A long time ago Anansi and his family lived happily in a compound that they shared with a hunter and family.
Anansi got on very well with the hunter who was a very good and kind man. The hunter often shared some of the game with Anansi. The kind gesture was returned by Anansi by offering the hunter’s family some of his fish. He was a good fisherman. Alas! Those happy times did not last long. There was an acute shortage of food in that area. No fish, meat or fowl could be found. Anansi and the hunter had to work very hard to provide some kind of food for their families: very often, after spending all day searching for meat and fish, they would return home empty-handed.
“Tomorrow I must go further up into the deep deep bush and look for an antelope or else my family would surely die of starvation,” thought the hunter one evening. He asked his wife to pack some Garee, a kind of porridge obtained from ground cassava yams. She was also asked not to forget to put in a couple of kola nuts.
In the morning before sunrise, armed with his weapons and packed lunch, he set off in search of an antelope. The poor man walked and walked, going deeper and deeper into the dangerous bush but in vain.
At last feeling very exhausted and disappointed he flopped down under a huge old shady tree. Almost immediately he fell asleep but not for long. Very close to where he slept, something fell with a thud. Hunter, naturally gifted with exceptionally sharp hearing sense, woke up, startled by the disturbance. To his amazement, he saw a little mat lying on the ground. He had scarcely got over the shock when a little pillow fell on the mat. And then the littlest of all the little men landed on the mat.
“Heavens above! Who are you?” asked the hunter in a surprised voice. “I’m a gnome. I live in this tree. How about sharing your lunch with a hungry gnome?” he asked, beaming at him.
“Sure. Welcome. I don’t see any reason why both of us cannot eat whatever small amount my wife could spare. It will keep us going for some time at least,” replied the hunter and invited him to join him. He let him devour most of the meal. For a little man he had an amazing appetite.
“Well, what are you doing in this bush?” asked the little man, belching with satisfaction and showing his appreciation of the hearty meal.
“I have come in search of meat as there is terrible hunger in my village. My wife and children will starve to death. It appears that even the bush has no food for the needy,” replied the hunter sadly. Then he took out the kola nuts and broke one for the gnome.
“Sorry, my little son is not here to break this for you as the custom demands. Please do not feel dishonoured, but accept it from me,” said the hunter offering it to him. It was a very kind gesture indeed. They had become friends now.
“I can help you to find food if you like,” informed the gnome.
“I am a very experienced hunter and I know there isn’t any game for miles and miles because of this cursed famine,” replied Hunter.
“True, very true. But there is a big river and it has lots of fish. That is food, isn’t it?” said the gnome beaming at the hunter.
“I am a hunter, not a fisherman. How can I catch fish?” he asked.
“I shall help you. I’m very little and find it difficult to walk. Can I ride on your shoulder? I’ll show you the way to the river,” said the gnome.
“Sure. You can’t be that heavy. Come on, jump up,” said the hunter. The gnome jumped up onto the hunter’s shoulder with his mat and pillow and guided him to the riverside. It was a long way off. After trudging for about an hour they reached the river. The gnome informed the hunter that this particular river was full of the tastiest possible fish and he could have as much as he wanted.
“But that is impossible. I have nothing to catch the fish with,” cried the hunter desperately.
“You were kind enough to share your lunch with me. I will help you,” said the tiny man and began to drink all the water from the river. The amazing little fellow drank the river dry.
“Go. Get as much fish as you like,” said the gnome, giving him a broad smile.
The hunter stared disbelievingly at the fish that lay flapping about in the dry river bed. Hippos, crocodiles and all the other similar large animals lay motionlessly on the sand. Then he lost no time. He went into the river bed and started picking up the fish which he dumped on the bank.
“Hurry up, Hunter my friend,” urged the gnome, “I cannot hold the river inside my mouth any longer.”
The hunter climbed out of the river bed with the last load of fish. Just then the gnome’s mouth opened and out sprang the river water filling the river bed again. A very relieved and satisfied the hunter thanked the gnome repeatedly for his kindness.
The gnome asked him not to mention that again because the hunter too had been rather kind to a hungry stranger. Then the gnome expressed a wish to be carried back to his tree. The hunter readily obliged. He returned to the riverside to collect his fish before setting off for his village.
Anansi noticed the hunter entering the compound with a big fish load. “Where did you get so much fish from?” Anansi asked him. The hunter told him that he had gone far into the bush to find it. Anansi was rather cross with the hunter for not taking him along. After all Anansi was a very clever fisherman. However, he always claimed to be better than the rest of the world at almost every possible skill. A silly habit though for which he had to pay dearly as we are soon going to find out soon.
“Calm down, Anansi. Next time you can come with me,” said the hunter to Anansi very patiently and he also gave him some of the catch to feed his family.
Many happy days passed and then the food situation went back to square one. So, the hunter decided once again to set off for the bush in search of food. He invited his neighbour Anansi to join him. It was rather pleasant to have a travelling companion to go into such a faraway bush. Together they even managed to kill a baby antelope for their afternoon meal. So, under the same old tree which was the home of the gnome, the two friends made a fire and began to cook the meat. Suddenly, Anansi was startled by the sound of a little mat falling beside him.
“Danger, danger, let us run for our lives,” shouted Anansi, shaking with fright. For a man who claimed to be the bravest in the village, Anansi was certainly behaving rather differently.
On the other hand, his friend the hunter, not in the least bothered, continued roasting the meat. And then another thud of the pillow dropping from above alarmed him even more than before. Imagine the state of our supposedly clever Anansi when he saw the tiny little man landing on its mat, all smiles.
“You noisy little troublemaker. Scram and don’t bother us,” said Anansi very rudely to the gnome. The gnome continued to grin at Anansi cheekily.
“That delicious smell of freshly roasted antelope meat has made me feel very hungry,” exclaimed the gnome and settled down comfortably on his mat to be served by the hunter. Anansi protested but the kind-hearted and grateful hunter gave him most of his share of the food.
The gnome belched and rubbed his stomach for digestion, feeling very pleased with the tasty meal.
He thanked the hunter and said that he had guessed why he was back in the bush. The hunter nodded in agreement and proceeded to introduce his companion whose family was also starving.
“Well, he is a very rude man and rather full of himself,” remarked the gnome. He continued: “But never mind. Since he is your friend, I shall ignore his bad manners.”
“Let us go to the river then,” said the gnome and turning to Anansi he asked him to kindly give him a ride on his shoulder. “I’m not your slave,” replied Anansi haughtily.
The hunter quietly took the gnome up and placed him on his shoulder and the three of them set off for the river.
“Catch all the fish you like. I will help you,” said the gnome to the hunter and Anansi as soon as they reached the river.
Hearing the gnome’s words Anansi laughed heartily and made fun of the little man. Ignoring Anansi’s impolite behaviour the gnome bent down to swallow the river. Sure enough, the dry bed was full of fish flapping about and hippos, crocodiles, and many other large animals lying here and there.
While the hunter quickly and sensibly gathered his fish on the bank of the river, Anansi busied himself leading the hippos and crocodiles onto the land.
“Why should I bother with fish when I can get lots and lots of meat from these big animals?” said Anansi to the hunter.
When the hunter saw the gnome looking very uncomfortable for not being able to hold the river water, he asked Anansi to get out of the river bed immediately. Soon the gnome poured all the water back into the river bed. He then asked the hunter to take him back to his home, the tree. While the hunter went off bearing the gnome on his shoulder, Anansi busied himself in making lots of rope to drag the large water and land animals he had gathered for food.
Anansi returned to the river bank with his rope to start tying the animals. But as soon as the hippos and the crocodiles saw him coming towards them, they went back into the water. And swam away.
The hunter returned after dropping the gnome off and found all his fish just where he had left them. He quickly filled up his bag and the two friends began their journey homewards.
Anansi was very quiet and sheepish all the way home. He was going home empty-handed. He felt dreadfully embarrassed and ashamed of himself for having brought nothing for his starving wife and children. As soon as he reached home, he quickly hid in a dark corner of his house and refused to come out. In fact, he had turned into a spider.
It is said that ever since then, the spider always hides himself in the dark corners of the house of his friend, the Man. (Folktale from Zambia)