Anansi (/əˈnɑːnsi/ ə-NAHN-see) is an Akan folktale character. He
often takes the shape of a spider and is considered to be the spirit
of all knowledge of stories. He is also one of the most important
characters of West African and
He is also known as Ananse, Kwaku Ananse, and Anancy. In the New World
he is known as Nancy, Aunt Nancy and Sis' Nancy. He is a spider,
but often acts and appears as a man.
Anansi tales originated from the
Akan people of present-day Ghana.
The word Ananse is Akan and means "spider". They later spread to West
Sierra Leone (where they were introduced by Jamaican
Maroons) and the Netherlands Antilles. On Curaçao, Aruba, and
Bonaire, he is known as Kompa Nanzi, and his wife as Shi Maria.
Anansi is depicted in many different ways. Sometimes he looks like an
ordinary spider, sometimes he is a spider wearing clothes or with a
human face and sometimes he looks much more like a human with spider
elements, such as eight legs.
1.2 Variants of this story
Anansi and the dispersal of wisdom
2 Relationship between
Anansi and Br'er Rabbit
4 References in popular culture
4.4 Television and film
4.5 Video games
5 Other names
6 See also
8 Sources / Further reading
9 External links
Anansi tales are some of the best-known amongst the Asante people of
Ghana. The stories made up an exclusively oral tradition, and
Anansi himself was synonymous with skill and wisdom in
speech. It was as remembered and told tales that they crossed to
Caribbean and other parts of the
New World with captives via the
Atlantic slave trade. In the Caribbean,
Anansi is often celebrated
as a symbol of slave resistance and survival.
Anansi is able to turn
the table on his powerful oppressors by using his cunning and
trickery, a model of behaviour utilised by slaves to gain the
upper-hand within the confines of the plantation power structure.
Anansi is also believed to have played a multi-functional role in the
slaves' lives; as well as inspiring strategies of resistance, the
tales enabled enslaved Africans to establish a sense of continuity
with their African past and offered them the means to transform and
assert their identity within the boundaries of captivity. As historian
Lawrence W. Levine argues in Black Culture and Consciousness, enslaved
Africans in the
New World devoted “the structure and message of
their tales to the compulsions and needs of their present situation”
Anansi became such a prominent and familiar part of Ashanti
oral culture that the word Anansesem—"spider tales"—came to
embrace all kinds of fables. One of the few studies that examine the
Anansi folktales among the Ashanti of
Ghana is R.S.
Rattray’s Akan-Ashanti Folk-Tales (1930). The tales in Rattray’s
collection were recorded directly from Ashanti oral storytelling
sessions and published in both English and Twi. Peggy Appiah, who
Anansi tales in
Ghana and published many books of his
stories, wrote: "So well known is he that he has given his name to the
whole rich tradition of tales on which so many Ghanaian children are
brought up – anansesem – or spider tales." Elsewhere they have
other names, for instance Ananse-Tori in Suriname,
Anansi in Guyana,
and Kuent'i Nanzi in Curaçao.
For Africans in the diaspora, the Jamaican versions of these stories
are the most well preserved, because
Jamaica had the largest
concentration of enslaved Asante in the Americas. All
Jamaica have a proverb at the end. At the end of the story
Anansi and Brah Dead", there is a proverb that suggests that even in
times of slavery,
Anansi was referred to by his Akan original name:
Anansi or simply as Kwaku interchangeably with Anansi. The
proverb is: "If yuh cyaan ketch Kwaku, yuh ketch him shut", which
refers to when Brah Dead (brother death or drybones), a
personification of Death, was chasing
Anansi to kill him. Meaning: The
target of revenge and destruction, even killing, will be anyone very
close to the intended, such as loved ones and family members.
This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this
section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material
may be challenged and removed. (January 2015) (Learn how and when to
remove this template message)
There is an
Anansi story that explains the phenomenon of how his name
became attached to the whole corpus of tales:
Once there were no stories in the world. The Sky-God, Nyame, had them
Anansi went to
Nyame and asked how much they would cost to buy.
Nyame set a high price:
Anansi must bring back Onini the Python, Osebo
the Leopard, and the Mboro Hornets.
Anansi set about capturing these. First he went to where Python lived
and debated out loud whether Python was really longer than the palm
branch or not as his wife Aso says. Python overheard and, when Anansi
explained the debate, agreed to lie along the palm branch. Because he
cannot easily make himself completely straight a true impression of
his actual length is difficult to obtain, so Python agreed to be tied
to the branch. When he was completely tied,
Anansi took him to Nyame.
To catch the leopard,
Anansi dug a deep hole in the ground. When the
leopard fell in the hole
Anansi offered to help him out with his webs.
Once the leopard was out of the hole he was bound in Anansi's webs and
was carried away.
To catch the hornets,
Anansi filled a calabash with water and poured
some over a banana leaf he held over his head and some over the nest,
calling out that it was raining. He suggested the hornets get into the
empty calabash, and when they obliged, he quickly sealed the opening.
Anansi handed his captives over to Nyame.
Nyame rewarded him by making
him the god of all stories.
Variants of this story
There are many variants of this tale, both recorded from oral sources
and published. Indeed, the number of children's illustrated book
versions of this one tale demonstrates how successfully
made the transition into literature. The summary above is of an
illustrated book version
Anansi Does the Impossible, an Ashanti tale
Verna Aardema and illustrated by Lisa Desimini.
Another picture book version is the Caldecott Medal-winning A Story a
Story, retold and illustrated by Gail E. Haley, which takes its
title from a traditional Ashanti way of beginning such tales: "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" and finishes
traditionally with: "This is my story which I have related. If it be
sweet, or if it be not sweet, take some elsewhere, and let some come
back to me."
There are many other children's adaptations of this story including:
Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti by Gerald McDermott
The Hat-Shaking Dance and Other Tales from the Gold Coast by Harold
Ananse and the Box of Stories: A West African Folktale by Stephen
The Story Thief by Andrew Fusek Peters
Spider and the Sky God: An Akan Legend by Deborah M. Newton
Anancy and the Sky God:
Caribbean Favourite Tales by Ladybird
Ananse by Brian Gleeson
ANANSE in the Land of Idiots by Yaw Asare 
The Magic of Ananse
Anansi and the dispersal of wisdom
Another story tells of how
Anansi once tried to hoard all of the
world's wisdom in a pot (in some versions a calabash).
already very clever, but he decided to gather together all the wisdom
he could find and keep it in a safe place.
With all the wisdom sealed in a pot, he was still concerned that it
was not safe enough, so he secretly took the pot to a tall thorny tree
in the forest (in some versions the silk cotton tree). His young son,
Ntikuma, saw him go and followed him at some distance to see what he
The pot was too big for
Anansi to hold while he climbed the tree, so
he tied it in front of him. Like this the pot was in the way and
Anansi kept slipping down, getting more and more frustrated and angry
with each attempt.
Ntikuma laughed when he saw what
Anansi was doing. "Why don't you tie
the pot behind you, then you will be able to grip the tree?" he
Anansi was so annoyed by his failed attempts and the realisation that
his child was right that he let the pot slip. It smashed and all the
wisdom fell out. Just at this moment a storm arrived and the rain
washed the wisdom into the stream. It was taken out to sea, and spread
all around the world, so that there is now a little of it in everyone.
Anansi chased his son home through the rain, he was reconciled
to the loss, for, he says: "What is the use of all that wisdom if a
young child still needs to put you right?"
Anansi and Br'er Rabbit
Anansi shares similarities with the trickster figure of Br'er Rabbit,
who originated from the folklore of the Bantu-speaking peoples of
south and central Africa. Enslaved Africans brought the Br'er Rabbit
tales to the New World, which, like the
Anansi stories, depict a
physically small and vulnerable creature using his cunning
intelligence to prevail over larger animals. However, although Br'er
Rabbit stories are told in the Caribbean, especially in the
French-speaking islands (where he is named “Compair Lapin”), he is
predominantly an African-American folk hero. The rabbit as a trickster
is also in Akan versions as well and a Bantu origin doesn't have to be
the main source, at least for the
Caribbean where the
Akan people are
more dominant than in the U.S. His tales entered the mainstream
through the work of the American journalist Joel Chandler Harris, who
wrote several collections of
Uncle Remus stories between 1870 and
One of the times
Anansi himself was tricked was when he tried to fight
a tar baby after trying to steal food, but became stuck to it instead.
It is a tale well known from a version involving Br'er Rabbit, found
Uncle Remus stories and adapted and used in the 1946
Walt Disney movie Song of the South. These were
derived from African-American folktales in the Southern United States,
that had part of their origin in African folktales preserved in oral
storytelling by African Americans. Elements of the African
were combined by African-American storytellers with elements from
Native American tales, such as the
Cherokee story of the "Tar
Wolf", which had a similar theme, but often had a trickster rabbit
as a protagonist. The Native American trickster rabbit appears to have
resonated with African-American story-tellers and was adopted as a
cognate of the
Anansi character with which they were familiar.
Other authorities state the widespread existence of similar stories of
a rabbit and tar baby throughout indigenous Meso-American and South
American cultures. Thus, the tale of
Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Baby
represents a coming together of two separate folk traditions, American
and African, which coincidentally shared a common theme. Most of the
Br'er Rabbit stories originated with
Cherokee or Algonquin
myths. In the USA today, the stories of
Br'er Rabbit exist
alongside other stories of Aunt Nancy, and of
Anansi himself, coming
from both the times of slavery and also from the
directly from Africa.
Anansi is a spirit, who acts on behalf of Nyame, his father and the
Sky Father. He brings rain to stop fires and performs other duties for
him. His mother is Asase Ya. There are several mentions of Anansi's
children, the first son often being named as Ntikuma. According to
some stories his wife is known as Miss
Anansi or Mistress
most commonly as Aso. He is depicted as a spider, a human, or
In some beliefs,
Anansi is responsible for creating the sun, the stars
and the moon, as well as teaching mankind the techniques of
References in popular culture
In the action adventure/literary thriller Eteka: Rise of the Imamba by
Anansi is cast as a mysterious/otherworldly character that
appears in different forms. In one chapter in the same book he also
refers to himself as 'Spider.'
Neil Gaiman's novel
American Gods features
Anansi (under the name Mr.
Nancy) living in America among several other mythological characters.
In the television adaptation, he is portrayed by Orlando Jones.
A later Gaiman novel,
Anansi Boys, follows the sons of
Anansi as they
discover each other and their heritage.
In Little Golden Books' 1996 Justine Korman storybook, Disney's The
Lion King: The Cave Monster,
Simba and Nala are afraid of the "Cave
Monster", but later find out that it is a spider named Anansi.
In the science fiction novel The Descent of Anansi, by
Larry Niven and
Steven Barnes, the main characters manage to land a damaged spacecraft
on Earth with the aid of a very strong cable made of crystalline iron
and the "force" generated by tidal effects. The title is based on the
image of the spacecraft hanging from the cable like a spider on a
China Miéville cast
Anansi as a prominent supporting character
in his first novel, King Rat, published in 1998.
Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson, published in 2000, the ruling
government is called the Grande 'Nansi Web, for its surveillance
nanotechnologies, injected into every citizen at birth.
Clean Sweep, a novel by Ilona Andrews, includes a reference to Anansi
mythology when the characters purchase
Anansi bombs that release a
In an arc of DC Comics' Justice League of America, the team faces
Anansi. The character was first mentioned in Justice League of America
No. 23, but was not named until
Justice League of America
Justice League of America #24.
According to Vixen, he is the West African trickster god and "owns all
Anansi appears in several forms, the most common form being
a large, other-worldly spider with supernatural powers. He has been
manipulating the powers of Vixen and Animal Man. He initially appears
to be villainous, but then reveals after he is "defeated" that his
machinations were in fact intended to teach Vixen a lesson and prepare
her for some coming disaster.
Marvel Comics series
The Amazing Spider-Man
The Amazing Spider-Man volume 2 (2003), it
is revealed by Ezekiel that Kwaku
Anansi was the first Spider-Man.
Anansi sold himself to
Nyame the sky-god in return for wisdom, and
passed his knowledge on to spiders. In a story of the mini-series
Spider-Man Fairy Tales,
Spider-Man himself takes on the role of
Anansi. He is on a quest to gain more power after feeling
unappreciated. After encountering elemental aspects (the Fantastic
Four), and a guardian of a sacred garden (Swarm), he realizes the
greatest power is friendship.
In the Marvel comic Herc during the
Spider-Island story arc, a man by
the name of A. Nancy appears several times as a traveling storyteller.
It is revealed that in fact he is the
Spider god of legend, and while
Arachne occupied, he steals Arachne's mythical tapestry that
got her bound to her cursed form, adding it to his collection. He then
Anancy appears in Fables crossover Cinderella: Fables Are Forever
issue 3, where he is shown as a tricker figure and is related to the
Anansi is also a main character in Greg Anderson-Elysée's graphic
novel series "Is'nana: The Were-Spider". The first volume,
"Forgotten Stories" was self-published on 2016, after a successful
Kickstarter campaign, under the imprint "Webway Comics". In the
series, Is'nana is Anansi's son.
The English rock band
Skunk Anansie (1994–2001, 2009–present) took
the name of the spider man of the West African folk tales, but with a
slightly different spelling, and added "Skunk" to the name, in order
to make the name nastier.
Raffi wrote and recorded the song "Anansi" for his
Corner Grocery Store
Corner Grocery Store album. The song describes
Anansi as a spider
and a man. It tells a story about
Anansi being lazy yet clever, using
flattery to trick some crows into shaking loose ripe mangoes from his
mango tree for
Anansi to enjoy without having to pick them himself.
Television and film
Prior to writing the book of the same name (referenced above),
filmmaker and author
Gerald McDermott created the animated short
Spider in 1969. Narrated by Athmani Magoma, it briefly
explains the function of folklore, introduces the Ashanti people, and
retells two tales about
Anansi and his six sons.
Anansi appears in two episodes of the Disney cartoon series Gargoyles.
Anansi was depicted as a giant spider-spirit in the episode "Mark Of
The Panther", voiced by LeVar Burton. He also appeared in the first
part of "The Gathering", where he was seen returning to
Avalon as one
of Oberon's subjects.
Kids' WB television program Static Shock,
a major superhero in Africa.
Anansi is part of a lineage of heroes
whose powers stem from an ancient amulet, which grants powers of
illusion and the ability to adhere to any surface. He first appears in
"Static in Africa", where Static visits Africa, and the two join
forces to fight the villain Oseba the Leopard.
Anansi returns in "Out
of Africa", in which he comes to Dakota City where Static and Gear
help him recover his amulet from Oseba, who is this time joined by
Onini the Snake and Mmoboro the Wasp.
Spider narrated stories from African folklore on the PBS
children's series Sesame Street. He was voiced by Ossie Davis. These
cartoon segments by Fred Garbers were introduced by Sonia Manzano, who
plays Maria on that show.
Sun and the
Moon aka A Home in the Sky
Monkey and Baboon's Compromise
The Little Mouse
Soviet short animated film Паучок Ананси (Russian: Anancy
the Spider) premiered in 1970.
Anancy Turns Over A New Leaf animated film was produced by Lalu
Hanuman in 2000. He followed this up in 2001 with a second Anancy
animated film Anancy's Healthy Diet. In 2001 also, the National Film
Board of Canada produced the animated short film The Magic of Anansi
as part of its Talespinners collection of short films based on
children's stories from Canada's cultural communities.
"Mr. Nancy" is a character in the television adaptation of Neil
Gaiman's novel American Gods, portrayed by
Orlando Jones (see "Books",
“Aunt Nancy” is a female character on the (TV series) Superstition
on the SYFY network, portrayed by Jasmine Guy from the television
series A Different World.
In the PC game Shivers,
Anansi appears in a music box that tells the
tale of the spider tricking a lizard and the gods.
In Pandora's Box,
Anansi is one of the tricksters that has to be
In The Secret World,
Anansi is one of the eight divisions of the
Orochi group, a global corporation whose units are frequently
encountered in game. Anansi's sphere is personal technology like
tablets and headsets.
Bru Nansi (Virgin Islands)
Annancy or Anancy (Jamaica, Grenada, Costa Rica, Colombia, Nicaragua)
Anansi (Trinidad and Tobago)
Anansi Drew (The Bahamas)
Aunt Nancy (South Carolina)
Cha Nanzi (Aruba)
Kompa Nanzi (Curaçao, Bonaire)
Gede Zareyin (Haiti)
Bra Anansi, Nansi or bra spaida (Jamaica, Sierra Leone)
Ba Yentay (South Carolina)
Cultural depictions of spiders
^ Courlander, Harold (1996). A Treasury of African Folklore. New York:
Marlowe & Company. p. 136. ISBN 1-56924-816-8.
^ Haase, Donald (2008). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and
Fairy Tales. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 31.
ISBN 0-313-33441-2. 
^ See for instance Ashanti linguist staff finial in the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, which relates to the saying "No one goes to the house
of the spider Ananse to teach him wisdom."
^ Cynthia James (2004). "Searching for Ananse: From Orature to
Literature in the West Indian Children's Folk Tradition—Jamaican and
Trinidadian Trends". Trinidad University of the West Indes. Archived
from the original (Word Document) on 5 January 2009. Retrieved 16
^ a b Zobel Marshall, Emily (2012) Anansi's Journey: A Story of
Jamaican Cultural Resistance. University of the West Indies Press:
Kingston, Jamaica. ISBN 978-9766402617
^ Appiah, Peggy (1988). Tales of an Ashanti Father. Beacon Press.
^ "Jamaican Proverbs", National Library of Jamaica.
^ Aardema, Verna (2000). Ananse Does the Impossible. Aladdin
Paperbacks. ISBN 0-689-83933-2.
^ Haley, Gail E. (1999). A Story a Story. Topeka Bindery.
Anansi has to bring back Leopard not
Python in this adaptation,
^ Kwesi Yankah (1983). "The Akan Trickster Cycle: Myth or Folktale?"
(PDF). Trinidad: University of the West Indies. Archived (PDF) from
the original on 10 December 2008. Retrieved 16 December 2008.
^ McDermott, Gerald (1972).
Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the
Ashanti. Turtleback Books. p. 48. ISBN 0-606-20938-7.
^ Courlander, Harold (1957). The Hat-Shaking Dance and Other Tales
from the Gold Coast. Harcourt. ISBN 978-0-15-233615-8.
^ Krensky, Stephen (2007). Ananse and the Box of Stories: A West
African Folktale. Millbrook Press. p. 48.
^ Peters, Andrew Fusek (2007). The Story Thief. A & C Black.
^ Chocolate, Deborah M. Newton (1997).
Spider and the Sky God: An Akan
Legend. Troll Communications. ISBN 0-8167-2812-7.
^ Anancy and the Sky God:
Caribbean Favourite Tales. Ladybird. 2005.
^ Gleeson, Brian (1992). Ananse. Neugebauer Press.
ISBN 0-88708-231-9. A
Caribbean version where the stories
come from Tiger. Also produced in film version, narrated by Denzel
Washington with music by UB40; see Rabbit Ears Productions media and
^ Asare, Yaw (2006). ANANSE in the Land of Idiots. StudyGhana
Foundation. ISBN 9988-0-36841.
^ A short film of the
Caribbean tale, directed by Jamie Mason and
produced by Tamara Lynch for the National Film Board of Canada. The
film can he see online here Archived 23 January 2009 at the Wayback
^ One version is given in Appiah, Peggy; illustrated by Mora Dickson
(1969). The Pineapple Child and Other Tales from the Ashanti. London:
Andre Deutsch Ltd. ISBN 0-233-95875-4.
Anansi Has Eight Skinny Legs". An Akan Story by Farida Salifu.
^ Zobel Marshall, Emily (2012), Anansi's Journey: A Story of Jamaican
Resistance. University of the West Indies Press: Kingston, Jamaica,
^ James Mooney, "Myths of the Cherokee", Dover 1995, pp. 271–273,
232–236, 450. Reprinted from a Government Printing Office
publication of 1900.
^ Jace Weaver, That the People Might Live: Native American Literatures
and Native American Community, Oxford University Press, November 1997,
^ Enrique Margery : "The Tar-Baby Motif", p. 9. In Latin American
Indian Literatures Journal, Vol. 6 (1990), pp. 1–13.
Cherokee Place Names in the Southeastern U.S., Part 6
« Chenocetah’s Weblog Archived 23 August 2010 at the Wayback
^ Straczynski, J. Michael (w), Romita Jr, John (p), Hannah, Scott (i).
"A Spider's Tale"
The Amazing Spider-Man
The Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2, #48 (February 2003).
^ Caleb Palmquist (26 January 2016). "Independent Comics In Focus -
Greg Anderson-Elysee, Creator of Is'nana The Were-Spider". Word of The
Nerd. Retrieved 2016-11-11.
^ "Is'nana The Were-
Spider Kickstarter Campaign".
^ "Biography: Skunk Anansie". Allmusic. Retrieved 22 November
Spider (1969)". IMDB. IMDB.
^ British Film Institute's film archives
^ "The Magic of Anansi" (Requires Adobe Flash). Online film. Montreal:
National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 17 June 2011.
Sources / Further reading
Ishmael, Odeen (2010). The Magic Pot: Nansi Stories From the
Caribbean. Xlibris. ISBN 978-1-4535-3903-3.[self-published
Marshall, Emily Zobel (September 2007). "Liminal Anansi: Symbol of
Order and Chaos An Exploration of Anansi's Roots Amongst the Asante of
Caribbean Quarterly. 53 (3): 30–40.
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Anancy's Gift—video by
UNED (English with Spanish subtitles)
Jamaican Anancy Stories on Jamaicans.com
Anansi Became A
Spider by Michael Auld, on AnansisStories.com
Anansi Stories Martha
Warren Beckwith (1924), on Internet Sacred Texts Archive