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This classic of Jamaican folklore was collected by Martha Warren Beckwith, whose translation of the Hawaiian Creation epic, the Kumulipo, is also at sacred-texts. Beckwith studied under the famous ethnographer Franz Boas, who also encouraged the pioneering Afro-Caribbean ethnographic field work of Zora Neale Huston. Jamaica Anansi Stories includes folklore, transcriptions of folk music, and a large collection of riddles, all cross-referenced with folklore studies from other cultures. The index below includes links to scanned images of music notation in the text; note that the song titles have been assigned arbitrarily. To assist search engine robots and visually impaired readers using text-to-speech programs, I have also transcribed the song lyrics below each image of scanned music notation. Each story is cross-linked to the notes, both in the index and the particular file.

The transcription of Jamaican patois in these texts may be jarring to modern sensibilities, and occasionally impenetrable. It must be recognized that the purpose of this transcription was to respect the subject matter, and place it in context, rather to trivialize it. This is not a minstrel show. These texts prove that African folklore survived the ‘middle passage’ of the slave ships. In fact, these oral traditions were the only possessions which survived that harrowing journey, and should be treasured appropriately.

The trickster Anansi, originally a West African spider-god, lives on in these tales. Why is this figure so universal? And why did so many African American folk tales recount his exploits, under one name or another? Anansi is the spirit of rebellion; he is able to overturn the social order; he can marry the Kings’ daughter, create wealth out of thin air; baffle the Devil and cheat Death. Even if Anansi loses in one story, you know that he will overcome in the next. For an oppressed people Anansi conveyed a simple message from one generation to the next:–that freedom and dignity are worth fighting for, at any odds.

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