Category Archives: International Folktale Characters

8 Great Folktales for Kids – Favorite Folktales from Around the World

World Folktales and Fables Week is celebrated the third week of each March. (This year it’s March 18-24.) Be sure to enjoy a good folktale at home and in your classroom! Use #WorldFolktales on social media, and tell us about your favorite folktales and fables.

World Folktales & Fables: Important Teaching Tools

Every culture has its own way of teaching lessons and sharing how different things came to be. Many do this through the telling of fables or folktales. Here, we look at eight folktales from around the world. Each one explores the origin of different phenomena and reflects important values. These folktales, which are all part of our Multicultural Book Sets, are a perfect way to teach your students or children about different cultures and languages from around the world.  A special discount for World Folktales & Fables Week is offered at the end of the article.

How the Moon Regained Her Shape, By: Janet Ruth Heller and Ben Hodson

This accomplished children’s book is the winner of the Benjamin Franklin Award and the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award. This Native American folktale follows the story of the moon and her journey to understanding that other people’s words should not define her. Moon lets the Sun’s hateful words get the best of her and it makes her feel inferior and small just like a bully’s tormenting can make a victim feel small and oppressed. The Moon’s true friend, Round Arms, then shows her all the great things that people say about her and that she should not be discouraged by the hateful words of others.

The Empty Pot, By: Demi

This book provides a great vehicle to convey the message that honesty is the best policy. This Chinese folktale about the Emperor looking for a successor shows children that you will be rewarded for your honesty in ways you could never imagine. The Emperor had given all the children seeds and said that whoever returns with the most beautiful plant in one year will be the new emperor.  All the children but one return a year later with beautiful plants. Yet the one boy with an empty pot, Ping, becomes the new Emperor. The Emperor had given everyone cooked seeds so nobody should have been able to grow a plant. Ping claimed his reward for his honesty and became the new emperor of China.

Once a Mouse… By: Marcia Brown

Winner of a Caldecott Medal, this book teaches children to be thankful for what they have as things can change at any moment. In this Indian folktale there is a hermit sitting in the forest when all of a sudden he sees a mouse running away from a crow. The hermit then turns the mouse into a cat and then into a huge dog and many more animals all increasing in size until what was once a mouse is now a tiger. The tiger becomes greedy and wants more power. The hermit spots his greed and turns him into a mouse once again because he is not thankful for what he has. Children will learn from this book that it is important to be thankful for all the good you have in your life and not focus on what you don’t have.

The First Strawberries, By: Joseph Bruchac and Anna Vojtech

This Cherokee folktale about the first man and women teaches children the important lesson to forgive and forget. The story tells of the man coming home one afternoon from hunting and getting angry at the women because she did not prepare any food for him. They fight and then the woman runs away, leaving the man stricken with sorrow and trying to catch up with the woman to win her back. The woman finally stops fleeing when she sees the strawberries, giving the man ample time to catch up with her. They then forgive each other for their mistakes and go back home. Reading this book is a great way to celebrate Cherokee culture and to learn how to forgive someone even if they hurt you.

Toad is the Uncle of Heaven, By: Jeanne M. Lee

This Vietnamese folktale tells the story of the toad and how his determination and strength must be respected regardless of his size and appearance. There was a horrible drought in Vietnam, people and animals were dying and the toad knew that something must be done. He set off on a long journey to find the King of Heaven and ask him to pour rain down on the Earth. Along the way other animals joined him to the Heavens. When they got there, the King refused to speak with them, so the toad and the other animals had to prove themselves. Finally the King listened to their complaints and rained water down over all of the Earth. The King now respected the Toad for his bravery and determination and called him “uncle” which is a sign of respect. The bravery and courage of the toad teaches children that with a little courage of their own they can do anything.

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, By: Verna Aardema and Leo and Diane Dillon

This entertaining African story about a pesky mosquito who will not stop buzzing and own up to his faults is the winner of a Caldecott Award. The iguana’s anger towards the mosquito’s foolishness sets off a chain reaction which spirals out of control, and one of the Owl’s children ends up dying because of it. The animal council then tries to find who is at fault until they finally realize it is the mosquito’s fault for telling nonsensical stories. This folktale teaches children that it is more important to tell the truth than to exaggerate facts and be dishonest.

Liang and the Magic Paintbrush, By: Demi

Originating in China, this folktale tells the story of Liang and the paintbrush he was gifted by the old man on the phoenix. It was a magic paintbrush because everything he painted with it came to life! Liang used it to paint things for the poor and the needy, and everyone was very thankful. Until one day the greedy emperor found out about the paintbrush and tried to steal it from Liang. But since the emperor could not paint well, everything turned into something he did not want it to be. The Emperor then freed Liang with the condition that he would paint whatever the Emperor wanted.  In the end, Liang was ordered to paint him an ocean and the Emperor drowned in it. This shows that if you are humble and you do things to benefit the needy then you will be blessed, but if you let greed get the best of you then there will be nobody to save you from drowning.

Rabbit and the Moon, By: Douglas Wood and Leslie Baker

This fable about friendship and giving is of Native American origin and still resonates with many people today. Rabbit has always wanted to go see the moon, and the crane was the only bird willing to fly the rabbit all the way there. The story goes that Rabbit is still on the moon now and anybody looking at the Moon from Earth can see Rabbit hopping around. In return for the trip to the moon, Rabbit gave the crane a red spot on his head. Crane’s legs were stretched out because the rabbit held on to them for so long during his flight. This story teaches that lending a helping hand to others will be a rewarding experience for all involved.

Language Lizard is offering a special 10% discount on some of our favorite bilingual folktales for World Folktales and Fables Week. Use code WFF2018 to get a 10% discount on The Dragon’s Tears, The Giant Turnip and Yeh Hsien: A Chinese Cinderella through the end of March 2018.

Top African Folktales For Kids Available in Spanish, Arabic and more!

MAMY WATA AND THE MONSTER (BILINGUAL)

Language Lizard is excited to announce that one of our favorite world folktales – Mamy Wata and the Monster – is now available in English with Arabic, French, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Polish and Spanish. An English only version is also available.

This beautifully illustrated book is on the list of the 100 Best African Books of the Century.  It is also part of Language Lizard’s collection of Folktales from Around the World.

It tells the story of a man who was cursed into a life as a monster because he refused to marry the daughter of a witch. Mamy Wata, the queen of the water, is the only one willing to open her heart and see the true feelings of this beast.

Like all the best fables, this story imparts invaluable lessons for children, showing that not everyone is as they seem on the outside.  Mamy Wata also emphasizes the importance of forgiveness and love when she accepts the man for who he is.

Discount on Mamy Wata through November 30, 2017

For a limited time, Language Lizard is offering a 10% discount on this African Folktale. Simply enter code MAMY17 when placing your order online through November 30, 2017 to receive this discount.

Visit our YouTube channel to see a video and hear the story in English.

Celebrate “World Folk Tales & Fables Week” in the Classroom and at Home

IMG_3201This year, World Folk Tales and Fables Week is from March 16 through March 22. It’s a week dedicated to encouraging children and adults to explore the lessons and cultural background of folk tales, fables, myths and legends from around the world.

Reading folk tales is a great way for children to explore different cultures and enhance literacy skills. Learn more about why kids love folk tales and fables in a previous blog post that discusses why folk tales are such a great teaching tool for kids.

A folk tale is any story that has been passed down through generations by a group of people. A fable, one type of folk tale, is a short story that teaches a lesson, often features talking animals, and is directed particularly at children. The most well known creator of fables is Aesop, a Greek slave believed to have lived around 560 BC. Some of his most popular fables are “The Tortoise and the Hare,”  “The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg,” and “The Lion and the Mouse.” There are also more modern-day fables, like Dr. Seuss‘s The Lorax.

Resources for Teachers & Parents

If you’d like to introduce your class or family to folk tales, but aren’t sure where to begin, Language Lizard offers a series of blog posts dedicated to international folk tale characters. There, you can get an overview of characters from around the world, like the Monkey King from China, and Finn McCool of Ireland.

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One of our favorite stories, the Bengali folk tale Buri and the Marrow, is used in the lesson plan entitled “Language, Customs, Culture in India,” which can be downloaded at no cost from our website. Don’t hesitate to use any of our lesson plans to help you explore different cultures and folk tales with your students.

Or try another great folk tale, Yeh-Hsien: A Chinese Cinderella. This Chinese version of Cinderella is similar to, yet delightfully different from, the more recognized European or Disney interpretations of the story. Children will be inspired by Yeh-Hsien, a strong character who takes her destiny into her own hands.

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We also offer the Myths and Legends collection (Pandora’s Box, Isis and Osiris, Beowulf, The Children of Lir), which can be a good starting point for older children to explore various cultures and classic stories.

We hope you have an exciting World Folk Tales and Fables Week, exploring new characters, adventures and cultures from far away lands!

Get 10% off two entertaining world folk tales – Buri and the Marrow and Yeh-Hsien: A Chinese Cinderella – by entering Coupon Code FOLKTALE2015 at checkout! This discount is valid now through March 31, 2015.

Comment below and share with us your favorite folk tales and fables!

International Folktale Character: Curupira

Curupira1

What’s that awful squeaking noise? Oh, you can hear that too? It’s just Curupira. Annoying, right?

And what, may I ask, is a Curupira?  Not a what – a who. His name means “child’s body” or “covered in blisters”, depending on which Tupi-speaker you ask.

Back up. Tupi? Yeah, it’s a family of languages spoken by American Indians in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina.

Sorry for interrupting. Continue. He’s a Brazilian tree spirit who looks like a small man or dwarf and defends the rainforest from hunters, poachers – anyone who might take more than they need from the environment. He’s fiercely protective, a bit of a trickster and not just a little demonic in many versions of his story…

Hey, I’m a pretty eco-friendly kind of person; I’d quite like to meet this dude! Let’s follow his footprints and see if we can talk to him about the best places to check out in the forest. Um…bad plan. The most noticeable thing about Curupira (besides his shock of bright orange hair) is that his feet face backwards. If you try to follow his footprints, you end up hopelessly lost in the rainforest.
Oh. So let’s scratch that idea, then. But how am I supposed to meet this little guy and talk anti-logging marches? You might catch sight of him riding a collared peccary…
Not again with the made-up animals… No, seriously, this is a real mammal that lives in the rainforest. It’s like a very stinky boar. Sometimes people call it the Musk Hog.
All right, so I find the Stinky Boar and… Actually, that won’t work either. If the Curupira doesn’t want you to see him, you won’t. He has super-human speed. Not to mention super-human strength.
Elusive, huh? Only when he wants to be. He must’ve shown himself to the first person to record his story: a priest. Although that was in 1560, and I don’t think he’s been turning up on Instagram since. He often enchants children in order to keep them with him for a time and teach them the ways of the forest. When they come back home, they tell their parents what they’ve seen and learned.

Sorry – I didn’t catch that last bit. That high-pitched noise is starting to get to me. Yeah, he’ll do that. He’s excellent at imitating human and animal sounds and he can also emit that whistle that’s bothering you – it’s supposed to drive people insane. Have you done anything to offend him, by any chance? Like disturb a mother animal while she was taking care of her young? He hates that.

I haven’t done anything wrong! I mean, I found some baby monkeys I was going to take home for pets, but that’s ok, isn’t it? *slaps forehead*

Do say: Do you want some help clipping your toenails?
Don’t say: I feel like this beautiful orchid would make an excellent pigment for really cheap make-up! Let’s get the multinational corporations in here!

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International Folktale Character: Finn McCool

finnphoto credit: Mattman4698, Brendan Cullen, both @ flickr.com

Name: Finn McCool (or Fionn mac Cumhaill)
Age: Roughly 1,414 years – but a good mythological cycle never reveals its real age.
Appearance: Handsome, with very light colouring. Also a giant? Maybe. Definitely a big, powerful guy with a big, powerful beard.
Oooh, I do love a guy with a beard! Is he in some kind of ancient alt-folk band? Does he wear plaid shirts and listen to Mumford and Sons? You’ve got it all wrong. Finn McCool was not the gentle hipster type. He’s the main character of the Fenian Cycle, a collection of poems and prose which tell us his many stories. He was trained from the time he was a child to fight and hunt by the Druidess and warrior woman in charge of him. He went on to win many battles, defeat lots of otherworldly creatures, and some even say he is immortal. Also, he was sort of in a band –
Gasp! (Swoons)….No, not like that; a band of the greatest warriors who ever lived, called the Fianna. And Finn was their leader, even though they’d killed his father years earlier.
Oh. How did he fall in with these fellows? The story involves a fire-breathing fairy.
Oooh, I do love a fire-breathing fairy! Shush and listen. Aillen the (male) fairy would come round to the palace in the capital city of Tara every fall and burn it to the ground. In order to make sure he met with no resistance, he would first lull them to sleep with beautiful, hypnotic fairy music. But this music was no match for McCool who managed to keep himself awake through the concert by poking his spear into his forehead repeatedly. He then managed to slay the fairy with the same spear. The people of Tara were so grateful and the Fianna were so impressed with his prowess that they vowed to follow him.
Impressive! But was he all brawn and no brains? Hardly! He’d previously burnt his thumb while cooking the Salmon of Wisdom and from that moment on, he could solve even the most challenging of puzzles just by sucking his thumb.
He sounds seriously tough. Did he have any weak spots? Several.
Such as…?. Well, he was very much in love with one of his wives, Sabha. Actually, funny story: when they met, she was in the form of a deer, and while she regained her human form while on McCool’s land, she was eventually turned back into a deer again. Then disappeared.
Aw! I hate to see a big guy cry! Don’t worry – he was reunited with his son, Oisin, who became famous in his own epic cycle of poetry.
Anything else? He had to be rescued by his wife once after taunting a Scottish giant across the sea. When the other giant came to confront him and McCool realised the guy was much bigger than he’d suspected, his wife disguised him as a baby and then tricked the giant into thinking McCool was an…even gianter…giant. She convinced the Scot that a massive pine tree was McCool’s spear, and fed him on griddle cakes which she said were her husband’s favorite but still had the griddle-irons in them, which broke his teeth. Some stories suggest she told him her baby ate them too, and so impressed was he with the baby’s toothy power that he put his fingers right in McCool’s mouth. McCool promptly bit off one of his fingers. Luckily, it happened to be the finger that contained all of his magic power.
This particular story wouldn’t have any effect on the geography of the British Isles, would it? Well…some say that he built the Giant’s Causeway off the coast of County Antrim as a path to get him across to Scotland. And that as the Scottish giant was running away, McCool chucked a piece of earth at him so big that when it plopped into the sea it became the Isle of Man, and left a hole that became Northern Ireland’s largest lake, Lough Neagh.
So the Northern Irish Tourist Board should be thanking him. I’m sure they are – and will do so again when, as legend has it, he rises from his slumber to help Ireland in her hour of greatest need.
Do say: He puts the (Mac)Cool into Irish folklore.
Don’t say: Hey, aren’t you a member of Fleet Foxes?

 

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International Folktale Character: Mamy Wata

 

 

Woohoo!  It’s almost summer!  Let’s go SWIMMING! Did you bring your bathing suit?  Oh yeah…um…I totally left it at home…plus you know, I ate less than half an hour ago…I don’t want to get a cramp…

You’re looking decidedly shifty. What’s the real reason you don’t want to go swimming?  Ok, to be honest, it’s because I’ve been doing some reading up on popular African deity Mamy Wata.

Who?  Mamy Wata, which means “Mother Water”.  She’s a water entity worshipped by many people in West, Central and Southern Africa and in the African diaspora around the world.  She’s known for her powers of divination and clairvoyance, and her seductive but protective nature. She also goes by Mamadjo, Maman de l’Eau, La Sirene, Yemanya, Yemoja…I could go on…

What does she look like?  She’s a serpent priestess or mermaid with long, curly black hair who often carries a mirror, comb, or watch.  She can also appear fully human and stroll through the streets and markets.

Why should all this stop you from swimming?  Well, she could abduct me.  She’s very into abducting both her followers and random people while they’re swimming or boating.

Why would she do that?  She would bring me to her realm in the spirit world underwater.  When I returned I’d be completely dried off and I’d have new spiritual understanding.  I might even grow wealthier, more attractive, and more easy-going.

You know what, that doesn’t sound so bad.  Yeah, I guess not!  But she might also haunt my dreams and demand my everlasting faithfulness to her.  Like water itself, she is both good (she can protect you and cure you from your illnesses) and bad (she can be dangerous and cause illness too).  She generally wants her followers to be healthy and well-off but is also associated with fatally strong undertows.

Sounds like I should make sure I keep her happy if I happen to meet up with her.  What kind of gift would she like?  Having emerged and gained popularity during a time of great trade and wealth for Africa, Mamy Wata loves her trinkets and baubles.  She is a real capitalist deity and adores anything shiny, expensive, and modern.  She’ll also happily accept perfume, alcohol, delicious food, Coca Cola, and anything with a designer label.  Her largely matriarchal priesthood and her initiates worship her by dancing feverishly until they fall into a trance, so she might appreciate it if you try your hand at that too. 

I haven’t seen you dancing yourself into another state of being lately.  How did you hear about her?  Her legends were brought to America by slaves.  In fact, her worship was recorded (and outlawed) by Dutch slavers in the 18th century.  But she must surely have seemed to retain her power as the slaves fought back swamp waters on New World plantations. 

Anything else I need to know before I strap on my goggles and flippers?  Just make sure you’re keeping your eyes peeled for her at all times; in southern Africa people believe she can fly around in a tornado, so keeping dry won’t necessarily save you!

 

Don’t say: Are you a manatee or a mermaid?

Do say: Where can I read more? 

Language Lizard carries Mamy Wata and the Monster in many popular languages.

 

International Folktale Character: Nasreddin Hodja

I’ve got a little vacation time coming up and I’d like to use it in July.  Any suggestions?   Sure!  If you’re looking for a vacation spot with a difference, look no further than Akşehir, Turkey, where they hold the International Nasreddin Hodja Fest every July.

Sounds great!  Um…What is it?  In honor of this famous Sufi teacher, judge, philosopher, wit, and imam from the 13th century, his hometown throws a big party once a year, with music, comedy, and theatre performances.  There’s even a Nasreddin impersonator tossing yoghurt into a lake (don’t ask).

Well, I guess you won’t find that sort of thing on Cape Cod.  So tell me more about this Nasreddin character.  It might be easier to introduce him with a story:

One day Mullah Nasreddin headed to mosque on his donkey.  But the people in the village noticed something strange: he was riding it backwards, facing the donkey’s tail!

“Teacher!” the people cried, “You are riding your donkey backwards!  What on earth is going on? Have you lost your senses?”

Nasreddin replied, “It is not I who am riding my donkey backwards. It is my donkey who is facing the wrong way.”

I like this guy!  But has anyone heard of him outside of Turkey?  Only the entire Muslim world.  Nasreddin Hodja, whose name is spelled countless different ways depending on where you are, is both famous in and claimed as a citizen of countries from Azerbaijan to Mongolia, from Bulgaria to Iran, from Serbia to China.  People all over the world tell and re-tell his funny, enlightening stories.

And they’re happy to have their town squares decorated with statues of this dude riding his donkey…backwards?  Ah, but that’s the beauty of Nasreddin.  He’s the wise fool.  He starts out in many of his stories appearing silly, odd, or gullible – but his faith, wisdom and humor always impress people and he has the last laugh in the end.  Take, for example, the story of the fresh little boy and the Hodja’s turban:

One day when Nasreddin was having his regular daily coffee at his usual seat in his usual outdoor café, a schoolboy came along and knocked off his turban. Unperturbed, Nasreddin picked up the turban and put it back on his head. The next day, the same schoolboy came along and knocked off his turban again. Again, Nasreddin just picked it up, put it back on and resumed whatever conversation he was having. When the little brat repeated the prank for the third time, his friends protested and told him to punish the boy.

 

“Tsk, tsk. That’s not how this principle is working,” said Nasreddin offhandedly.

 

The next day, an invading army occupied the city and Nasreddin did not turn up for coffee as usual. In his seat was a captain from the invading army. When the schoolboy passed by as usual, he knocked off the soldier’s hat without a second thought and the captain sliced off his head with a swift single stroke of his sword.

 

Wait…if he’s a real guy, how can he be a folktale character?  Well, he was real once – but his legend has taken on a life of its own.  His wit, wisdom, and anecdotes have been translated and passed down through so many people and over many years (the first manuscript to mention him dates from 1571) that Nasreddin has become more of a character than a historical figure.

 

It’s so cool how he manages to span and unify so many cultures and so much time!  They should give him his own year…  Way, way ahead of you.  1996-97 was the UNESCO International Year of Nasreddin Hodja.

 

Don’t say…Hey, why is that guy throwing yoghurt in the lake?

Do say…Don’t worry, you make riding a donkey backwards look fun.

International Folktale Character: The Monkey King

 

 picture credit: Roland @ flickr.com   Name: Monkey Uh…is that it? Well, he also goes by Monkey King, Handsome Monkey King, and Sun Wukong, or “Disciple who is aware of emptiness”. And what sort of character is he? Um, the name’s a bit of a giveaway. I get that he’s a monkey, but what makes him, you know, MonkeyIt’s a bit of a long story!  He’s a trickster, a braggart and a hero from China, who got into all sorts of trouble with the celestial pantheon.  And he’s been around since before the Han Dynasty (206 BC). So he’s old. Should I be impressed?  Yes.  He also boasts of being able to transform himself into 72 different images, immortality, and the ability to use the clouds to travel 34,000 miles in a single somersault.  As he says, “Why shouldn’t I take the power of the Jade Emperor?” Sounds like a modest guy… Yeah, Sun Wukong thought pretty highly of himself.  But who wouldn’t with skills like those?  Plus, he conquered all the best generals in Heaven, managed to sneak into a celestial banquet and steal everything from the peaches of immortality to some vintage wine, and escape from imprisonment in a fiery cauldron after 49 days with enhanced sight and strength.  Cheeky monkey. Was he just hell-bent on wreaking havoc in Heaven?  Not so!  He was acting out after being snubbed: after wiping his own name from the Book of Life and Death and being tattled on by the Kings of Hell, he was offered a rank in heaven.  Sounds great, right?  But everyone knows that “Horse-Manager” and “Official Gardener” aren’t Heaven’s most illustrious titles.  He was starting to feel like they’d promoted him just to keep him out of trouble. What a handful! Tell me about it.  And Buddha would agree – he was called in to help out in Heaven and eventually tricked Monkey into submission by daring him to jump out of his palm. Sounds like a cinch…but it wasn’t!  Let it suffice to say that the Buddha’s fingers look an awful lot like the 5 pillars of wisdom at the end of the universe.  The dare ended up with Monkey imprisoned in a mountain for 500 years, and the Buddha wiping simian pee off his hand. I blame the parents. Then you’ll have to go looking for a rock on the Mountain of Fruit and Flowers!  Or perhaps you’re referring to the origins of the Monkey legend, which many believe is the Hindu Ramayana. So did he ever escape from this prison?  He was released in order to help a monk travel to India to retrieve Buddhist sutras.  He did such an awesome job (with a little help from an ego-squeezing headband controlled by the monk) that he was given Buddhahood.  And hundreds of years later, Mao Ze Dong declared himself a fan and suggested all of China could take inspiration from the ingenuity of the Handsome Monkey King. Yeesh.  Talk about giving the guy a big head.  So does he just appear in the one story?  Yeeees…but sort of like Spiderman or Batman, there have been many different versions and re-tellings, including the famous translation of Journey to the West; a popular 1970s tv show; and an opera written by that guy from Blur. Don’t Say: Quit monkeying around. Do Say: Buddhism is more fun than a barrel of monkeys!

 

Featured Folk Tale Character: Anansi

photo credit: Calsidyrose @ flickr.com

Q: So who are we talking about this time?

A:  Anansi.

Q:  Bless you!

A:  No,  Anansi!  Kweku Anansi the Spider, God of Stories and Mischief.

Q: A spider?  That sounds horrifying. And a spider God sounds even worse.

A: He’s not really so much a God of spiders, and his activities aren’t so very spidery.  He is a spider, but in most Anansi tales he behaves very much like a man.  In fact he is a trickster character, usually using his cunning to outwit and manipulate others, (you know, leopards, monkeys, other gods, that sort of thing), although sometimes he’s too clever for his own good.  He’s a very powerful and old god, with fingers (or rather, legs) in many different mythological and supernatural pies; he determines the borders between the land and the oceans, he brings the rains to quench forest fires, and in some versions he is credited with creating the sun, the moon, the stars and even the first man, into whom his father, Nyame the Sky God, first breathed life.  However, he is of interest to us primarily because he is also the possessor of the knowledge of all stories, a knowledge which he obtained through trickery from Nyame (it involved a python, a leopard, some hornets, a dwarf and some glue; look it up if you don’t believe me).

Q: So is he a bad guy in these stories?

A:  Not really, no.  Anansi stories (and there are so many of them that they form their own genre called Anansasem) are told to entertain and to teach moral lessons. Sometimes Anansi  uses his cunning for his own greedy ends, in which case the moral often comes at his own expense, but often he uses his brains to overcome a stronger, threatening opponent, so Anansi has become a symbol of brains over brawn and a hero of the oppressed.   Not only that, but his web is supposed to have inspired humans to weave fabric, build houses and link themselves together to form a strong, balanced society.

Q:  So where’s this busy gentleman from? 

A:  It is believed he originates from the Ashanti culture in Ghana, but he’s travelled far and wide since then, becoming popular throughout much of West Africa, before the advent of the slave trade meant that he too crossed the Atlantic and wound up in all the same places as the people who told his stories: Jamaica, Haiti (in fact most of the Caribbean), South America, Belize, and the southern states of the USA, particularly Georgia and South Carolina in the Gullah culture.  Along the way he changes his name a number of times.  He’s Hanansi, Compe Anansi, Ayiyi and, by the time he fetches up on the shores of the United States and in the Br’er Rabbit stories, Aunt Nancy.

Q:  Is it this history that gives him the “hero of the oppressed” reputation you just mentioned?

A:  Precisely.  Anansi survived by being passed along through the oral tradition of storytelling, and it should be of no surprise given the circumstances of their telling that the stories that have survived are often the ones in which Anansi  becomes the champion of the powerless, using only his cleverness to defeat those much stronger than him.

 Don’t say:  Gross!  A Spider!!  SQUISH IT!!!

 Do say: A story.  Pass the rich tradition of Anansi on to the next generation by reading one of the many wonderful Anansi stories aloud to a younger listener.  Try Anansi the Spider by Gerald McDermott, or Anansi and the Talking Melon by Eric A. Kimmel.