda: So we're really stoked about that and we know this time of year, you're buying gifts, you're doing all kinds of things. But the great news is that those episodes are always available on the archive of our blog. So if you, whether it's this week or next week or in January, go to patreon.com/spiritspodcast and sign up at the four-dollar tier or above, you get access to those bonus episodes.
Julia: And trust us, they are 100% worth it.
Amanda: Jules, what will we be drinking this episode?
Julia: There is a great, great beer company called Spider Bite Beer and so I picked up one called Boris The Spider, which is, I know it's one of your favorites Amanda, is a Russian Imperial Stout.
Amanda: Yes, delish. Way may boozy than the beer I normally drink but I really appreciated the spider tie into this episode.
Julia: Got to love that high ABV.
Amanda: Truly, truly I do. And Julia, I think it's your week to give a recommendation to me and our listeners. What are you going to tell us about this week?
Julia: I literally, last night, I got a book that was recommended to me by our good, good friend David Rheinstrom who did our Fakelore episode.
Julia: And within 24 hours of receiving this book, I finished it because it was fantastic and I couldn't put it down. It's called Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown and it is one, pirates. Two, lady pirates.
Julia: Three, like fine cuisine.
Amanda: There's fine cuisine in the book?
Julia: There's fine cuisine in the book.
Amanda: Oh my God, I love it. I'm going to have to borrow it from you.
Julia: There is also a romance, it's fantastic.
Amanda: The best. The best of all worlds.
Julia: Anyway, it's very good, please check it out. I want to talk to everyone in the world about it right now.
Amanda: Amazing. Well, if you want to eat some fine food or look like a pirate, I have some great news which is that our sponsors this week are Mrs. Fields where our promo code, spirits, will get you 20% off any gift at mrsfields.com, and Poshmark where the codes spirits5 will get you $5 off any purchase on this fashion app. But we'll tell you more about that later.
Julia: I can't wait to eat and dress like a pirate. Yes.
Amanda: Me neither. And just before we get into the episode, we want to remind you that there are still some tickets lefts to our live shows in Seattle in January so you can go to bit.ly/multitudeinseattle to get your tickets now.
Julia: Yeah, it is a very small, very intimate venue so I would get your tickets before they run out.
Amanda: That's not like a false sales tactic to make you buy the tickets, it's actually just a small theatre. So get on it.
Julia: It's actually pretty small.
Amanda: Right on. Well, without further ado, I loved doing this episode and I think you're going to love listening to it so enjoy Spirits Podcast episode 107, Anansi.
Julia: All right Amanda, we're going to get straight into this episode, alright?
Amanda: Yeah. Oh, sure. Hi.
Julia: Just dig in right in. 'Cause I love stories. You know I love stories, that's why we do this podcast, right?
Amanda: Yeah, 100 and somewhat episodes and counting.
Julia: So this week we're going to talk about Anansi who is probably one of the most well-known folklore characters out of Africa.
Amanda: Ooh, that's very exciting. I don't know much about him.
Julia: Tell me what you do know.
Amanda: I know he's a trickster god, I'm not sure. I have heard of Anansi from Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, Spider Friend and that's I got.
Julia: He's also in American Gods, briefly. Like kind of as a supporting character but ... yeah.
Amanda: That is true.
Julia: So this topic was suggested by a lot of people but shout-out to listener Melissa who was kind enough to kind of push for more African diaspora episodes. I'm very excited to hopefully dig in more to those. I want to say, before we get started, that if you have any personal experience with the stories of Anansi, please feel free to reach out and tell us about it. You can shoot us an e-mail at email@example.com. And just I would love to revisit Anansi again because I absolutely don't think we're going to cover everything in this episode but I do want to establish the basics at the very least. And if you want to reach out, if you have personal experience or grew up with Anansi stories, I would love to hear them. I'm sure Amanda would love to hear them as well.
Amanda: Oh yeah. And a lot of the listeners who e-mail us with Urban Legends, will start their episodes by saying, "I was so nervous to write in." Or like, "I really wanted to but I didn't and had to psych myself up." Listen, we just want to read your stories. It's like the best thing in the world to wake up to people's e-mails telling us creepy shit. It's like the most wonderful thing. So please don't be worried, don't think like, "Oh, I'm just a person." Just e-mail us, we want to hear it.
Julia: We are always delighted to see stories and e-mails in our inbox. Someone sent us an Itala recipe today, it was very good.
Amanda: They did.
Julia: Very excited.
Amanda: And people listen Julia. People are emailing us photos of their cats and dogs and it is the greatest thing. I think Spirits is the only place in world where more e-mail is in fact better.
Julia: Yes. No, more e-mail is better. We do not get stressed out by our inbox being full because we love it. We love it so much. Anyway, so if you have a favorite Anansi story, submit it. I would love to do maybe a roundup of listener-submitted Anansi stories that we can revisit and it would be excellent.
Amanda: Yeah, that'd be awesome. Or if anyone knows contemporary writers, poets, folklorists who might be writing and talking about Anansi stories, let us know.
Julia: Yes. That would be great. So, stories originated from the Akan people of Ghana, specifically rooted in the Ashanti though they later spread to areas in West and South Africa as well as the Caribbean through the Atlantic slave trade.
Julia: The Akan are matrilineal. I just figured that was worth mentioning. It doesn't have anything to do with the storyline. I just like when we do some research and I find a matrilineal society.
Amanda: You know what I'm here for Julia, and it's matrilineal societies and their stories.
Julia: Yeah, it all always is. So the stories that they tell about their history and mythology are known as the Anansesem, which translates literally to the spider stories. But they're also referred to as Nyankomsem or the words of the Sky-God.
Amanda: That's like grand as fuck. I love it so much.
Julia: Yeah, those are both real good terms. I'm very into it. So these stories were continued as an oral tradition and still are to this day though they are versions of stories written down. You can find them online, you can find them in books. The key to all of these stories, the Anansesem is Anansi which literally translates to spider in Akan. I do want to state that, as you pointed out Amanda, Anansi is a trickster but he is not a god, at least not in the Ashanti culture. So he is not deity, he is not worshiped as a god. He's a folklore character.
Amanda: That's awesome though because that's closer to humanity and human foibles and human mistakes. To me, that's the kind of appeal of a trickster, is that they kind of ride this line between they can't solve all their problems but somehow things work out in the end often. So I kind of like that better.
Julia: Yeah, absolutely. And Anansi is seen interacting with deities in the stories but he himself is not one. So I kind of like that. It's, like you said, they feel more human similar to, I guess, to the Greek gods who are gods but they make many human mistakes. So Anansi is, as I mentioned, in these stories, a literal spider but is often interpreted or depicted as human. Human with spider elements such as eight legs like a ... What's the thing called in the back? Like a spinner or the weird spider butt Amanda.
Amanda: Yeah. Weird spider butt, got it. Wait, there's the head, there's the thorax and then there's the butt part.
Julia: Thorax, that was the word I was thinking of.
Amanda: Okay, cool.
Julia: Thorax was the word I was thinking of. Thank you Amanda. Spider butt thorax. We got it. Anyway, he's also depicted as a spider with a human face or just a spider wearing human clothing.
Amanda: Adorable. Why is it adorable to have human clothes but terrifying to have a human face? Why is that? I think I'm just thinking of My Brother, My Brother and Me's Hand Dog and Face Cat and Face Cat is the worst I've ever held in my entire life.
Julia: Yes. We are absolutely team Hand-
Amanda: Hand Dog. Yeah.
Julia: Hand Dog.
Amanda: But yes, somehow spider with like ... I'm picturing a little sailor outfit or something, I don't know. I think that's very sweet.
Julia: It's so cute.
Julia: Just like a little vest. Doesn't even have to be pants, he just has a little vest.
Amanda: Actually, do we hear at all about the size of Anansi?
Julia: Again, it depends on the story 'cause sometimes he is human-shaped and human-sized, sometimes he's tiny, tiny spider.
Julia: Probably in the most important story of Anansi is how the spider got obtained all of the stories from Nyame, the Sky-God. Nyame's name literally means he who knows and sees everything. And he was the God that created Kamunu who is the first human. So I'm going to start the story off with a traditional Ashanti beginning of these stories. Here it is. We do not really mean what we are about to say is true. A story, a story, let it come, let it go.
Amanda: Wow. That's beautiful.
Julia: I love a kind of like setting of the story and the ritual of storytelling quite a bit.
Amanda: Yeah. And it kind of absolves you from wondering like I often do during a movie or a story, like, "Okay, well, is this literally possible? Is this literally true? Did this actually happen?" And kind of opening your mind to different kinds of data and different kinds of truth.
Julia: Yeah, let it come, let it go.
Julia: Once there were no stories for Nyame, had them all. Anansi approached the Sky-God asking to but the stores from Nyame and how much they would cost. The Sky-God asked, "What makes you think you can buy them?" And Anansi the spider replied, "I know I shall be able." Nyame scoffed at that replying, "Great and powerful talents and Kokofu and Bekwai have come and they were unable to purchase them and yet you who are but a masterless man, you say you will be able?" But Anansi just repeats his question, "What was the price of the stories?" Nyame told him that they could not be bought with anything except Onini the Python, Osebo the Leopard, Mmoatia the fairy and Mmoboro the Hornet. So Anansi tells the Sky-God, "Fine, I will bring you sum of all of this." And Nyame dismisses him with a challenge, "Go and bring them then."
Amanda: I love the characterization of the trickster as a masterless man, man with no master. We see that, like I've mentioned before, one of the first shows Julia and I worked on in high school is Scapino, which is a fuss about Scapin, the bumbling trickster figure. And it is so fun to work both sides. And ultimately your only agenda is your own. There's just something I think really compelling about that kind of figure.
Also, I'm reading a book right now called DisneyWars, this is a complete tangent, about the corporate like boardroom takeovers and hostile bids and acquisitions and stuff that Disney has done over the years. And I just flashed to this chapter that I'm reading about someone's buyout where, let me make a long story short, his contracts owed him more than 100 million dollars. And his boss was like, "No, I hate you now. You can't have that." And he was like, "You're going to give it to me. You're going to give it to me. You're going to give it to me." And just that kind of self assured like, "Don't worry about it, it's going to happen." And the boss thinks it's so improbable that he doesn't even take it seriously. Anyway, I think Anansi would do really well in corporate culture.
Julia: Probably, probably. That's true. He would climb that corporate ladder with his spider legs.
Amanda: So many legs.
Julia: And so Anansi went. First he went to the Python and loudly outside of his home, debated out loud whether the Python was really as long as a palm branch or not. Claiming that his wife Aso said that he was. Side note, Aso is sometimes referred to as Okonore Yaa. She's like the long-suffering wife of Anansi. We'll hear a little bit more about her in a later story.
Amanda: I bet she has some stories of her own.
Julia: Oh I'm sure. I always like the tell all books that wives write once their ex husbands are gone or dead or whatever. Love that.
Amanda: Oh yeah. Me too.
Julia: My favorite. Okay. So the Python comes out after hearing this and Anansi explains the debate to him that the husband wife had argued whether or not the Python was in fact as long as a palm branch. The Python agreed to settle the debate by lying along a palm branch, but the problem was that he couldn't completely straighten himself out to get a true impression of what his actual length is. 'Cause he's a snake, he can't just go all rigid and straight. They got to have curves and stuff. So Anansi comes up with this brilliant idea. He would tie the Python to the branch so he could easily straighten out. Like having a ...
Amanda: Like a brace.
Julia: A brace or having a anchor for him to kind of come off of.
Julia: So the Python agrees, "Great idea." But as soon as Anansi ties-
Amanda: I love that the Python is just like so bored with his day that he's like, "Meh sure, I'll let some stranger measure me."
Julia: "I got better things to do but this is fun." But as soon as Anansi ties him tightly to the branch, Anansi sweeps up the branch and carries the Python back to Nyame. One down, three to go.
Amanda: That's actually pretty easy and pretty ingenious.
Julia: The Leopard is next. Anansi new that the Leopard would be heading his way to hunt. So he dug a deep hole in the ground, covering it up so that the Leopard would fall into the hole. Classic hunting technique.
Amanda: Yeah, I feel like I have some memory of this with like tigers in China as part of a parable so makes sense.
Julia: So it was pretty straightforward and it worked like a charm. And when Anansi came by later and offered to help the Leopard out, the Leopard happily agreed. So Anansi span webs for the Leopard to climb and as soon as he climbed out of the hole, he realized he had been bound in Anansi's webs and he too was carried back to Nyame. Two down, two to go.
The Hornets were next on Anansi's list. Approaching the nest of Hornets, he filled a gourd with some water and poured it over a banana leaf that he held over his head. He called out to the nest that it was raining and in order to stay dry, the Hornet should take shelter in the now empty gourd.
Amanda: Damn, so smart.
Julia: They hurried to get out of the rain and the moment they were all inside, Anansi sealed it up and took them back to Nyame as well. Three down, one to go.
Amanda: I wonder if any of these animals are known to be a certain kind of character or have a certain kind of feature of their personality that he's appealing to in these cases.
Julia: Yeah. There's absolutely archetypes and I want to talk a little bit about fables and that sort of thing towards the end of the episode. But I appreciate you pointing it out now because it's definitely a good idea.
Lastly was the fairies. Anansi knew-
Amanda: That common animal.
Julia: That common animal, the fairies. So Anansi knew that the fairies played under the odum, which is the tree of life. So he made a doll and covered it with a sticky gum and placed it under the tree. He also put some yam in a bowl in front of the doll. When a fairy came out, she spotted the yam immediately and thought it was an offering from the doll. She ate it then thanked the doll, which being a doll, did not reply. Annoyed by the rudeness and the lack of response she slapped the doll with one hand and then the other and both got stuck to it.
Amanda: Oh no.
Julia: Anansi swoops in, captures her and brings her to Nyame.
Amanda: Man, this is so ripe for a high school movie adaptation. Like imagine 10 Things I Hate About You style, Anansi's fables adopted to high school. Imagine like slapping someone and your hand just sticks to their face because they put on some kind of makeup primer, and you're just like, "Oh no, it's stuck."
Julia: I feel like that might have been a plot point of flubber but the opposite. I could be wrong.
Amanda: Oh very good.
Julia: Now that he had collected all of the payment for the Sky-God, Nyame was delighted. He said, "Anansi, from today and going on forever, I present my Sky-God stories to you. My blessing, my blessing, my blessing."
Amanda: I mean, that's pretty gracious of him.
Julia: I know, he's very impressed. "No more shall we call them Nyankomsem, Sky-God stories, we shall call them Anansesem, the spider stories." And as such, Anansi became the keeper of all stories, which is why the tales are referred to as spider stories.
Amanda: Damn, I love that so much.
Julia: I love it. I think it's such an interesting and like ... It's a formulaic thing. Like we saw something very similar when we looked at Psyche's trials in the story of Psyche and Eros or we see this kind of, "Oh you must do these five tasks in order to get the price that you want."
Amanda: Yeah. Or like World of Warcraft, like any video game where you have to get a key to unlock a chest. But to get the key you have to gather 10 berries and whatever it might be.
Julia: I love that 10 berry to get a key arc.
Amanda: You know, sometimes it goes up to 12 and then you're like, "Ooh damn, the market is pretty hot right now. Got to hold on to my berries."
Julia: You got to hold on to those berries. I feel like you would totally rule the economics of World of Warcraft.
Amanda: I love economics in stories. I love it, I want it. I want it. But that's my problem though, is that I hoard stuff. Like in Pokemon Go, I haven't upgraded my bag yet because you can only hold so many items at a time with the free version and I just don't want to spend more money on Pokemon Go, but I hoard items and I don't want to use them. And then I'd run out and I have no more space to pick up potentially even better items.
And I think it's just an elaborate metaphor for life where sometimes you have to use that good olive oil Julia. It has a shelf life. Got to use it at some point, you got to drink that nice whiskey. You can't just save it and save it and save it knowing that you're going to need it some day. You can't but a bunch of hand soaps and then get sick of that sent and then you have too many hand soaps. You got to use the stuff. Mortality is real. Use your hand soap.
Julia: Mortality being real aside, let me just end the story in the traditional Ashanti way of ending tales. Here's the quote, "This is my story, which I have related. If it be sweet, if it be not sweet, take some elsewhere and let some come back to me." Which feels like very Shakespearean to me, it feels like the monologue at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream. I'm glad we're all on the same page here.
Amanda: Yeah. Or I think it's from the end of The Tempest, I think Prospero has some kind of similar thing. I'm sure that Shakespeare got it from oral traditions like the Ashanti.
Julia: Oh, that's Ariel. Ariel does the one at the end of The Tempest.
Amanda: Oh yeah. Yes, yeah. And they got to be The Fay.
Julia: I think we're confusing our weird Fay helper characters.
Amanda: Yeah, I think Prospero's is like one of his monologues, you can kind of deconstruct as like referring to the theatre but that's not the point. But yeah, anyway, I'm sure that Shakespeare took this from traditions like the Ashanti and oral storytelling.
Julia: I would read that paper so hard. I would just reread a million thesis of the idea of Shakespeare taking notes from the Ashanti storytelling. I love that. That's so cool.
Amanda: Yeah. And even if it wasn't conscious then there was cultural exchange unfortunately under the guise of colonialism and imperialism, which were in development at that time. But yeah, I mean ... I don't know, this is fascinating and I love this idea of calling attention to the narrative. And moreover, it's also really cool that the storyteller is like, "Hey, this is to tell. Like go take it. Like take it with you and to retell it. Bring it to other people, but crucially, bring a little bit back." It's not like a feeling of this is my story only, I can have it. From the framing of the tale to the subject matter of the tale itself where stories can be kept, they can be given, they can be transferred. I don't know, it's really cool. It's like a cultural meme or something like that where it's not just one person's to dole out as they see fit. It's kind of communal or gifted to someone and therefore you have to kind of take it forward.
Julia: Yeah. I really love stories where the idea is, "Oh, this person had all of this thing but then another person came and they gifted it to humankind." We saw that story with Anano, we see that story with Prometheus and the Fire. I really just like the idea of when things can be spread to humanity. Like these nonphysical things that like shape society.
Also, what's really interesting about this and talking about storytelling is because a lot of these are in oral tradition. While I was researching these episodes, I came across a couple of Anansi stories that are recorded and it's told in very much a call and response story. So there's audience participation in the story of Anansi which I really, really like. Because I think that really like kind of drives the community together to kind of keep perpetuating and keep telling these stories, especially because they are very important. And we'll talk a little bit more about how important the Anansi stories are to the African diaspora later on after the refill.
Amanda: Oh, that's awesome. And I mean, it just makes you feel more invested in it. It makes you feel like you're a part of it. And probably if you have heard a story enough to know the participatory responses, that means that you can kind of get something new out of it every time. That's why I like seeing plays that I've seen before or reading books that I've read before because it kind of builds on it and gets reacher over time as you kind of listen to new aspects or I'm sure, different storytellers have different takes on it. So I think that's awesome, and I don't know, it's why I like going to Rocky Horror when it's the kind of participation version of it. I think it's awesome.
Julia: It's always a little different because it depends on who is telling the story. I'm going to tell you another Anansi story but first, how about we get a refill?
Amanda: Let's do it.
Julia: Amanda, you know what I love more than anything in the world?
Amanda: Really good recipes for like hotpot.
Julia: Yes, that is true. But I also love, because we're now in like the holiday season ... Jake makes the best Christmas cookies in the world. Their rival by one, one thing, and that's Mrs. Fields cookies.
Amanda: Oh nice.
Julia: So we are sponsored this week by Mrs. Fields. For over 40 years, Mrs. Fields has made delicious treats like their signature chocolate chip cookies, their handcrafted frosted favorites melt in your mouth brownies. They do a blondie that is out of this world. I love it. And they also do gourmet tins for the holidays as gifts, and they make the perfect present and amazing surprise for anyone who's on your list this holiday season.
Amanda: Yeah. I always have trouble buying for my grandpa. He has all this stuff that he needs and you can only get so many like number one grandpa mugs. So this year I am actually going to order him some Mrs. Fields gift tin. It's beautiful, it has a lot of different kinds of cookies and I think he'll enjoy the opportunity to indulge himself.
Julia: Yeah. And plus, you can also add a really nice customized message to your tin. So you could be like, "Hey grandpa, I know you like cookies, here you go. Love you."
Julia: But much more cooler than that, I suppose. Your grandpa doesn't care if you're cool. He does care if he gets cookies though.
Amanda: That is very true. And once he has taken his favorites, maybe I will be able to sneak one of the fudgy brownies that are in those tins because I love them so much and I recently bought a growler of the wildest beer. It's called a babka stout from Grimm Brewing in Brooklyn. It tastes like a chocolate babka and it's the best thing in the entire world. So I am going to bring some of that to our Christmas Eve celebration and hopefully sneak one of those brownies for myself.
Julia: I cannot wait to also come with you and get a brownie and some of that good, good babka stout. So right now you can get 20% off your order when you go to mrsfields.com and enter the promo code spirits. So you can get 20% off any gift from mrsfields.com by entering the promo code spirits at checkout.
Amanda: That's mrsfields.com promo code, spirits. Thank you Mrs. Fields.
Julia: Amanda, I heard we heard another sponsor though. Tell me about it.
Amanda: We do. A new sponsor to the show. This week we're also sponsored by Poshmark. So as you mentioned Julia, it is the gift buying time of year for a lot of us. Going places sucks, I think that's why we all love podcast so much. So used to stand in line, there's people everywhere, it's loud. There's like glitter and sense in the air and I just want to be home on my couch. But the good news is that I can shop for a lot of the people on my list from my phone, from home or anywhere else using Poshmark. So this is an app that you can get for your phone and it's a place where you can shop from other people's closets basically. They have brands like Nike or Lululemon or whatever else you might really love, your go-to, new with tags in a lot of cases for up to 70% off. So you buy it on the app, it get shipped to you and boom, there you are, a gift for you or for someone on your list.
Julia: That's so much money. That's like paying $300 for a Louboutin bag when it's like thousands otherwise.
Amanda: Yeah, and from a waste perspective, I really appreciate it too because this is people who bought items that they end up not needing. And so instead of throwing that out or letting it go to waste, you get to have this second hand resell market, which I think is really dope. And my sister actually has sold a lot of items on Poshmark and really liked the experience. So whether you're buying them or selling them, Poshmark is the place to go to sell those fashion items that you may want or want to pass on.
Julia: Now, here's the thing Amanda, is it like easy to ship stuff out or like does it get delivered quickly? 'Cause that would be my concern.
Amanda: Yes. It is very easy, it is super fast. You can make an offer even. Like if the price is not quite what you want to pay, you can make an offer. So it really is the best. I can genuinely recommend it as a really easy way to make sure that the clothes you have are the clothes you actually want. And when you download Poshmark, you can actually put in the invite code spirits5 for $5 off your first purchase.
Julia: That is awesome. I'm definitely going to use that. I'm going to just use that spirits5 code and I'm going to get that $5 off. That's awesome.
Amanda: I love it. So thanks again Poshmark. That's the invite code spirits5. And you can get it at poshmark.com or on your app store. Now, let's get back to the show.
Julia: All right Amanda, are you ready for another Anansi story?
Amanda: Yes please. One more.
Julia: Okay. Let me tell about the story of Anansi and the dispersal of wisdom.
Amanda: Ooh, very Promethean.
Julia: Yeah. I like it a lot. We're going to mix things up a little bit and this is going to be the Jamaican version of the story.
Julia: Now, Anansi was already clever, if the first story that I told you was any indication of that.
Julia: He had this idea, he was going to hoard all of the world's wisdom in a large pot and keep it safe so he could have it all to himself.
Amanda: Okay. Okay, I get it.
Julia: But the problem was even though the pot was sealed, Anansi worried. Was it secure? Was it safe enough? Was someone going to steal the wisdom from him? So he decides he is going to find the biggest tree. Not even just the biggest tree, the biggest and the thorniest tree out there.
Amanda: I mean, that's logical.
Julia: Yeah. And he is going to put this pot on the tippy top of that tree so no one can get to it. Anansi, he goes into the forest, he goes into the jungle, he goes into the desert, depending on where and who is telling the story.
Julia: And he finds that tree. And he decides he's going to climb up it with the pot and put it up there. But the problem is, the pot is too big for him to carry and also climb the tree. So what Anansi does is, "Okay, I'm going to tie this pot to the front of my body and I'm going to climb up the tree." And he does that.
Amanda: Then he can't get grippy.
Julia: Exactly. The pot is too big so he isn't really able to really reach and grab onto the tree. So he each time he tries, he kind of slides down the tree. Kind of that scene in Mulan where all the guys are attempting to get the arrow that's on the top. Love that seen, such a great scene.
Amanda: I recently rewatched Mulan on a plane and I was just like, "Damn, this is the best movie ever."
Julia: It's so good. Anyway, so keeps sliding down. Every time he gets more and more frustrated. Now, without Anansi's knowledge, one of his sons, Ntikuma, had followed his father to the tree. He watched his father struggle from behind some bushes I guess or something like that. And after like so many times of watching his father slide down and fell, he laughs out loud which alerts Anansi to the fact that he's there. And he asks his father, he calls out across the clearing, he goes, "Why don't you tie the pot to your back then you can grip the tree?" And this annoys anansi 'cause-
Amanda: 'Cause he was right?
Julia: One, he hadn't figured it out for himself. And two, his child was right, goddammit. So in his annoyance, he becomes distracted and he drops the pot spilling all of the wisdom of the world all over.
Amanda: Wait, is that how people get wisdom?
Julia: Well, at the same time, a storm picked up and washed the wisdom into a river where it was in turn taken out to the sea and was spread all over the world so there was a little bit of wisdom for everyone.
Amanda: There it is, I love it.
Julia: But then Anansi is pissed off at that so he chases his son home through the jungle, through the desert, through the woods, wherever he is telling the story. And he is so angry, but by the time he returned home, he had realized something. So he says to his son, he goes, "What is the use of all the wisdom if a young child still needs to put you right?"
Amanda: Like you can have all those little wisdom nuggets that you want but if you can't figure out something like common sense or if your kids can still best you then it's not quite worth it?
Julia: Yeah basically that or basically like you can have all the knowledge in the world but if you don't use it, what's the point?
Amanda: Yeah, that is really real.
Julia: I was talking to my therapist about this actually 'cause she was suggesting some like ways that I can improve on my stress and then she's like, "You're very hard on yourself. You should say nicer things about yourself." And I'm just like, "That is so obvious and so true. Why don't I do that?" And so I was like, "You know, I was just researching this episode, I have to tell you about this story." And I kind of ran through this whole story with her and she's like, "Yeah." I'm like, "Not that you're a child." She's like, "No, no. I get it." It's like it's just sometimes you need someone to point out the obvious to you and be like, "Why aren't you doing this?" I'm like, "Why the fuck am I not doing that? That's absolutely right."
Amanda: Yeah. Oh man, that is so true. And one of the reasons why therapy is so great. Everybody should go to therapy.
Julia: So great. And it's just like sometimes you just need that outside perspective to tell you what to do because sometimes your brain is a liar and sometimes your brain is like, "You're not good." I'm like, "No, I know I am." They're like, "But do you really ..."
Amanda: Yeah. No, that's really true and being able to ask a trusted friend, a family member, a partner to be like, "Can you just please remind me that I'm not like the most horrible piece of shit to ever take up space on the earth?" Is very useful. Man, I wish that I could always keep all of those things in mind that you would counsel others to do. Like sometimes I think to myself like, "Okay, would I say this you Julia? No, then probably it's too mean to say to myself. Or if Julia did this, would I think she is a horrible no good, very bad person who is not worth loving ever? No I wouldn't." Because it's like burning chicken or like spilling something or doing a small mistake that's embarrassing and then you get over it. So it's really helpful to have that kind of reality check for sure.
Julia: Sometimes it's just about the little things, you know?
Julia: Sometimes you just got to yell at your brain be like, "Yeah, I messed up this one little one thing but there are worse things in the world. I'm not the worst."
Amanda: I know. I wish I could thank that voice and be like, "Thank you for making sure I don't become an asshole. However, we can dial it back a little bit." Like my allergies, like, "Thank you so much immune system for trying super hard to not make me sick. But we can let the puppos closer. We can turn it down a little bit. The gain is too high."
Julia: We just want the pups please.
Amanda: We just still want the pups.
Julia: All right. So let's talk a little bit about Anansi in the new world in the Caribbean. In the new world in the Caribbean, Anansi is celebrated as a symbol of resistance and survival which is why his stories have persisted in enslaved populations. I am going to prefix this section with the fact that obviously this is not my background or my lived experience. This theory that I'm going to kind of relate here is from a book called Black Culture and Consciousness which explores the continuation and growth of Afro-American folk thought. It is a fascinating book, I highly recommend it. Please check it out if you can. I learned a lot from it and I would love for our listeners to learn a lot from it too.
Amanda: That sounds great.
Julia: Anyway, so Anansi stories are popular among Afro-American slaves during that period because his stories are about how Anansi can turn the table on his oppressors and people in power by using tricks and cunning, which is a reflection of the desire to get the upper hand within the boundaries of their own enslavement.
Amanda: For sure.
Julia: And kind of going back to what you were saying about Anansi being like super skilled in the boardroom probably. This idea that you can take what people are doing against you and use it to your advantage.
Amanda: Yeah. I totally see how that could be inspiring, especially in a situation where it seems like every single resource possible has been taken from you except for your own will and creativity.
Julia: So the Anansesem also provided a tie back to cultures they were stolen away from giving the enslaved populations a sense of continuity in their culture. And also according to the book, stories like Anansi's were important because enslaved Africans quote, "devoted the structure and message of their tales to the compulsions and needs of their present situation." Which I think is just a great description of kind of the situation that a lot of these people were in.
Julia: So as such, we see a lot of different stories that were perpetuated in the Americas in different areas. Jamaica is a great example of this. Jamaican stories are well preserved because it had one of the largest group of Ashanti people that were brought to the America as slaves. So Anansi stories in Jamaica often come with a proverb which comes from a story called Anansi and Brer Dead. I'm going to tell the story. It's a little bit long but stick with me here 'cause I think it's really worth it. The story is documented in a bunch of places but this version that I'm reading is from a website called Anansistories.com.
Amanda: Oh, how helpful, thanks.
Julia: Thank you Anansi stories.
Amanda: It's on the world wide web.
Julia: Okay. Once in a before time, Anansi was walking far into the bush. Soon he came to a house with a very, very, very old man sitting inside the mouth of the front door. The old man looked like skin and dry bones. Anansi gathered up his courage and he said, "Good day sir! I have been walking all morning and would love to have a cool drink of ice water." However, the old man said nothing. Anansi, who thought that the old man might be deaf, walked closer to the seated figure and repeated in a loud voice, "I said Good morning sir! May I have a drink of water?" Nevertheless, the old man said nothing. Anansi scratched his head and said, "Oh, you said to go inside the house and help myself?" The old man still said nothing to Anansi.
Amanda: Oh no. I have a bad feeling about this.
Julia: Anansi walked past the old man and went into his house and not only helped himself to ice cold water, but to as much food as he could eat. When he had finished eating, Anansi went outside to see the old man who was sitting in the same spot by the door. Anansi thanked him for his hospitality and returned home.
The next day, Anansi went to the house of the old man and again ate his fill. Still, the old man said nothing to Anansi.
Amanda: Oh no.
Julia: On the third day, Anansi the spider brought his eldest daughter to the old man's house. "Good morning sir," Anansi greeted. "Since you have been so kind to me, I have brought my beautiful daughter who wants to be a cook. I will give her to you as your wife," said Anansi. And then he turned to his daughter. "Here is a wedding ring. Now go into the house and make your father a nice plate of food."
The old man still said nothing. The next day Anansi got up early. He headed to the old man's house. The old man had not moved and was still sitting by his door. Anansi said, "Good morning." And entered the house. He called for his daughter but she did not answer. He knew that she liked Hide-and-Seek so he looked in every closet. He then checked under the bed. Although he knew that it was a dangerous hiding spot, he looked into the icebox, but he could not find her. Anansi searched all over the house but he was not able to find his daughter. He thought of one place he had not looked.
"I know where she is. She is hiding in the oven!" He said as he opened the door to the stove's oven. Anansi jumped back for in the oven lay his daughter's wedding ring. Anansi rushed outside the house and grabbed the old man by the collar. "Where is my daughter?" he shouted. Finally, the old man spoke in a raspy voice. "Do ... you ... know ... who ... I ... am?" He said slowly, chewing on every word that escaped his throat, "Yes." Anansi said. "You are my son-in-law." "Hah! Your son-in-law!" The old man rasped. "My name is Death and you came looking for me. I did not invite you into my house. To add insult to injury, you brought me your ugly daughter so I ate her. Now I am going to have you for lunch," Brother Death said as he grabbed Anansi by the shirt.
Anansi tore the buttons from his shirt, slipped out of it and ran for his life. He ran as fast as he could in the belief that he could easily outdistance himself from an old man like Brother Death. However, wherever Anansi turned, Death was right behind him. Finally, out of desperation, Anansi lunged for a tree limb and climbed as high as he could. To his surprise, Brother Death did not follow Anansi up the tree. Death could not climb.
Brother Death picked up a rock, an old shoe, anything he could find, and threw them at Anansi. They all missed. Brother Death could not throw either. He soon ran out of things to throw. Therefore, he ran around under the tree in search of any missile. Once when he took his eyes off Anansi, the frightened spider jumped off the tree and bolted for his home. As he neared his house Anansi, shouted out to his wife, "Aso! Grab the children and climb up to the ceiling! Death is after me!" "What did you say, Anansi?" His wife asked. "I said grab the children and climb up to the ceiling!" Anansi cried. "You said do what with the potato peelings?” His wife asked. "I said ... Oh, Never mind!" Anansi cried in frustration.
He quickly rushed into his house, grabbed his wife and children, and climbed up into the ceiling with them. "Grab hold of a wooden beam and hold tight!" He shouted. As Brother Death rushed in the door, Anansi and his family were safely clinging to a beam in the ceiling. Brother Death calmly picked up a burlap bag, pulled up a chair, sat down under the dangling spider family and crossed his legs. Half an hour passed and Anansi's youngest son said to his father. "Oh, Papa, my hands are hurting me. I can't hold on any longer." "Hold on son, for if you fall Death is going to get you," Anansi said to his child. However, the boy could not hold on any longer. Therefore, he fell. Death caught the boy and opened the burlap bag. "It is your father I want, not you." Then he placed the child into the burlap bag.
Soon, another of Anansi's daughters cried out to her father. "Papa, please, my hands are tired. I am going to fall." "Fall and Death is going to get you!" Anansi answered. His daughter fell and Death placed her in the burlap bag with her brother. "I don't want you. I want your father," said Death. Soon Anansi's other daughter and son fell. So did his wife, Aso. Finally, Anansi's own hands became tired. First, the left hand froze and lost its grip. However, Anansi held on tight with only his right hand. He exercised the frozen left hand in the hope of using it to relieve the right hand. Anansi's mind began to race.
"Brother Death." He called. "I am so fat from eating all your food that if I fall I will just splatter into pieces. There will not be enough of me left to put in that bag. You will only have enough meat to make spider-burgers. However, if I go into the kitchen you will find a barrel of flour. Get the barrel and set it under me so that the flour will cushion the fall. I won't splatter. I will just be battered." "Hmm," Death exhaled, rubbing his chin and smiling, showing all his 37-and-a-half teeth.
That's a great detail. I like that.
Amanda: That's very good.
Julia: "Fried spider for dinner, huh? Or, maybe I can make a delicious, spicy Jerk Spider from Anansi and his family!" Anansi figured that the flour barrel would be so heavy it would take four men to lift it. This would give him time to escape. After Brother Death went into the kitchen, Anansi was about to let go and drop from the ceiling. However, in a flash, Death was back under Anansi with the flour barrel. Anansi had underestimated Brother Death's strength. As Brother Death wobbled the barrel from side to side, he bent over the barrel to make sure everything was exactly under Anansi. The cunning spider dropped to the top of the old man's head, dunking his face into the flour. The flour bath temporarily blinded Death.
Anansi jumped off Death's head, released his family and they ran for their lives. Death has never caught Anansi the Spider. That is why there are Anansi stories to this day. When you see spider webs on the ceiling, it belongs to Anansi. He is still trying to get away from Death.
Amanda: Wow. What a way to explain spider webs. That's amazing.
Julia: It's so good.
Amanda: Also, I love that his wife mishearing him and thinking that he said potato peelings, had no impact on the story. It was just like a delicious detail.
Julia: It's just like, oh, we want to make fun of the wife detail.
Amanda: Oh, it's very good.
Julia: So in Jamaican stories, they referred to Anansi as Kweku not in that story but obviously it was a translation. The proverb that comes out of this story is if you catch Kweku, you catch him shut. Meaning the target of revenge and destruction, even killing, will be anyone close to the intended such as loved ones and family members. As we saw with Anansi and his family.
Julia: So interestingly, from my research, I found that a lot of the Anansi stories are directed towards children. But when I thought a little bit more about that, I realized yeah, because these are basically the same thing as the fables that we grew up with. I mean, we grew up with Aesop's Fables. They're designed to teach lessons using characters that are representative of a value or a moral. So I kind of want to end this episode with that. How stories keep cultures alive and preserve the values of a society and how we can kind of adopt this into our own lives.
Amanda: Yeah. What are your thoughts?
Julia: I think that absolutely this is kind of one of those situations where these stories are told in order to teach a society a lesson. And obviously those lessons are usually taught when we're children. But I think that sometimes it's important for us to kind of be reminded of these stories because I think that we lose the values as we kind of grow older and we kind of don't incorporate those into our lives as much anymore.
Amanda: Yeah. And like you were talking about earlier, it's one thing to know something in your brain and it's another to apply it to your life.
Amanda: And I feel that way every time I like prove out one of those lessons or aphorisms to be true. Like slow and steady wins the race for example, is one that my parents repeated a lot from the Tortoise and the Hare which is our versions of one of those that we in particular grew up with.
Julia: Interesting story. Just a sidebar, the Tortoise and the Hare was originally a story about how death was introduced into the world.
Julia: So the concept being the humans' immortality was tied to the hare, the tortoise was tied to mortality. And so they were raced and they wanted the humans to be immortal so they were given that opportunity by putting it on the hare. They're like, "We're going to just make this as easy as possible for the hare to win." And so they sent them off and then the hare ends up losing, the tortoise wins. That's why we're immortal.
Amanda: I love that, wow.
Julia: Anyway, sorry. Sidebar on that.
Amanda: That's really fascinating. Yeah, like I know that and I was taught that as a kid and I rolled my eyes when my mom said it. I was like, "Yeah mom, I know." And yet every time that I want results faster than I'm getting them, that still happens to me. Just knowing it doesn't mean that I don't still experience the thing that the story is warning against. Or my dad is the trials of a brick mason and grew up working carpentry in Brooklyn. And so when my parents said to me, measure twice cut once, they really, really meant it. And that is the thing that they'll still text me to this day. Meaning if you're cutting materials, literally measure it two times so you make sure you're cutting the right cut 'cause you can't undo it once you do it. And that is true whether it's deciding to leave a job or doing a recipe like whatever it might be. Just do a little bit more checking, like do two mic checks instead of one just to make sure that everything's okay before you do something that you can't undo.
Julia: Yeah. Be sure of a thing before you do it.
Amanda: Exactly. And yeah, I definitely have that in my head. It's something that you can return to and something that ... Especially in those moments when you need guidance, which is often what these stories are telling you about. Like in a moment of crisis, do you resort to strength or confrontation or do you try to be creative and use a little trickery, use a little Anansi? It needs to be in your head from an early age to be something that you refer to in times of stress. Like we almost revert and kind of go to instincts. And if one of those instincts that was baked in comes from a story and it's something that you've known for a long time, maybe you have a higher chance of actually listening to it when the going gets tough.
Julia: Interesting that you bring up instinct 'cause I feel as though these kind of fables and these Anansi stories are kind of designed for someone to inherently forego that instinct.
Amanda: Oh yeah.
Julia: You know what I mean?
Julia: So like these are taught lessons and so when we're talking about a fable that's trying to teach you something, it goes against the human instinct of whatever it is. Because like the argument would be we're more than just our instincts. We are more than just our base human desires and stuff like that. So teaching these morals as a young age kind of establishes okay, well you might want to hit this person, you might want to chase your son across the desert when you're mad at him but-
Amanda: Or grab the python by the tail or whatever.
Julia: Right. But you should think about how that might not be a good option. And actually, if you think about it, and much like Anansi did, you'll find that that's not the case. You shouldn't do that 'cause there are other options for you.
Amanda: That's really true. And now I'm thinking about what kinds of fables we're going to tell our respective kids and if when they grow up they're like, "Wait, our moms were kind of fucked up." And we'll be like, "Yeah, that was the point."
Julia: Yeah. We're weird. But we taught you good lessons so it doesn't matter how that came.
Julia: I think one of the lessons that I'm going to teach my children is to stay creepy.
Amanda: Stay cool.