Stories often provide a means of communicating messages through various characters and stylistic devices. Mythologies and folklore across human history are great examples of this. These are often maintained throughout history through oral recitation and later written documentation. However, we are most often encouraged to learn Greek mythology--of gods and goddesses like Athena, Zeus, and Prometheus. We learn of fables like “the Tortoise and the Hare” or “the Fox and the Crow”, but we often overlook fables and the stories of gods or spirits of other cultures and regions. With that being said, here are two fables that trace their roots back to West Africa.
Anasi, the Spider
Anasi comes from the Asante word, Asanse, which means Spider. This fable of Anansi the Spider is commonly known in West Africa, as well as the Caribbean. There are many fables that feature Anansi, but the one detailed in Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti by Gerald McDermott is specifically about the trouble that Anansi finds himself in once he is swallowed by a fish and later captured by a bird. His six sons, who each have different specialties, manage to save him. As a sign of his appreciation, Anansi wants to gift one of his sons with a gift: a giant white globe. He struggles to make his decision, and his reservations lead to fighting amongst the sons. Nyame, “who is the Supreme Force in Akan cosmology”, or the God of All Things, decides to rectify the situation by taking the globe of light and placing it in the sky for everyone to see.
The globe in the story represents the Moon, but this fable does not delve into its significance. The moon is not just an orb that we see once it's nightfall. Rather, it’s an entity that possesses many powers by contributing to tides, stabilizing Earth’s seasons and tilt, and acting as a sign for mating to begin amongst animals. We have found our reverence for the sun, in it's ability to provide warmth and guidance, but the moon is just as respectable.
Why the sky is far away: A Nigerian Folktale
This folktale was first told 500 years ago, and it is a folktale from the Benin tribe of Nigeria.
This particular folktale details what it was like for people to live in abundance--with food and water in the Sky. Everything remained so close to them that they were able to consume all that they needed. They did not have to sow crops or prepare food to eat. When people were hungry, they simply “took the sky and ate it”. With this provision already being accounted for, people dedicated their time to preparing for events within the community and sharing old tales with one another, but as this occurred, people began to take advantage of the Sky. People took more food from the Sky than they needed, carelessly throwing away their leftovers. The Sky eventually made it clear that he would no longer allow himself to be squandered by leaving a warning for the king of the villages. In turn, the king of this community delivered the message, warning the villages’ people that if they continued to live a life of excess and waste, there would be consequences. People heeded his warnings, but only for some time. When time came to celebrate the king, a woman named Adusi, who was never satisfied, took more than she could. She wasted the piece of Sky she had taken, and as a response, the Sky decided to move far away. His anger and departure meant that the people within the villages would have to learn to care for themselves with the Sky far out of reach. The story concludes with them having to tend to the land, learning skills that they never possessed.
Although this story may be about gluttony, it also highlights the importance of environmental stewardship. Today, rampant climate change makes this story even more significant as we are forced to consider and modify the ways in which we engage with Earth and its resources.
This post was written by Hillary A.