DC Comics and television fans are already familiar with Anansi. He was the shape-shifting trickster god that gave Vixen’s totem its power. In the second episode of American Gods, “‘The Secret Of Spoon’…,” viewers will get an introduction to Neil Gaiman’s extremely memorable version. Here’s a primer on his inspiration for one of Wednesday’s allies.
The first and most important thing to know about Anansi is that he wasn’t a humanoid deity who turned into a spider. He was actually a spider who took other shapes including that of a man. In fact, his name Ananse meant “spider” in Akan, the native language of the Ashanti or Asante people of Ghana. Having read the book, I know viewers will be be treated to a scene of Anansi in all his talking arachnid glory.
The second thing to know about Anansi is that he was considered to be the spirit of all knowledge of stories. Indeed, Anansi wanted all stories to be about him, so he asked the Sky-God, Nyame, to make it so. Nyame agreed on the condition that Anansi met three challenges. Anansi met the challenges with guile (Wednesday would’ve been proud). Subsequently, a body of stories were named Anansesem, or “spider stories” in his honor. There will be at least two occasions when viewers will see Anansi act in his capacity of storyteller.
The third thing to know about Anansi is that his Anansesem spread from West Africa to the Caribbean and the US with the advent of slavery. Anansi became known as Aunt Nancy, or Miss Nancy with his relocation. Anansi became a symbol of resistance as the slaves saw his ability to trick his adversaries despite his small spider size as key to their prevailing against their masters. Viewers will see a nod to this history in the second episode of American Gods. Anansi, known as Mr. Nancy in Gaiman’s lore, will address a ship load of newly captured Africans bound for America.
As a bonus, I’ve included a link to an audiobook of West African folklore containing mostly Anansi stories. Please enjoy.