This episode, produced for younger audiences ages 7–12, features an African folk tale and is inspired by a linguist staff (oykeame) in the Museum's collection. Narrated by actor Ronnie Washington.
Narrator: Would you like me to tell you a story? Then sit back, relax, and get ready to listen, because it's Story Time at the Met.
Today I'm going to tell a story from West Africa about Ananse the Spider, who brought wisdom to the earth. It's a story told by the Akan people in the Republic of Ghana.
Long, long, long ago, when the world was new, the Creator made Ananse the Spider. The Spider was a clever creature, always playing tricks on the others to get what he wanted. But the Spider was not wise. So he couldn't understand why his tricks always ended up getting him in trouble.
One day Ananse the Spider sat in his web, high in a tree, watching all the creatures below on the Earth and up in the sky above. The Spider said to himself, "I have less wisdom than any of the other creatures. Except for my children, of course: they know nothing at all!" So down the tree climbed the Spider to look for some wisdom.
The first creature he met was the Ant busily rustling through the leaves. "Friend Ant," said Ananse, "You must get tired carrying all your wisdom with you everywhere. Why don't you leave it here with me? I'll guard your wisdom for you until you need it."
Now, the Ant was wise, but he wasn't clever, so he never guessed the Spider might be tricking him. So the Ant set down his wisdom and scurried away.
The moment he was gone, the Spider carried the Ant's wisdom back up the tree.
"Now I have a little wisdom," thought Ananse the Spider. "But I need more."
So he climbed all the way up to the top of the tree.
Then the Eagle came flying overhead, carrying its wisdom in its talons.
"Friend Eagle," said the Spider, "you must get tired carrying all of that wisdom. Why not let me guard it for you until you need it?" Now, the Eagle was wise and clever. He knew at once the Spider meant to trick him. The Eagle screamed with laughter.
"Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha . . . Spider, you trickster!" said the Eagle. "Can't you think of a better way to get some wisdom than to steal it?" The Eagle laughed so hard that he dropped a bit of wisdom. So the Spider caught it up and ran back to his web.
"Now I have a little more wisdom," said Ananse the Spider. "What if I take a little bit of wisdom away from every creature in the world? Soon I'll have more than any of them. I'll be the wisest of them all!"
So Spider got a great big pot and traveled all over the world. He took a little wisdom from every creature he met. Sometimes he tricked them out of their wisdom. But the wisest creatures of all shared their wisdom with the Spider. Soon he had filled his pot of wisdom all the way up to the brim.
Ananse the Spider came back to his tree, holding the pot carefully in front of him. But when he tried to climb up to his web, he found that his legs couldn't reach all the way around the pot and grab the tree.
He stood there wondering what to do. Then along came one of his children.
"What are you doing, Papa?" asked the tiny, little spider.
"I'm trying to carry this pot up the tree," the father replied.
"Oh," said his child. "But wouldn't it be easier to carry it on your back, instead in front of you?"
The Spider saw at once that his child was right.
"How can that be?" he growled. "My child—who I thought knew nothing at all—has to help his father climb a tree? This pot full of wisdom does no good at all!"
And the Spider threw the pot away in anger.
It broke open and the wisdom inside scattered all around the world. And that's why today, wisdom belongs to all of us, whether we're young or old.
You can see Ananse the Spider next time you visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Go to our African art gallery, then look for a tall wooden staff with a golden spider web on top. Ananse sits in the middle of the web, with a man on either side. This staff belonged to a wise man among a group of the Akan called the Asante. The Asante have a proverb: "No one goes to the house of the spider to teach it wisdom."
Well, that's it. Thanks for listening to Story Time at the Met.
This has been an Antenna Audio production.