Author's note: This isn't an original story, but a retelling (or a re-representation, I suppose) of one of my favourite local (Jamaican) stories; there is an obvious similarity to the Br'er Rabbit tale from the Southern US, due to common African-slave heritage. Anansi is a trickster-spider and there are a lot of tales about him; this particular story has quite a few versions.

You can find a form of it here:

(Jamaica Anansi Stories by Martha Warren Beckwith).

Please note: most of the speech in this story is written in Jamaican creole. If a word, or the order or turn of phrase looks wrong while someone is talking, then that's just how Jamaicans speak in casual situations, trust me... even though 'proper' (aka the Queen's, lol) English is the first language. If you'd like a translation to understand a phrase better, please ask; in any case, I'm going to attempt to anglicize as much as possible.


Anansi and the Tar Man (Or why spiders live up in the ceiling)

Anasi's wife, a patient and hardworking woman, bought a batch of wonderful peas from Dr. Bird one day. She went home and prepared the small plot of land beside their house, turning over the soil with her children, and planting the peas.

Anansi watched them lazily through the windows of their house and rolled to one side of the bed, the extent of his activities for that day.

"Everyt'ing goin' well, dear?" he called, scratching at his hairy belly.

"Fine, it all going fine," Mrs. Anansi said as she and her children toiled in the already warm morning; in a few more hours, it would be far too hot for any more work, and Mrs. Anansi had other things to do.

"Those peas lookin' real nice, my dear, real nice. In a few weeks or so, we goin' to have some sweet-sweet dinner, nuh true?" Anansi yawned contentedly and then yelped as a sod of dirt thumped right into the middle of his forehead. "What you do that for!" he yelled indignantly, rubbing at the coco1 on his forehead and glaring at his wife.

She glared back, pointing at him threateningly. "If you think you settin' a finger on even one of these peas, you better think again."

"But honey--" the lazy spider whined and ducked as a stone came hurtling at him. That one was close, and it was a very lucky thing that Anansi moved faster than people thought, or else he would have been split from temple to chin.

"Don't but honey me! All a we working in the sun and you lie down there, just waiting to full your belly? No sah2, that not the way it goin', none at all." She continued to berate him as she and the children finished the planting, and Anansi pouted in bed, knowing that his wife would keep true to her word: if a spider didn't help plant and reap, a spider wouldn't eat. It was as simple as that.

A devious smile began to curl on his face. Oho, but his wife must have forgotten that she was dealing with the infamous Anansi. He was the trickiest spider in all the island... no, the whole Caribbean! Who was the spider that tricked Snake into being tied up against a bamboo? Anansi, that's who! And he already had such a marvellous trick up his sleeve.

Anansi the Spider, he decided, was going to die.

As the peas grew luxurious and lovely, Anansi waned in bed, moaning piteously day after day. At first, his wife scoffed at the strange illness that seemed to envelop him, but as the days passed, she and the children began to get very worried.

"Anansi," she whispered to her husband one night, "a dead you ah dead?"

"Yes, my good wife," Anansi said with all the piousness of a saintly person about to be martyred for their beliefs. "I soon leave you, for good."

Mrs. Anansi immediately burst into tears; she had never seen Anansi so solemn, so weak. He was indubitably on the brink of death, and she had not believed him before. Surely, she could do something to make him comfortable now!

"Yes." Anansi's voice was quiet and sincere, his eyes large as he stared up at her unhappy face. "Wife, when you bury me, I beg you put me in the middle of all the peas you did plant. 'Cause me spirit will know that is you did plant dem, and will be content."

Mrs. Anansi sobbed her consent, and asked if there was anything else as the children peered through the door sorrowfully.

"Oh," Anansi said faintly, "Oh, I worry 'bout all a you so much. You know what you should do? Make sure that when you bury me, put a hole in the grave, so me spirit can watch over all your crop. And... and put a pot and some water at the head of the grave, every night, so that any thief come close, they will see it and leave."

In the midst of her tears, Mrs. Anansi promised that yes, they would do all he asked; but behind the door, the eldest son, called Junior, began to frown.

Then, with a dramatic flop of his head back onto the pillow, Anansi the Spider expired.

They buried him according to his wishes, right in the middle of Mrs. Anansi's now-ready peas, with a curving tunnel that led up to the outside, so that his spirit would guard over their crop.

At midnight Anansi, that tricky and very much alive spider, crept out of his grave and snickered at the pot of water right beside his gravestone. Oh, and were those peas delicious when Anansi made a careful fire and boiled them? They surely were! He ate his fill and crawled back into his grave, which was such a nice cool place to rest in the heat of the day. Anansi thought that he would be dead for quite awhile.

Every night he gathered and ate his fill, and Mrs. Anansi was dismayed; on top of losing her husband, she was now losing her wonderful peas!

"How much you bet," Junior said darkly to his mother one day, "that is Daddy Anansi takin' the peas?"

Mrs. Anansi reached forward to box the boy in his ears, incensed. Junior leaned out of her way, and she pounded on the kitchen table instead with her fist.

"What wrong with you, boy? How you can sit there and tell me that is your father taking the peas?"

"I will show you," Junior said. Junior was a hard-working and conscientious young spider, so much so that people had wondered if he was really Anansi's son. Junior took a bucket of tar, and painted a stump that was nearby the grave of his father (who was sleeping contentedly underground). He was also a fairly artistic young spider and he made that old stump resemble the form of a hunched over man. Satisfied, he placed a hat on top of the transformed stump and went to the house.

That night, Anansi skittered out of the grave and came to a dead-stop, blinking at the strange shape that seemed to be crouched nearby. The moon wasn't out and the man sitting quietly over there was very unsettling to Anansi.

But the spider was made of bravado and so he called out. "Evenin'!"

The man did not answer. Now, Anansi's mother had taught him many things, and even though he was a very tricky spider, he was a very polite tricky spider, and when one was greeting with such joviality in the middle of the night, then one is obligated to answer.

Annoyed, he called again, "Evenin'!"

The man was still and did not answer. Anansi didn't like that at all. How dare he! This strange man, sitting on his field (it was really his wife's) and not saying a word!

"HEY!" Anansi bellowed and the man paid him no attention. Anansi's rage knew no bounds. "Look here, man, you see if you don't answer me? I give you a kick, your grandmother feel it."

The silence of this strange man took on a mocking quality, or so it seemed to Anansi. Well, a threat is a violent promise and Anansi believed in keeping his promises. So, he raced over and kicked the man with three of his legs.

A masterful kick! A judo master would have been impressed! But the man made no response, but it seemed he held firmed onto all three legs. Anansi squirmed and cursed.

"Let me go!" he demanded man sharply. "Let me go, or I fire you a box!"

The man would not comply and Anansi's box was fired; but the strange, silent man hung onto those as well. Anansi kicked out with his remaining legs and the man must have been a master of judo or some other similar art, because he was defeating Anansi and not even moving a muscle.

Anansi, the great and tricky spider, was held firmly, hollering his head off all night. At dawn, his wife and children walked down the long path from the house and stared at Anansi, sullenly stuck to a tar-covered stump with an old hat atop it.

Junior smirked knowingly.

As they freed him, Anansi's wife berated him, laughed at him, and pinched him a few times for punishment. His children held their ribs at the sight of his hair and skin covered with tar. Anansi was completely mortified and as soon as he was able, he raced up to his house, ran up the wall of his room to the ceiling and hid in the shadows of the corner.

And that is why, to this day, nearly all spiders like to hide up there.

Jack Mandora!


OTHER NOTES:

Jamaican words that might have been unfamiliar:

coco: swelling or lump

'sah': the pronunciation of 'sir'.

'Jack Mandora' is what storytellers are supposed to say at the end of a story.