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Fables of Anansi and the Jamaican People Research Paper

Anansi is a character of African folktales. This character is often depicted as a spider and regarded as a spirit who is the source of all stories and knowledge. It is one of the most popular characters of the Caribbean and West African folklore. In different sources, Anansi can also be referred to as Anancy, Kwaku Ananse, or Ananse. Although this character is a spider, in the stories, he behaves like a human. The character was created by the Akan people who now live in Ghana. In their language, the word “Anansi” means “spider”. Since these tales were adopted by many other groups of people that came from Africa and now live in different parts of the world, there are numerous versions of both the stories themselves and the appearance and behavior of the spider (Yenika-Agbaw, Lowery, & Henderson, 2013). Despite there being many books written about Anansi, originally, these tales were exclusively an oral tradition, and, of course, Anansi himself is described as an eloquent and wise orator.

The Origins

The stories were remembered by African slaves who were forced to cross the Atlantic Ocean. First of all, these stories became popular in the Caribbean and then spread to other parts of the New World. In the Caribbean, especially in Jamaica, Anansi is celebrated as a symbol of survival and slave resistance. In the Jamaican version of the tales, Anansi is able to resist his powerful oppressors by means of using his trickery and cunning (McGhee, 2015). This is the model of behavior that African slaves tried to utilize in order to be at the top of the plantation power hierarchy.

Anansi played a crucial role in the lives of the slaves, as he was considered a symbol of hope that someday they would be able to release themselves from the European scourge. These inspiring strategies of resistance were the main reason why these tales were popular at that time and are the cultural legacy of the African people now (Bogle, 2016). Moreover, these stories enabled the African captives to develop a sense of continuity with their past on the African continent and gave them the means to assert and to preserve their identity in such a hostile environment.

Jamaica’s Interpretation

A slightly different interpretation of Anansi is presented by the Jamaican people. In their version, Anansi is a physically vulnerable creature that uses its intelligence to defeat larger animals. They depict Anansi as a mediator and trickster in order to symbolize his middle position and his actions that cause disruptions in the social order. They also reflect in the stories the metamorphosis that they underwent in the plantation societies of the New World (Seal & White, 2016). Anansi withstands fixedness, labeling, and categorization, thereby allowing many different interpretations that reflect the unpredictability and instability of the plantation environment and the continuous process of enslaving and exterminating people of African origin.

Furthermore, in the tales, Anansi employs certain methods in dealing with his enemies which are called Anansi tactics. As a matter of fact, these tactics are a representation of actions and approaches used by slave rebels and Jamaican Maroons who made a great contribution to the dissemination and promotion of the Anansi tales in the Caribbean (Girvan, 2017).

The Modern Interpretation

In the 19th century, the tales first appeared in the written form. Moreover, since the problem of slavery was almost resolved, at the beginning of the 20th century, a different, more negative interpretation was added to Anansi. Thus, it was seen as a dangerous role model and a source of corruption and, at the same time, as the source of power in the harsh contemporary realities of Jamaican life. The new Anansi is depicted as a black man with the legs of a spider who is less anarchic and violent and who speaks English. Interestingly, the tales often have a happy ending, particularly in the Caribbean and the British educational material (Yenika-Agbaw et al., 2013). Furthermore, the invention of new stories is currently in progress.

Additionally, Anansi tales served as an inspiration for the cultural resistance not only in colonial and in the postcolonial Jamaica. Nowadays, Anansi is sometimes referred to as a “Jamaica’s cultural Maroon”, which is a proper analogy, especially considering the fact that according to the studies, Maroon representatives know more about this character than non-Maroons. Despite being explicitly represented as a source of resistance, the Anansi fables also have the underlying theme, namely, the self-preservation (Bogle, 2016). Indeed, in the stories, Anansi also uses his cunning techniques in order to survive.


Thus, Anansi tales were very important to plantation slaves, as they were the stories of survival against the odds. Therefore, they served as an inspiration for African slaves to develop various resistance strategies and organize rebellions. Although there were some negative interpretations of Anansi, generally, this character is considered good and fair, who, like African slaves wanted to restore justice and end the oppression. Overall, the creolization of Anansi has had a positive effect on both New World cultural innovation and African continuity (Marshall, 2013).


Bogle, D. (2016). Anansi’s journey: A story of Jamaican cultural resistance. Caribbean Quarterly, 62(2), 286-287.

Girvan, A. (2017). Trickster carbon: Stories, science, and postcolonial interventions for climate justice. Journal of Political Ecology, 24(1), 1038-1054.

Marshall, E. Z. (2013). Anansi’s journey: A story of Jamaican cultural resistance (2nd ed.). Mona, Jamaica: University of West Indies Press.

McGhee, J. A. (2015). Fever dreams: Obeah, tropical disease, and cultural contamination in colonial Jamaica and the metropole. Atlantic Studies, 12(2), 179-199.

Seal, G., & White, K. K. (2016). Folk heroes and heroines around the world (2nd ed.). Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood.

Yenika-Agbaw, V., Lowery, R. M., & Henderson, L. (2013). Fairy tales with a Black consciousness: Essays on adaptations of familiar stories. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.

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"Fables of Anansi and the Jamaican People." IvyPanda, 11 Oct. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/fables-of-anansi-and-the-jamaican-people/.

1. IvyPanda. "Fables of Anansi and the Jamaican People." October 11, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/fables-of-anansi-and-the-jamaican-people/.


IvyPanda. "Fables of Anansi and the Jamaican People." October 11, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/fables-of-anansi-and-the-jamaican-people/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Fables of Anansi and the Jamaican People." October 11, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/fables-of-anansi-and-the-jamaican-people/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Fables of Anansi and the Jamaican People'. 11 October.

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