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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Spiderman the fraudster

We took the children down to the library to hear a storyteller enact a West African tale about the trickster spider/man, Anansi (converted to a rabbit in the U.S. Uncle Remus stories).

The story roughly paralleled this one:

Anansi heard the birds talking about the Dokanoo tree in the river. He could only get to the tree if he could fly. The birds gave Anansi some feathers so that he could fly.

Anansi flew to the tree. He was greedy and the birds took his feathers away. Anansi was scared to be in the middle of the river.

Alligator came by, and Anansi asked him for a ride. He took Anansi to Alligator’s home. Anansi was scared to go to his home.

Alligator liked to wash his eggs in the river. He told Anansi to help him wash his eggs. They went down to the river and Anansi ate an egg. He passed an egg to Alligator and said “One.” Anansi ate another egg. He passed an egg to Alligator and said “Two.” Anansi ate another egg. He passed an egg to Alligator and said “Three.” Anansi ate another egg. This happened until Anansi had eaten eleven eggs and there was only one left. For all this time it was the same egg passed to Alligator! Anansi would rub it in the river and pass it back to Alligator.

Now Anansi took the egg basket back to Alligator’s home. Alligator’s sons gave Anansi a ride back to the other side of the river. By the time Alligator knew what Anansi had done, he was gone.

It was great. The children learned some gestures to go with it, and a little song, and a fair bit of Jamaican patois (the teller was made up as a "traditionally built" mama).

Then came a question for the children: what was the moral of this story? And they said, don't steal.

Perhaps it's because they're young. Or maybe even at that age, they know how to give the expected answer.

For obviously, the lesson is exactly the opposite. Waking up hungry and unable to access food on his own, Anansi has used his ingenious brain to cheat the birds and Alligator, returning home safely with a bellyful of fruit and eggs. Like "King Rat" and "Ivan Denisovitch", it's about survival and ruthlessly ditching conventional mores that are likely to see you stay poor, or even starve to death.

"If you can let us have a handling fee and your bank details, we can transfer a large sum into your account..."

Meanwhile, a group of fervid little minds has filed away this experience to puzzle out its deeper meanings over the years to come.


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A K Haart said...

I love "Anansi and the dispersal of wisdom" from your link. Could be interpreted in a number of ways.

James Higham said...

Eggs are good for you but too many is just greedy and will make you sick?