Anansi is one of the most important characters of West African lore. He is a culture hero, who acts on behalf of Nyame, his father and the sky god. He brings rain to stop fires and performs other duties. There are several mentions of Anansi’s children. According to some myths his wife is known as Miss Anansi or Mistress Anansi but most commonly as Aso. He is depicted as a spider, a human, or combinations thereof.
In some beliefs, Anansi is responsible for creating the sun, the stars and the moon, as well as teaching mankind the techniques of agriculture. Another story tells of how Anansi tried to hoard all of the world’s wisdom in a calabash. In the end he realizes the futility of trying to keep all the wisdom to himself, and releases it.
Many Anansi stories deal with him attempting to trick people into allowing him to steal food or money, or something else that could turn a profit, but frequently the tricks ultimately backfire on poor Anansi. One of the few times Anansi himself was tricked was when he tried to fight a tar baby after trying to steal food, but became stuck to it instead. The tar baby tale appears in a variety of ethnic African folklore tales. It is best known from the Brer Rabbit version, found in the Uncle Remus stories.
Most cultures which feature Anansi in folktales also tell the story concerning Anansi becoming the King of All Stories, not just his own. In the original Ashanti version of this story, Anansi approaches Nyame, the Sky God, with the request that he be named King of All Stories. Nyame then tells Anansi that if he can catch The Jaguar With Teeth Like Daggers, The Hornets Who Sting Like Fire, and The Fairy Whom Men Never See, he will be King of Stories. Anansi agrees, despite Nyame’s doubt that he can do it. Anansi then tricks the jaguar, who intends to eat him, into playing a game that allows Anansi to tie him up. He tricks the hornets by pretending that it is raining, and telling them to hide in a calabash. He tricks the fairy with the tar baby trick addressed above. He then takes them to Nyame and becomes King of All Stories.
Anansi the Spider narrated stories from African folklore on the PBS series Sesame Street. He was voiced by Ossie Davis. These cartoon segments were introduced by Sonia Manzano who plays Maria on the show. Children’s singer Raffi wrote and recorded the song Anansi for his 1978 Corner Grocery Store album. The song describes Anansi as a spider and a man. It tells a story about Anansi being lazy yet clever, using flattery to trick some crows into shaking loose ripe mangos from his mango tree for Anansi to enjoy without having to pick them himself.