An Overview on the Afro-Jamaican Trickster

In Jamaica, the character of Anancy has the reputation of being a trickster or “jinnal”, a character who uses his wits to outsmart others to further his own agenda. The Anancy character is typically depicted as a spider and is usually featured in local folk tales and children’s stories. The character of Anancy, also known as Ananse, or Kwaku Ananse, has its origin in West African folklore. In the Dutch Caribbean, he is referred to as Nanzi.

Historic testimony suggests ((A Footnote)) that enslaved Africans, specifically the Akan speaking or Ashanti people of Ghana, who were brought to Jamaica during the Trans-Atlantic Trade in Africans during the 17th-19th centuries carried with them the tales of Anancy. They relayed the antics of Anancy to succeeding generations through the oral tradition of storytelling. Many stories tell of how Anancy manipulated other West African gods, animals and even his wife (Konnore), and son (Ntikuma) to his advantage. In these folk tales, Anancy interacts with other animals including brothers goat, rat, dog, pig, tiger and others and always leaves them worse off for their interaction with him. As a result, Anancy folk tales will often refer to why, “pig mout long”, “why rat live inna hole”, “why mongoose love chicken-meat”, “why fowl eat cockroach”, “why dog fight cat” and so on. Typically, each Anancy story ends with the phrase, “Jack Mandora, mi no chose none”. Which means the keeper of heaven gate, in other words one should tell a good story or the gate of heaven will close on that person.

In addition to being a trickster, Anancy is also regarded as a character of great wisdom. Some researchers suggest that enslaved Africans used the tales of Anancy to inspire resistance and promote a sense of African identity as they laboured on the sugar plantations. In this regard the character of Anancy was used as a symbol of resilience, hope, and determination; traits that were integral to the survival of enslaved Africans in the face of the great adversities and trials associated with plantation society.