In the time that all animals still lived together, there once lived a spider called Ananse. He lived in a village with his relatives and all kinds of other animals: hyena, porcupine, squirrel, guineafowl, the chameleon, the warthog and many, many more…
Ananse was one of the village elders, and one day he summoned all his friends and relations to discuss how they could all do more to help each other. Since they were all farmers, they decided it would be a good idea if they would all go to help one individual each day to plough, weed, harvest, whatever needed doing in the fields or around the house. For example, on Monday, they would start at Ananse’s uncle’s farm to help, on Tuesday it would be his grandfather and on Wednesday it would be his nephew’s turn. Ananse put himself in charge of this program and he saw to it that everyone joined in and helped out. After a month or so or so, he was having a quiet sit down in front of his house, and he started thinking.
“You know, he said to himself, I think I can see a way to benefit from this arrangement. I could pretend to be really ill, so I can’t help out with the others, and by the time I’m well again, all the work on my farm will be done!”
So the next morning, Ananse stayed in his bed, and when his nephew came to call on him told him: “Oo oo yoo, my dear nephew, this body of mine is really sick today, I’m afraid I can’t join you today”. Ananse’s nephew told the others that his uncle was sick. They were all very concerned, and decided that the next day, they would all go and help out at Ananse’s farm. This went on for several weeks, and Ananse’s condition got no better.
One or two people started to whisper: “It’s all very well us helping out on Ananse’s farm, when is he going to give us a hand?” Ananse heard the complaints, and realized that he wouldn’t be able to pretend for much longer. He decided he would have to do something to make everybody believe that he was really very sick. The next day he called some of his relatives together and said to them: “This illness of mine has been going on for some time, and it doesn’t look as if I’m getting any better. In fact I feel worse every day. In fact I think I’m going to die”. Some of his relatives protested, “No, no, uncle, you won’t die!” “No, no, my brother, I will call on the medicine man and get you some herbs.”
But Ananse told them he was getting weaker all the time, and started making his funeral arrangements.
“When I die, he said, you should bury me on my brother Kwami’s farm. I have always loved his yams, and I would like to be buried next to them”.
Kwami agreed that his brother could be buried there; after all it’s very difficult not to grant a dying man his last wish. Ananse continued giving his instructions: they should dig a nice big hole, and line the walls with cloth, so that his spirit would be comfortable. They should put pots and pans and cooking utensils in the grave, so that his spirit would be able to prepare food for himself. Ananse’s relations set to work digging the grave, while Ananse himself pretended that his condition was getting worse all the time.
Soon he learnt that the grave was finished, so the next time he saw someone approaching his house, he pretended to be dead. They tried to wake him, but Ananse wouldn’t wake up, so they decided that he must indeed be dead. The next day they took his body and laid it in the grave, which had indeed been prepared they way Ananse had instructed. There were pots and pans and cooking utensils. That same night, Ananse climbed out of the grave and started collecting yams from the field, which he hid in his tomb. He cooked some of them. He made fufu with some of them. When daylight approached, Ananse hid in his tomb and slept. The next night he collected more yams, and feasted again. This carried on for one month. Eventually Kwami noticed that somebody had been stealing his yams. He thought long and hard, who could have done this to him? Normally he would have suspected Ananse, because he knew what his cunning brother was like, but he was dead, and he just couldn’t think who else could be doing this to him.
Kwami decided to set a trap. He went to see the carpenter, and got some sturdy wooden poles, which he took back to his farm, where he poured tar all over them, and placed them strategically around his field, like scarecrows. Except these scarecrows weren’t meant scare, but to trap.
Kwami was sure that the thief, whoever he was, would either touch one of the poles, and get tar all over himself, or leave a mark of some kind by which he could be identified.
That night when Ananse came out of his tomb to help himself to a few more of his brother’s yams he immediately spotted a figure standing in the middle of the field.
“Oh Oh, he thought, somebody’s watching me!”
But he noticed the figure just stood there, not moving at all. His curiosity got the better of him, and he slowly crept up to the figure. As the pole didn’t stand very tall, Ananse figured it must be a young boy. He decided to play a trick on the child, he crept up to it, and said to it: “I’ve just seen your mother out looking for you. She said you have to come home to have your dinner”.
But there was no reaction from the scarecrow.
Ananse repeated: “Your mother has been looking for you! Your dinner is waiting for you!”
But there was still no reaction. Ananse got quite annoyed at the child’s insolence. “Look, I’m talking to you, you vagabond! Why don’t you answer me?”
Still no reply, and Ananse got even more annoyed. “Do you want me to give you a slap? Very well, I’ll slap you, and then we’ll see what happens”. With that Ananse gave the scarecrow a big slap, and his hand got stuck in the tar. He pulled, but he couldn’t get loose.
“Let go of me, you rascal, he shouted. Let go of this hand!”
He screamed at the wooden pole to let go of his hand, “Let go of me or I’ll slap you again!”, and he slapped with his free hand. And immediately that one got stuck in the tar as well. Ananse got more and more agitated and angry.
“I’ll give you a good kicking, if you don’t let go of me!” He kicked the scarecrow with his left foot, and that got stuck. He kicked again with his right foot, and that got stuck as well. Ananse was now well and truly stuck to the scarecrow, he tried pulling as hard as he could, but there was no way he was going to pull himself free. In the end he was so exhausted he had to give up, and cried himself to sleep.
As soon as the sun was up, Ananse’s brother Kwami came strolling into his field, eager to see if his plan had worked. He looked around carefully and saw that no more of his yams had been stolen, so that part of the plan had worked. Smiling to himself, he went round to inspect the tarred poles, when lo and behold he saw the figure of a spider attached to it. As he hurried closer he recognized his brother, Ananse.
Kwami exclaimed: “Ananse! Ananse! What are you doing here, you are supposed to be dead!”
Coolly, Ananse replied: “Ananse is indeed dead, it is his ghost you are looking at!”
You may have gathered by now that Kwami was rather naïve, and he was also very superstitious, so when he heard these words, he really believed this was a ghost addressing him. He became very scared and ran away! He ran straight back to the village, calling out to everybody he passed: “Ananse’s ghost! I’ve just seen Ananse’s ghost!” People gathered round him, wanting to know more. Kwami told them he’d seen Ananse’s ghost, stuck to a pole he’d put up on his farm. Of course the villagers all wanted to see this, so they all started running to Kwami’s farm. There they saw for themselves the figure of Ananse still glued to the pole.
“What are you doing here, they asked, You’re supposed to be dead. We buried you not so long ago!”
“You’re looking at my ghost!” wailed Ananse, who by now was getting very uncomfortable. The villagers too were scared, and they were about to run away, when Ananse cried out: “Stop, stop! Why are you running away? I’m your relation, aren’t I? There’s no need to be so scared! And anyway, I need your help! I need help!”
One of the braver men came a little closer, and asked: “What kind of help do you need, Ananse brother?”
Ananse replied: “I’m stuck to this tarred pole, can’t you see? I need help to pull me free!”
Two or three of them worked up enough courage to approach, and started pulling at him. Ananse was giving them instructions: “Pull here, a little more on this side, a little harder here!”
But one of the villagers who’d been pulling at Ananse’s leg, stood back and scratched his head. “Wait a minute, he said. This is not a ghost! This is the real Ananse. He’s not dead at all!”
They all stopped pulling and heaving. “Yea, said another, how can a ghost be instructing us to pull here and pull there?” They started hitting him with sticks, throwing mud at him and raining insults on him. After a while Kwami took pity on his brother, and asked them to stop. They pulled him loose, and told him to leave the village, and never to show his face again. After Ananse was banned all his family members were so ashamed that they too decided to leave the village, and that’s to this day, whenever you see a spider it is always trying to hide somewhere, in a crack in the floor or a dark corner, because it is still ashamed of what its ancestor Ananse got up to.