Unicorn, A Mythological Investigation by Robert Brown Jr.

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Anansi

Jamaican stories of the Spider God

Anansi is both a god, spirit and African folktale character. He often takes the shape of a spider and is considered to be the spirit of all knowledge of stories. He is also one of the most important characters of West African and Caribbean folklore.

The Anansi tales originated from the Ashanti people of present-day Ghana. The word Ananse is Akan and means "spider". They later spread to other Akan groups and then to the West Indies, Suriname, Sierra Leone (where they were introduced by Jamaican Maroons) and the Netherlands Antilles. On Curaçao, Aruba, and Bonaire he is known as Nanzi, and his wife as Shi Maria. The Jamaican versions of these stories are the most well preserved, because Jamaica had the largest concentration of Asante as slaves in the Americas, and their most complete compilation is found in Anansi, Jamaican stories of the Spider God.  

This book is the revised edition of Jamaica Anansi Stories by the American folklorist Martha Warren Beckwith. While many early folklorists believed that the term "folk" only referred to the oral culture of "savages", Beckwith maintained that all cultures had folk traditions that warranted investigation. While other scholars also drew a firm line between "folk" and other "higher" forms of artistic expression, Beckwith believed both belonged in the literary tradition. Anansi, Jamaican stories of the Spider God, therefore present these stories in their original Jamaican-English version.

 

About the author

Martha Warren Beckwith (January 19, 1871 – January 28, 1959) was an American folklorist and ethnographer and philosopher. She was born in Wellesley Heights, Massachusetts. In 1920, Martha Beckwith became the first person to hold a chair in Folklore at any college or university in the country.

The Folklore Foundation, established at Vassar, with a donation by the naturalist Annie Alexander, was an unprecedented institution. With its establishment, Vassar College suddenly became a centre of research in the almost entirely new field of folk culture, while Martha Beckwith had a major part in emancipating the general attitude towards folklore studies in the first half of the twentieth century, which were tainted too often with terms originating in nineteenth centre colonialism. Her book Jamaica Anansi Stories (1924), republished in a revised edition by VAMzzz Publishing as Anansi, Jamaican stories of the Spider God, typifies her, in those days quite unique opinion on folklore. While many early folklorists believed that the term “folk” only referred to the oral culture of “savages”, Beckwith maintained that all cultures had folk traditions that warranted investigation. Many scholars also drew a firm line between “folk” and other “higher” forms of artistic expression. Beckwith believed both belonged in the literary tradition.

Read more about Beckwith in the Post Scriptum of Anansi.