Jamaican Folklore and the Influence on Jamaican Culture

Seminar Paper, 2017

20 Pages, Grade: 1,1


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The character “Anansi”

3. Jamaica Anansi Stories
3.1. Origin
3.2. General Information
3.3. Anansi brings Stories to the World
3.3.1 The Plot
3.3.2 The moral of the story
3.4 Inside the cow
3.4.1 Plot
3.4.2 The moral of the story
3.5 Why Anansi has Eight long legs
3.5.1 The Plot
3.5.2 The moral of the story

4. Jamaican Sayings
4.1 General Information
4.2 Examples
4.2.1 Caution
4.2.2 Respect
4.2.3 Patience
4.2.4 Resilience
4.3 Social control

5. Obeah Witchcraft
5.1 General Information
5.2 Evidence of Obeah magic
5.2.1 Nanny of the Maroons
5.2.2 Interview: Mr. Norris Johnson
5.3 Obeah Scepticism
5.3.1 History
5.3.2 Documentation of the stories
5.3.3 Use in modern times

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Our cultures are influenced by countless different factors, which vary greatly from country to country. From a young age, people are shaped entirely by their culture and by the people who raise them. One aspect that particularly influences young people in societies is folklore. Folklore is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as, “the traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community, passed through the generations by word of mouth”1. This research paper will focus on various aspects of folklore of the Caribbean country of Jamaica, and the analysis of three different topics concerning Jamaican folklore, namely the Anansi stories, the Jamaican sayings, and a traditional witchcraft called Obeah. Furthermore, the character Anansi, who appears in the majority of these stories will be examined and analyzed. The methods employed in researching this topic include a personal interview, well documented stories mentioned in books, and internet research to gather background information about these topics.

2. The character “Anansi”

Anansi is an African folktale character. This character originated in Ghana among the Ashanti Tribes who passed down the stories by word of mouth throughout the generations until they spread all throughout West Africa. The legend states that Anansi was the son of the Sky God, Nyame, who got so annoyed by his son’s tricks and sneaky behavior that he turned him into a half spider, half man.2

In some stories he is portrayed as clever and wise, however, in most stories he is cunning, deceitful and greedy. Although Anansi is small in size, the stories dictate that one must not underestimate his capability to outsmart. In these stories, he goes up against large and dangerous creatures such as tigers, monkeys and even ghosts.

Despite Anansi’s questionable character, these tales have been very popular in Jamaican culture, which could be because people enjoy seeing that the weak and inferior character, also known as the “underdog”, can eventually beat the stronger and bigger character, as seen in the legend of David and Goliath.

3. Jamaica Anansi Stories

3.1. Origin

The Anansi Stories in general originated in Ghana, Africa and spread through word of mouth. In the 17th century, these stories were then brought to Jamaica through the slave trade during Spain’s and then Britain’s rule. The African slaves were forced to work on the plantations and had to endure inhumane working conditions such as physical punishments and working until collapsing. Nevertheless, the slaves did not give up on their heritage and kept telling the stories they grew up with. Over time, the details of the stories changed because the people might have forgotten some parts and filled in the details. Also, there is never an author of the story because it was passed down by multiple generations and was not written down. So the Jamaican Anansi Stories were created over time and have been a part of their culture since the very beginning.

3.2. General Information

All of the Jamaican Anansi stories involve animal characters instead of human ones. These animals range from hares to tigers and all represent a certain behavior, habit, or way of life which Anansi uses to trick them. Carolyn Burke, a famous folklore analyst, illustrates why stories use animal characters instead of humans. Burke explains that, “Books that use animals as people can add emotional distance for the reader when the story message is powerful or painful”3. Every story has at least one moral or lesson in it which teaches the reader the consequences that result from a certain behavior. They also teach socially acceptable modes of conduct to ensure a peaceful coexistence within a community. However, some stories are also solely to entertain and might even indirectly support unwanted behavior.

Furthermore, the actions in the stories are not always realistic or possible in real life but this is possibly to make them more entertaining and interesting for the reader to imagine a fantasy world where animals could do such things.

3.3. Anansi brings Stories to the World

This Anansi story called “Anansi brings Stories to the World” shows the different facets of Anansi’s personality. He is loyal to his people and wants the best for them but simultaneously uses his cunning and deceitful ways to reach his goal.

3.3.1 The Plot

One day Anansi was watching the humans and notices that they are bored and he wants to help them. He decides that the humans could use some books, but the only person who has books is the Sky God, Nyame. Anansi asks Nyame for books for the humans, to which he responds with a perplexed look as many before him have tried and failed to pay the price. Anansi insists he can do it and asks what the price is. Nyame answers: “Very well little one. My price is Onini, the python who can swallow a goat; Osebo, the leopard with teeth as sharp as spears; Mmoboro, the hornet whose sting is like red hot needles and Mmoatia, the bad-tempered fairy that no-one can see. Bring to me all of these and my box with all the stories shall be yours”4. In order to capture the animals the Sky God requested, Anansi uses the habits, egos and pride of the animals against them.

The first animal, the python, thinks there is nothing in the world that is longer than he is. So when Anansi comes up to the python holding a stick and trying to prove his wife wrong that he is in fact longer than the stick, the python lays next to it and Anansi quickly ties him to it using his silk string and takes him to the Sky God. Anansi catches the leopard by digging a hole in the path it usually takes to get to the watering hole. When it falls in, Anansi offers his help getting the leopard out and in doing so gaining his trust and tieing him up to take him to the Sky God. He captured the hornets by tricking them into thinking it is raining and offering them shelter in a gourd which he then closes and takes to the Sky God. The last obstacle is to capture the invisible fairy. Anansi makes a wooden doll and covers it in sticky glue. He places a bowl of the fairies’ favorite food in front of the doll and waits. The invisible fairy comes and takes the food and when she is finished thanks the doll but when it does not reply she gets mad and slaps the doll. In doing so her hand gets stuck and Anansi can take her to the Sky God. Anansi was able to achieve what many before him have tried and failed at doing. He got the books from Nyame and gave them to the people so that they can enjoy themselves.

3.3.2 The moral of the story

This tale especially shows that Anansi is loyal to the humans and acts very noble because he risks his life for the joy of others. To reach his goal of paying the price and getting the books, Anansi uses the animals’ ego against them like he did to capture the python and the fairy. Those two animals thought so highly of themselves and could not be wrong that they made themselves vulnerable in order to prove him otherwise. For the leopard and the hornets, Anansi exploited their trust in a time of need. They were relying on his help to save their lives and he used that against them.

There are many morals and lessons hidden in this tale and different perspectives on good or bad behavior. To name a few virtues, Anansi shows courage, commitment and determination towards the people in striving to reach his goal. At the same time he exhibits signs of betrayal and exploitation. As for the other animals, the python and the fairy portrayed arrogance which led them to their trap without them even knowing.

One may debate whether Anansi’s actions were good or bad, that he was doing something that would be beneficial to humans, although in doing so he tricked his fellow animals. There are two morals that are in conflict here, namely courage and betrayal, and the reader gets to decide whether or not they would have behaved the same.

3.4 Inside the cow

This next story called “Inside the cow”5, Anansi has a friend Tacoomah, who shows him how and where to get meat to feed his family. Eventually, Anansi learns that being too greedy and reckless can lead to you have nothing in the end.

3.4.1 Plot

Anansi and his friend have not talked in awhile because of a feud they had, but when Anansi finds out that Tacoomah knows where to get a lot of meat, he puts their differences aside and asks where he gets the meat. The next morning Anansi wakes up Tacoomah and he shows Anansi the field of cows where he has been getting his meat from and teaches him how to get the meat from the cow. To harvest the meat you must stand in front of the cow’s belly and say the words “Open, sesema, open” which will open the cow up. You get inside the cow’s belly and say the words “Shet, sesema, shet” and the belly closes. Next you carefully cut away only the meat you need and avoiding the spinal cord or else the cow will die. To get out you must say the same phrases as you would to get in. Afterwards Anansi and Tacoomah leave the field with their baskets full of meat. The next day instead of waking up Tacoomah, Anansi goes to the field alone, picks the fattest


1 “Folklore”. Oxford University Press.

2 “Anansi brings Stories to the World”. East of England Broadband Network.

3 Burke, Carolyn L. and Joby G. Copenhaver. 2004.

4 “Anansi brings Stories to the World”. East of England Broadband Network.

5 Beckwith, Martha Warren. 1924, page 26

Excerpt out of 20 pages


Jamaican Folklore and the Influence on Jamaican Culture
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Jamaica, Folklore, Culture, Anansi, Obeah, Witchcraft, Sayings
Quote paper
Emily Hansen (Author), 2017, Jamaican Folklore and the Influence on Jamaican Culture, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/450775


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