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 [27. Anansi and Brother Dead.]


27. Anansi and Brother Dead.

The story of "Brother Dead" is one of the best known of Jamaica stories. Trowbridge, 282, says Death is looked upon as Anansi's brother. "Anansi fool 'em all; nobody can fool Anansi, only Bredder Dead," old Forbes said at the end of a trick story. Every Jamaica collection includes a version. See Jekyll, 31-34; Milne-Home, 40-41; Trowbridge, JAFL 9, 286-287; Pamela Smith, 69-70; Wona, 73-77. For other references, compare Parsons, Andros Island, 117-119 and note 2, page 117.

The story turns upon Anansi's stealing from Death's provision field, as in 17b. All the versions except Wona's version end with the episode of "refugees in the roof," as in number 5 c; an episode related to the fruit-dropping or dust-blinding incident as a means of getting rid of a strong enemy who is lying in wait for a weaker; as in numbers 13 c, 23.

In Wona's version, which has retained a European underworld coloring, Anansi passes fields of fat cattle and comes finally to the city of Death. He greases the hinges of the gate with the fat of the sheep he has killed out of Death's flocks, and when he flees, the gate opens for him. Nevertheless, the shadow of death jumps upon his back. He asks various friends to take it off, and finally succeeds in throwing it to earth; later he picks and eats callalu (Jamaica greens) from the spot where it fell. This latter part of the story is the "Dry-head" episode of numbers 22 and 30.

In the ordinary Jamaica version, the comedy of getting the food, bringing the wife, attempting Death's destruction, take the place of the underworld detail. Another Maroon version begins:

Anansi get a daughter he call Mat, an' he go to a place where he was hunting an' see a man sitting down all day sharpening pegs. Anansi go an' say "Morning, Brar Dead!" Not a 'peak, only keep on work all a time. He go up on his fol' have lots of dry meat, an' he tek as much an' carry it down an' bile his food. Anansi don' walk where rope is set against de water, walk a different pass.

After Anansi has left his daughter with Dead, the story runs:

Him daughter want water, say, "Brar Dead, want water." Not a answer. Him follow de pass an' go down to whe' de water deh; an' him drop in Brar Dead's rope an' he catch him. An' Dead run down an' tek him off de stick an' lick him.--"Brar Dead, I'm yo' wife! yo' wife, Brar Dead! Don' kill me! Don' kill me!" Don' hear a word, not a word. Kill him an' cut him up an' carry him put him up in lof', mek fire under him, dry him.

In Trowbridge, Death is a loquacious planter and the story runs like any thieving plot. In the Maroon version the figure of

{p. 250}

"Brother Dead" corresponds with that of the "Piercer of Souls" or the "fisherman" in American Indian stories of the trickster's visit to the underworld, e. g. Relation de la Nouvelle France, 1636, p. 106; Petitot, Traditions Indiennes des Déné Dinjé, p. 33. The American Indian fisherman is spearing or angling for fish; the Jamaica figure of Death is trapping game, Both tricksters make their way in by avoiding Death's trap.

The incident of tying Death's hair in order to burn him up corresponds to the hair-plaiting in Callaway, 29, and Theal, 110, where the trickster sets fire to the hut and burns up his host.

Version (b) shows a simpler handling of similar incidents.

Next: Note 28. Brother Dead and the Brindle Puppy.