Monday, October 27, 2014

African mythology is deeply ingrained in the culture and traditions of many mainly rural but also urban communities. From ancient times, stories were and still are important to cultural beliefs and value systems. They play a critical role in how people make sense of the world around them. Gathered under a tree in the late afternoon or at a fireside after dark, families or villagers would come together in anticipation of rich and complex tales of myth, legend and history.

Africa’s Creepy Aunt Nancy in America

Almost every African country, regions within countries, and cultural groups within regions have some reference to a trickster myth. One of the most popular is that of Ananse, the trickster god. In Ghana, West Africa, where the myth is said to have originated, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t know a little something about the trickster god.

As a result of the slave trade, Ananse travelled as far as North America, the Caribbean, and to the southern parts of the United States where he morphed into a she. Eerily half spider and half woman Aunt Nancy or Miss Nancy was said to wield considerable power over other creatures and sometimes humans too. A symbol of rebellion, survival and freedom for slaves and their descendants, Aunt Nancy quickly became a story of hope and pride.

Wiley villain or hero?

Back in West and Central Africa, Ananse is most associated with mischief. He usually appears as a spider or, like Aunt Nancy, in human form with spider elements. His exploits mainly deal with attempts to trick humans into doing something immoral that would benefit him.

What makes this myth so compelling is that the Ananse character as spider or human, male or female, uses cunning to manipulate much larger creatures. He’s a duplicitous character that weaves between kindness and cruelty, usually with a self-serving purpose. Still, his escapades are popularly told. Undeniably, there’s something universally appealing about “the little guy” demonstrating the skills required to defeat others and survive in a tough world.

African mythology in a modern world

Oral storytelling is as old as human existence. It’s something of an art form passed down from generation to generation. Storytelling is important to preserve cultural heritage and, in spite of an age of science and technology, rationale and logic, Ananse or Aunt Nancy is very much alive and well.

More intriguing African myths and legends:
The Baobab: Africa's Upside Down Tree
Africa's Loch Ness Monster
How Table Mountain Got Its Table Cloth


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