FORT LAUDERDALE — Some know him as a spider, others a god. There is no common spelling of his name. It can be Anancy, Anasi, Br’er Anansi or Ananci. What most agree on he is a male character whose origins are in Asanti, Ghana, and that he is always up to something.
People from the Caribbean, mostly Jamaicans, grow up hearing “Anancy stories” in which a spider tries to spin a tall tale to benefit himself, but with most of his tricks backfiring. Sort of like Wyle E. Coyote., his stories amuse and sometimes teach children a lesson.
In West Africa, his given name is Kweku Anansi, son of Nyame, the Great Sky God, and Asase Ya, the Earth Goddess/Goddess of Fertility. It is said his father turned him into half spider, half supernatural, because of all the havoc he would wreak as a boy. That didn’t stop Anansi, who continued on his mischievous path.
His legend is remembered each year in June in Fort Lauderdale and cities in several other states and even countries, through The Anancy Festival.
Originated in South Florida by Jamaicans.com owner Xavier Murphy, the festival has been growing strong since 2008. Back then,it wasn’t even called The Anancy Festival.
Murphy realized that most of the Caribbean cultural events in the Diaspora – concerts, food festivals, even Goombay – were geared toward adults. He enlisted help to change that.
“We wanted to develop a platform that was accessible to children and Anancy is one of the best known folk-hero, an icon who resonates with children,” said Andrea Shaw, assistant director and associate professor in the Division of Humanities at Nova Southeastern University in Davie and a writer and scholar of African Diaspora studies. She joined Murphy’s initiative in 2010. Writer and publisher Kellie Magnus came on board in 2011. An agreement with Broward Libraries sealed a location for the festival.
Now they are marching toward a dream of taking the festival outdoors, where children can wander and explore. “We are taking turtle steps toward becoming an outdoor festival but we have to rethink so many things – weather, time of the month, for instance,” said Lewis.
The Anancy character has been studied by many and his image has been created by artists who try to envision what he could look like. Jamaican artist and historian Michael Auld remembers hearing family and friends swap Br’er Anansi stories both in St. Andrew and in other areas of the island.
“My interest in Anansi began in childhood in Jamaica before the advent of television. Next to the radio, this was a common form of entertainment,” Auld recalls. “I decided to develop my own Anansi character, based on West African visual arts aesthetics. I began to research both the origins of Anansi and the Asanti from whom he came. In order to reintroduce original Akan characters to the public, especially to Jamaicans, I developed a comic strip titled Anansesen, an Akan word for Anansi stories.”
For now, the festival is at home at the South Regional Broward County Library, where children and adults gather to celebrate all things Caribbean.
Atlanta, Boston, New York, Orlando and Washington, D.C. will host similar festivals throughout June. In past years, Jamaica, Ghana, Kenya and Nairobi used the same template to host their own festivals, Lewis said. In addition to hearing “Anancy stories” and watching a film about the cunning spider, the festival showcases traditional dance, music and food. This year, dancers from the Vanee School of Dance in Guyana will perform, as well as folksong crooner of the Jamaican Folk Revue.