In West African folk-tales, the Spider is dominant, sometimes seen as one whose wisdom is ‘greater than that of all the world together’; at other times, he is portrayed as ‘a sly, selfish and greedy person’.
Anansi and Nothing
Near Anansi’s miserable little hut there was a fine palace where lived a very rich man called Nothing. One day, Nothing and Anansi decided to visit the neighbouring town to find wives. Nothing, being a rich man, wore very fine clothes, while Anansi was dressed in rags. While they were on their way, Anansi persuaded Nothing to change clothes for a while, promising to give back the fine clothes when they reached the town. But he kept making excuses not to until they arrived at the town.
Anansi, dressed in fine clothes, found no difficulty in getting as many wives as he wished. Poor Nothing, with his rags, was treated with contempt, and no one would give him a wife. At last, a woman took pity on him and gave him her daughter.
The girl was laughed at by Anansi’s wives for choosing such a beggar as Nothing appeared to be. But she ignored them.
The party set off for home. When they reached the cross-roads leading to the respective houses, the women were astonished. The road leading to Anansi’s house was only half-cleared. The one which led to Nothing’s palace was wide and well made. His servants waited for him, with fine clothes for their master and his wife. No one was waiting for Anansi.
Nothing’s wife was queen over the whole district and had everything her heart could desire. Instead of proper food, Anansi’s wives had to live on unripe bananas with peppers. The wife of Nothing heard of their miserable state and invited them to a great feast in her palace. They came and were so pleased with all they saw that the agreed to stay there, and refused to return to Anansi’s hut.
He was very angry and tried many ways to kill Nothing but to no avail. Finally he persuaded some rat friends to dig a deep tunnel in front of Nothing’s door. When the hole was finished, Anansi lined it with knives and broken bottles. Then he smeared the steps of the palace with oil to make them slippery and withdrew to a little distance.
When he thought Nothing’s household was safely in bed and asleep, Anansi called Nothing to come out for he had something to show him. Nothing’s wife, however, dissuaded him from going. Anansi tried again and again, and each time she bade her husband not to listen. At last Nothing insisted on going to see this thing. As he placed his foot on the first step, he slipped and down he fell into the hole.
The noise alarmed the household. Lights were fetched and Nothing was found in the hole, with so many wounds that he soon died. His wife was grief-stricken at his untimely death. She boiled many yams and mashed them, and took a great dishful of them around the district. To very child she met she gave some, so that the child might help her to cry for her husband. This is why, if you find a child crying and ask the cause, you will often be told he is “crying for nothing”.