[From West African Folk-Tales by William Barker and Cecilia Sinclair, 1917. See item #19 in the Bibliography. The illustration is by Cecilia Sinclair.]

In the olden days, all the stories which men told were stories of Onyankopon, the chief of the gods. Anansi, who was very conceited, wanted the stories to be told about him.

Accordingly, one day he went to Onyankopon and asked that, in future, all tales told by men might be Anansi stories, instead of Onyankopon stories. Onyankopon agreed, on one condition. He told Anansi that he must bring him three things: the first was a jar full of live bees, the second was a boa-constrictor, and the third a leopard. Anansi gave his promise.


First, Anansi took an earthen vessel and set out for a place where he knew were numbers of bees. When he came in sight of the bees, he began saying to himself, “They will not be able to fill this jar” — “Yes, they will be able” — “No, they will not be able,” until the bees came up to him and said, “What are you talking about, Mr. Anansi?”

He thereupon explained to them that Onyankopon and he had had a great dispute. Onyankopon had said the bees could not fly into the jar — Anansi had said they could. The bees immediately declared that of course they could fly into the jar, which they at once did. As soon as they were safely inside, Anansi sealed up the jar and sent it off to Onyankopon.

the bees fly into Anansi's pot

Next day Anansi took a long stick and set out in search of a boa-constrictor. When he arrived at the place where one lived, he began speaking to himself again. “He will just be as long as this stick” — “No, he will not be so long as this” — “Yes, he will be as long as this.” These words he repeated several times till the boa came out and asked him what was the matter. “Oh, we have been having a dispute in Onyankopon’s town about you. Onyankopon’s people say you are not as long as this stick; I say you are. Please let me measure you by it.” The boa innocently laid himself out straight, and Anansi lost no time in tying him onto the stick from end to end. He then sent him to Onyankopon.


The third day Anansi took a needle and thread and sewed up his eye. He then set out for a den where he knew a leopard lived. As he approached the place, he began to shout and sing so loudly that the leopard came out to see what was the matter. “Can you not see?” said Anansi. “My eye is sewn up and now I can see such wonderful things that I must sing about them.” “Sew up my eyes,” said the leopard, “and then I too can see these surprising sights.” Anansi immediately did so. Having thus made the leopard helpless, he led him straight to Onyankopon’s house.

Onyankopon was amazed at Anansi’s cleverness in fulfilling the three conditions, and he immediately gave him permission for the future to call all the old tales Anansi tales.


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A Reader's Guide to African Folktales at the Internet Archive Copyright © 2022 by Laura Gibbs is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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