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* Note: The Gourd of Wisdom Institute derives its name from the spirit of an ancient West Afrikan folktale that speaks to respecting the intergenerational seeds of knowledge and the role of nature as a repository and symbol of enduring Afrikan wisdom.
Anansi is the King of Stories, the "trickster", the joke maker, and the teacher of those who would follow these traditions. Anansi can be summoned by those with a gift for stories, either to listen to a well-told tale or to help someone who is talented but just beginning to become a master storyteller.
Anansi’s origins are from the Ashanti people of Ghana who brought the traditions to the Caribbean with them where they truly blossomed. Other versions of Anansi stories are told throughout West Africa, but they are most prolific in locations such as Jamaica & Haiti.
Anansi is the child of the godly manifestations of his mother the Earth (Asaase Yaa) and his father the Sky (Nyame), so is a true representation of all things on heaven and earth. He has fathered many children with his wife Aso, but the most notable child is Ntikuma, a boy who plays a significant part in one of the more popular legends regarding the bringing of wisdom to the world.
Anansi appears to those he interacts with as a spider, a man with spider-like features, or some mix of both. Most commonly he appears as a spider with a man’s face or head, or a man with eight legs. He is always playing tricks, telling stories, or causing some other form of mischief. His interactions in the world have been very important because he brings both knowledge and wisdom.
Also c.f., How Anansi Became A Spider
Long ago, at the beginning of the world, people could not solve their problems. Nyame, the sky god, looked down and felt sorry for humans. He said, “I will send wisdom to the people. Then, they can solve problems. Anansi, the spider man, overheard Nyame’s plan. He said, “That is a good idea. Give the wisdom to me, and I will take it down to the people.” Nyame trusted the selfish trickster. He put his wisdom in a big clay pot and gave it to Anansi. “This wisdom is more valuable than gold or silver,” he said. “Take this to the people so that they can solve their problems.”
Anansi took the pot down to the earth. Then, he looked inside. It was full of wonderful ideas and skills. “I will use this wisdom first,” he said to himself. “Then, I will give it to the people.” Each day, Anansi opened the pot and learned new things. After many days, Anansi said greedily, “This wisdom is too valuable to share. I must keep it all to myself.” He decided to hide it in the top of a tall tree where no human could climb. But how could he carry such a heavy pot up the tree?
Anansi had an idea. He gathered some strong vines and tied them around the pot. Then, he tied the other end around his waist. He started to climb, but the dangling pot kept getting caught in the branches. Anansi’s young son saw his father’s struggle. “Father,” the boy said, “if you tie the pot to your back, it will be much easier for you to hold on to the tree and climb.” Anansi followed his son’s advice and tied the pot to his back. The rest of the climb was easier.
When he got to the top, he looked down at his son and thought, What a fool I am! I have the pot of wisdom, yet a little boy had more common sense than I did. What use is all of this wisdom to me? Anansi angrily threw the pot to the ground, where it smashed into millions of pieces.
The wisdom scattered all over the world. People found bits of the wisdom and took them home to their families. That is why no one person has all of the wisdom in the world and why we share wisdom with each other when we exchange ideas.