Anansi & Death's Big Fridge
This story comes from the Ashanti people in Ghana which is a country in the continent of Africa. They were told by generation to generation. Gradually the stories spread across Ghana and then all around Africa and then to the Caribbean when African people were taken there as slaves. And where people go, so do their very best stories…
Long, long ago, Anansi the spider-man (yes - a spider man; you heard me!) was bored. And it was hot. And he was thirsty. He looked around him - where could he get something to drink and well - something to DO?
He saw in the distance a hut, ramshackle, falling down, old, and just plain wobbly. He went over to have a look. On the porch, just sitting there, was a very very very old man. He was skinny and wrinkly and frowny. His skin was sagging off his bones which looked as thin as twigs. His hair had all fallen off him, even the hairs on his fingers!
Anansi went up to the old, old man and said, “Hello, Old Man. Can I have some water?” But the old man didn’t move. He didn’t twitch a muscle. He didn’t even blink. “Old man!” said Anansi a little louder. “Are you deaf? Can I have some water?” But still, the old man didn’t shift. “Fine!” said Anansi and taking silence as a yes, he wandered into the old man’s ramshackle hut and looked around so he could help himself to some water.
But before he could find any water, he saw a ginormous FRIDGE.
Now obviously, it wasn’t the kind of fridge I would go and buy from the electrical shop. It wasn’t the kind of fridge with a plug and chemicals to make it stay cold, and plastic shelves and special drawers to keep the vegetables fresh. It didn’t have a special box for freezing ice or even snazzy shelves to keep your beer bottles from clanking into each other and getting in the way of the smoked pepper humous. NO. It was not that kind of fridge. But in Africa, as you can imagine, a fridge is kind of important or all your food will go off very quickly. So inside the old man’s house was a clay pot fridge that used wet sand to keep everything cold.
Anyway, where was I? This isn’t a story about refrigeration without electricity! This is a story about Anansi and - Oops - I nearly jumped to the end!
Where were we? That’s right. Anansi had got no answer fro the silent, still old man and had wandered into the old man’s hut without permission. And he had seen a gigantic FRIDGE. That wasn’t electric.
SO what did he do? Yes, he opened it up. And he ate and ate and ate and ate. How glad he was that he had wandered over to this old man’s hut.
Burping with a very full tummy, he waddled out of the old man’s hut, went home and fell asleep. ZZZZZZZ.
For the next week, Anansi invaded the old man’s house and helped himself to the contents of his fridge without the old man ever saying he could. But Anansi said to himself, “if he didn’t want me to do it, he could easily stop me, and he hasn’t,’ and he just carried on.
After a while, Anansi got bored. Anansi always got bored eventually, even with things were going great. He wanted his food warm. He wanted cooked meals. He wanted MORE.
So one day, he took one of his many daughters with him to the old man’s house and said to them both, “Hello, Old Man, meet daughter; daughter meet old man. Now you are married, and I am your father in law, old man, and daughter, now you can cook for me. I will leave you alone to get to know each other and then tomorrow, I will come back for a ginormous wedding feast all for me. Byeeee!”
And rubbing some of his hands together in excitement at the thought if the big meal that was coming his way he wandered off home.
The next day, Anansi wandered over to his daughter and the silent old man’s house for his wedding feast. As always, the old man sat at the door, unmoving, unspeaking.
“Daughter! Daughter! I can’t smell cooking!” shouted Anansi. The kitchen was exactly as it had been before. No signs of cooking, no signs of feast preparation; in fact, nit even a sign of his daughter! He looked all around but couldn’t see her anywhere. “I’m starving,” he said and looked in the fridge. “Nah, I want something hot. Maybe she’s cooked it and its cooled and it’s waiting for me in the over,” said Anansi. So he opened the oven. But only one thing was inside the oven - his daughter’s wedding ring!
Anansi stormed out to the step where the old man sat. He waved the wedding ring. “Where is my daughter? Where is my feast? And why is this wedding ring all that I can find of my spider girl?” he shouted at the old man.
For the first time, the old man turned. Very, very slowly, And he opened his mouth. And he spoke.
“Don’t you know who I am yet?” said the old man to Anansi.
“You’re some old man who does nothing and says nothing,” said Anansi. And you are my son in law, so I am the boss here, “ he added.
“Ah, well, “ said the old man, “ actually, my name is Death.”
Anansi - for once - went quiet.
“Ah,” he said.
“Yes, “ said Death. “I am Death.”
“Oh,” said Anansi as this important piece of information sank in. With all its implications - everything that his behaviour might mean now. He ran through in his mind all the things he had been doing to Death. “Ah.”
He looked at Death and - remembering his manners for once, waited and stayed quiet.
“You showed up at my house,” continued Death, “You ate all my food. You married me to your daughter without my consent.” Anansi hung his head to show he was a bit sorry.
“SO I ATE HER,” said Death. “And now I am going to eat you.”
“Oh, no!” said Anansi! “You mean, there’s consequences for my actions?”
Quick everyone - do you know what that means? What’s a consequence for your actions? What happens because of what you do! yes!
“I don’t like having consequences for my actions!” he moaned. And then he RAN.
He ran away from Death as fast as he could. And he made the silly mistake of thinking that because Death was old and frail-looking that he would easily be able to outrun him - but have you ever heard of anyone who ever outran Death? No -nor have I! So Anansi’s running on his eight legs as fast as he can, and Death is chasing after him and in a cartoon version of this we would have silly music because of course, it’s actually quite funny.
And Anansi is running out of puff so he climbs a tree and some for weird reason it turns out that Death can’t climb trees! Who knew that?! So Death stands at the bottom of the tree, shaking his fist saying, “You come down now so I can eat you!” and he starts throwing things at Anansi to knock him out of the tree.
Then Anansi recovers his energy, leaps out of the tree and runs as fast as he can for his house, which he can see now. And he runs inside and calls out to his wife and his family,
“Quick, everyone! Death is coming!” And his wife says,
“You’ve got us into trouble and danger again, Anansi! Why do you keep doing this to us?” because she’s right - he does.
“You were supposed to be getting us all food these last few weeks and we’re all starving while you’ve been raising Death’s kitchen!”
“Ah, yes, you do have a point,” said Anansi. “Anyway, Death’s at the door and he can’t climb, so quick, everyone, climb up to the ceiling!”
So the whole Anansi family climb up to the ceiling to escape a very angry Death who only wants to eat Anansi but might well get the whole lot now.
There they are, trembling on the ceiling, Anansi, his children, their mother, and Death’s down below, waiting. And Death says, “Fine. I can wait,” and he gets a chair and a sack to catch them in, and sits down for a still, silent rest.
It’s not very long before the spider-children get tired hanging onto the ceiling. I can completely understand that, can’t you? “Daddy,” said the littlest, “I’m scared I’m going to fall.” And I can completely understand that, too, can’t you?
“It’s alright,” said Anansi, “I’ve been an idiot - again - but I am going to put this right.” Just whatever you do, don’t worry; you will not fall!” and Mummy Spider said, “that’s right, little ones; you will not fall.”
But one by one, the children did begin to fall. And Death caught them. And Death said,
“Don’t worry little one, it’s not you I want. You’ve had a close encounter with me now and that will make you sensible in future, won’t it? Because next time I might not let you go!” and one by one, the children promised themselves they would not do anything stupid that would take them close to Death again! Death even let Mummy Spider go so she could look after her children.
So then only Anansi was left up on the ceiling, waiting to escape Death and Death waiting for him. They stared at each other, one on the chair and one on the ceiling. The hours passed. Tick tock tick tock.
“WAIT!” said Anansi. “You will want to hear this, Death!”
“Go on then,” said Death.
“You know how I ate all your food?”
“And now I’m really fat with it all?”
“So when I fall to the floor…”
“My weight is so huge that I will go SPLODGE, SPLAT, GUNK on the floor and I will be a mass of fat spider guts and the only way you will be able ot eat me is if you lick me off the dusty ground.”
“That’s revolting,” said Death.
“And unhygienic,” said Anansi.
“So I have an idea,” said Anansi. “If you get a bag of flour from my shed in the garden, if you put it underneath me, I’ll fall into that and you’ll get the additional bonus of me being covered i flour, which is a great way to start to batter me like fish and chips! Battered spider - yummy!”
“That does sound nice, actually,” said Death. And he went out into the garden to get a bag of flour from the shed, like Anansi suggested.
“Hahaha, I am like, SO clever,” said Anansi to himself. “I have tricked Death into going outside and leaving me alone here and now I can escape! Haha, I am like the cleverest, smartest, cunningest - oh”. Because Anansi had taken so long congratulating himself on being so cunning, Death had had all that time to go out, find the flour and come back in with it and Anansi was still on the ceiling!
So Anansi watched Death put the sack of flour underneath where he expected Anansi to fall. Death wanted it to be just right, so that Anansi would go right into the middle of the flour and get properly covered.
But as Death leant over the flour, Anansi leapt down with all his big fat tummy weight, BANG! right on the back of Death’s head. And Death did what most of us would do:
“Urgh, urgh, urgh - a big fat hairy SPIDER is on my head, get it off, get it off!” and he danced around shaking his head and flicking at Anansi and getting covered in flour and being unable to see and before you could say, “Little Miss Muffet”, te whole house was a mess of flour and skinny old man Death - and absolutely no spiders at all. Anansi and his family ran as fast as they could out of the house and far far away and they have been trying to escape death ever since. So if you see a spider on your ceiling, just remember why it’s there and be kind to it!
- What did Anansi do wrong in the first place?
- Who paid the price for that?
- What did the children learn because of Anansi’s behaviour?
- Does Death just hurt one person?