Our Readers' Opinions
February 5, 2013

What has become of Anansi and his stories?

Tue, Feb 5, 2013

Editor: If it were not for the company of fools, a witty man would be at a great loss – Francois de la Rouchefoucauld.The tales of cunning Anansi, the spider-man, date back to the years of the slave trade, a solemn time in Caribbean history; but the effort made in passing them on to generation upon generation with much vigour and comical effect remains fully intact.{{more}}

Colloquially referred to as “Nansi stories”, they are well known throughout the West Indies by both young and old. Due to his small stature and physique as a spider, he is incapable of hard work. He, therefore, relies on his wits to secure his daily bread and drag himself out of troubling situations which he mischievously placed himself in.

A key point in many of these stories is that when faced with a predicament, Anansi reaches a point where he has lost his friends, having outsmarted one too many who fell for his tricks. Yet, despite the trouble he brings upon himself, the reading or listening audience empathizes with him, in the hope that he will use his wits one final time to prove himself worthy. Even with few allies having accomplished his dirty deeds, he still conquers in the end. Why is it that we sympathize with his character?

In each story, we eagerly anticipate the tragedies looming to befall Anansi. Remaining on the edges of our seats, our curiosity assumes the next outcome, and the consequence he may face. However, the story never takes the direction our minds had anticipated. Being such a wise and unpredictable character makes these stories all the more interesting. It causes us not only to care for him, but to adopt certain characteristics he possesses, especially in the field of smartness, despite his cheeky antics. Nonetheless, in every ‘Nansi story’, there is always a moral.

It is quite sad to say that even though we are very familiar with these stories, their true meaning and purpose have been incredibly lost over the years. Present school texts and literary authors no longer maintain the gist of these stories. Instead, ‘watered-down’ narratives, lacking much effort and creativity are now the recommended learning aids developed to educate our children. Revised editions of older texts with interest geared towards monetary gain become mandatory in schools and half of the important information becomes lost. The books of years gone by present vivid West Indian stories in which Anansi and other popular West Indian characters star. Children today are denied the pleasure of imaginatively feasting off the literary goodness offered by these stories.

Consequently, it now becomes clearer to us the reasons behind a drop in English passes in schools, the lack of creativity, imagination and critical thinking among our students at the primary level, much more the secondary level, and why common sense and smartness have run their course amongst them. Is it fair to say that changes in the educational material are responsible for the learning of some of our new, young professionals, that they are unable to effectively instruct and serve our country? Being creative and quick to think on one’s feet is a crucial requirement in the professional world. Though not taught in books, these attributes should be moulded at a young age, and what better way than to teach our children with the right tools?

Even Anansi in his hiding place is shaking his head in bewilderment at how we, as humans, still cannot possess a portion of his wits. It is time to assess the tools of our educational system and conclude how beneficial they are to gain us a taste of Nansi’s cake. The story ends and the wire bends!

Elizabeth Bullock