Anansi, the Slave-Driver/ Based on African mythology
By: Aadel M Al-Mahdy
Thu’banu, the celestial python, who is known for his wisdom and diligence in the discharge of his duties; the most important of which is holding the two halves of the celestial calabash together, has been given the title of God’s Chief Official.
On the other hand, Anansi, the celestial spider who is known for being intelligent, deceptive and a trickster has not been given any title although he was the one who had spun the web over the spatial gap for God to reach the Great Below. So being aware of his self-importance and worthiness, Anansi became very upset, and as he always did in perilous times, he left for the Milky Way’s holy river, where he sat on the divine contemplation rock by the sacred beach and after a long time of thinking, he realized that he had to come up with something that would impress God, and at the same time, dwarfs Thu’banu in God’s eye.
Next time when Anansi was in God’s presence, he started spinning his plan, “Almighty God, if you give me a corncob, I’ll give you in return as many slaves as is the number of corns on the cob you have given me” Anansi said. “How do you think you will be able to do that, Anansi” Thu’banu asked Anansi while mockingly laughing at the idea. “None of your concern wise one. The matter is between me and my maker” Anansi said. “Ok Anansi, I am sorry. Knock your self out. Just when you are done, don’t forget to report your success to me. Your glory must be mentioned in the Treasury of Wisdom’s records” Thu’banu said. “I bet you I will” Anansi challenged. Thu’banu said mocking him again, “Bet me, you have nothing to bet, Anansi”, but Anansi insisted, “I do have everything, Thu’banu. I have my honor and my word. Tell me, what do you have, long one, other than your title and your twice-talking split tongue?” - “I have more than that” said Thu’banu who failed to conceal his anger, but Anansi cunningly said, “Ok, let us keep it simple. I am betting my honor, my word and my success against your title”, and then calmly, but in a challenging tone of voice added, “What do you say, long one?” Thu’banu, totally unaware of falling into Anansi’s lair, said, “You got yourself a deal, Anansi”.
Hearing their argument, God laughed and then said after giving Anansi a corncob, “Count the grains before you go, Anansi. I already know how many they are”.
Anansi set off immediately from heavens to earth where he stopped at the first village he encountered and requested a night’s lodging. The village chief immediately recognized him, as Anansi’s image, along with images of other celestial divinities depicted all over the walls of the village’s temple.
“It is a great honor to have God’s spider as a guest” the village chief said and offered Anansithe best room in his house and bid him good night. “Wait! This corncob belongs to God and must not be lost” Anansi commanded the chief, holding the corncob in his hand. The chief proudly said, pointing to a hiding place in the ceiling of the room, “I always had a hiding place for divinities. There it is, Anansi, Sir”. Given the corncob, the chief hid it in the ceiling.
In the middle of the night, while everybody was fast asleep, Anansi awoke and gave the entire cob’s corn to the fowls. The next day, in the morning, Anansi demanded his cob, but of course it was gone. “I am holding you responsible for the loss of the divine cob. Now, you have got to do something to appease God and atone for your sin” said Anansi angrily. The chief apologized, “I am sorry, Anansi, Sir. This never happened before. It must be the baboons. They have been causing us troubles lately” - “Say that to God next time you go to the temple. But right now I can not return to heavens empty-handed” said Anansi firmly. The chief said, “We will definitely not let you do that, Sir”. The chief gave Anansi a whole basket of corn to pacify the situation.
Anansi continued his journey, and after a while, he became tired, so he sat down by the roadside. Along came a man with a chicken in his hand. Anansi asked the man how he was. The man answered that he was fine but then asked if he knew him. “You must know me. I am Anansi” answered Anansi. The man wondered, “Anansi!”, and then after a pause shouted, “Aaah, Anansi, God’s spider. How are you, Sir?” Anansi then asked him, “What do you intend to do with this chicken?” The man answered, “Kill it and eat it with my family, Sir” Anansi thought for a while and then said, “By the looks of it, I believe it is good for one meal only”. The man answered affirmatively. Back and forth the conversation went on until Anansi persuaded the man to give him the chicken in exchange of the corn basket. The man accepted saying, “Thank you, Sir! This corn is enough to feed us until the end of the month. My wife will be happy”, and then wished Anansi a safe journey after advising him to look out for the hyenas ahead of him.
When Anansi reached the next village, he introduced himself as God’s spider and that he was on a sacred mission and asked for a night’s lodging. The chief immediately accommodated him. Anansi, then asked him for a safe place to keep the fowl since it belonged to God and must not be lost or harmed. The chief put the fowl in the fowl-house.
In the middle of the night when everybody was fast asleep, Anansi awoke, killed the fowl and daubed its blood and feather on the chief’s door, and at dawn made a big cry, “The bird is gone. It is gone, and I am going to lose my position as God’s captain”. Everybody started looking and suddenly Anansi said, pointing to the blood and feather on the chief’s door, “Look at that!” and then added with a hint of threatening, “That feather looks familiar”. The chief, who knew that he drank a little too much yesterday, begged Anansi for forgiveness and gave him ten sheep to calm his anger.
While Anansi was resting on the way grazing the sheep, there came along some people carrying a corps. Anansi asked them whose corps that was. The people replied that it belonged to a young man who died far away from his village and that they were taking the body back to the boy’s family. “You’re a very lucky bunch. I am going into that direction, too, and I know the village. I am God’s spider, by the way” Anansi said. The people shouted in one voice, “Are you Anansi?” ─ “Yes, yes” Anansi answered affirmatively and offered to take the dead body, if they would free him from the sheep. The people were glad to take the sheep and spare themselves the peril of walking all the way to the village carrying the dead body on their shoulders. After all, they said to themselves that they have given the body to God’s spider.
In the next village, Anansi said to its chief, “This is the favorite son of God. He is asleep and needs a place to rest in”. The chief prepared the best room in the house for the son of God, and after they ate, drank and sang, they all went to bed. In the morning, Anansi saw some of the chief’s children, so he asked them, “Children, could you do me a favor?” - “Anything for God’s spider” the children said. Anansi said, “Thanks! Can you awake God’s son. And remember he is a heavy sleeper. You can flog him if you have to. Just wake him up”. The children did but the son of God did not awake. So the children told Anansi who immediately went to the room and uncovered the body, but then cried that the children have killed God’s son. There was a great wailing among the people as they were terrified of God’s wrath and revenge.
At night, Anansi called for a conference and told the chief and the temple chief priest that he would have to report the matter to God and that he had already designed a plan to appease God, but they would have to give him one hundred twenty young man to witness that they, the people of the village, not him, Anansi, were responsible for the death of God’s son. The chief, the priest and the people were pleased and gladly agreed to Anansi’s suggestion.
In God’s presence, Anansi announced proudly in front of Thu’banu, “Here they are, Almighty One. The slaves I promised you in lieu of the number of the corns on the cob you have given me”. Disbelieving his eyes, Thu’banu started counting the young men, but God said while His laughter traveled so fast in every dimension of the cosmos, “Stop counting, Thu’banu! I already know how many they are” ─ “One hundred twenty slaves” announced Anansi triumphantly and then rubbing it in Thu’banu’s nose, he advised Thu’banu not to forget to enter the number in the books of wisdom.
God then announced Anansi to be his Official Officer. But ashamed, wise Thu’banu ceased flecking his tongue and dropped his head; lips sealed. He never dared challenge Anansi again.