Anansi: A Metaphor for Wisdom in African Myth

Iwuagwu Ogochukwu Ikechukwu
June 23, 2023

The African continent is home to a rich and diverse collection of myths that have been passed down through generations of storytellers. Jones .M. Jaja defines Myth as "a story which is believed to be true and has its origin in the far distant past history of a people." These myths play an important role in shaping the cultural identity of the continent, as well as providing a window into the beliefs and values of the people who inhabit it. Jaja further states that "Myths play a very important role in the African understanding of reality. African philosophy cannot operate in a vacuum; therefore myths provide the necessary analytic and conceptual framework for an authentic African philosophy."

One such myth is the story of Anansi, a trickster figure from West Africa. Anansi is a spider who uses his intelligence and cunning to outsmart his opponents and achieve his goals. The story of Anansi has been told in various forms across West Africa, and has even spread to other parts of the world through the African diaspora. In the traditional Anansi myth, the spider is portrayed as a lazy and selfish creature who is always looking for an easy way out of his problems. He is often depicted as a figure who is more concerned with his own interests than with the well-being of those around him.

Despite his flaws, however, Anansi is also a figure of great intelligence and resourcefulness. He is able to use his wits to outsmart his opponents, and is often able to turn his weaknesses into strengths. For example, in one version of the story, Anansi is able to defeat a powerful adversary by pretending to be dead and then springing a trap when his opponent lets down his guard.

A spider

Throughout the story of Anansi, we see the spider using his intelligence and cunning to achieve his goals. Whether he is stealing food from his neighbors or outwitting a powerful foe, Anansi is always looking for a way to come out on top. And while his methods may not always be ethical, they are always effective. One of the key themes of the Anansi myth is the idea of using intelligence and resourcefulness to overcome obstacles. In a world where brute strength often reigns supreme, Anansi is a reminder that sometimes it is the cleverest among us who come out on top. This message is particularly important in a continent like Africa, where many people face significant challenges in their daily lives.

Another important theme of the Anansi myth is the idea of community. While Anansi is often portrayed as a selfish and lazy creature, he is also a figure who is deeply connected to his community. He is always looking for ways to help his fellow spiders, whether it is by sharing his food or by using his wits to protect them from danger. This message of community is particularly relevant in Africa, where many people live in close-knit communities that rely on cooperation and mutual support. By emphasizing the importance of working together and helping one another, the Anansi myth reinforces the values that are central to African culture.

Overall, the story of Anansi is a powerful example of the rich and diverse collection of myths that can be found across the African continent. Through his wit, intelligence, and resourcefulness, Anansi embodies many of the values and beliefs that are central to African culture, most especially wisdom. And by emphasizing the importance of community and cooperation, the story of Anansi provides a powerful reminder of the Strength and resilience of the African people.


Jaja, J.M. (2013) Myths in African concept of Historical reality. An International

Journal of Arts and Humanities (AFRREV) Bahir, Dar Ethiopia. Vol. 2(1) Series 5. February, 228-242.

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