Sacred Texts  Africa 

Jamaica Anansi Stories



Music transcribed by HELEN ROBERTS


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This classic of Jamaican folklore was collected by Martha Warren Beckwith, whose translation of the Hawaiian Creation epic, the Kumulipo, is also at sacred-texts. Beckwith studied under the famous ethnographer Franz Boas, who also encouraged the pioneering Afro-Caribbean ethnographic field work of Zora Neale Huston. Jamaica Anansi Stories includes folklore, transcriptions of folk music, and a large collection of riddles, all cross-referenced with folklore studies from other cultures. The index below includes links to scanned images of music notation in the text; note that the song titles have been assigned arbitrarily. To assist search engine robots and visually impaired readers using text-to-speech programs, I have also transcribed the song lyrics below each image of scanned music notation. Each story is cross-linked to the notes, both in the index and the particular file.

The transcription of Jamaican patois in these texts may be jarring to modern sensibilities, and occasionally impenetrable. It must be recognized that the purpose of this transcription was to respect the subject matter, and place it in context, rather to trivialize it. This is not a minstrel show. These texts prove that African folklore survived the 'middle passage' of the slave ships. In fact, these oral traditions were the only possessions which survived that harrowing journey, and should be treasured appropriately.

The trickster Anansi, originally a West African spider-god, lives on in these tales. Why is this figure so universal? And why did so many African American folk tales recount his exploits, under one name or another? Anansi is the spirit of rebellion; he is able to overturn the social order; he can marry the Kings' daughter, create wealth out of thin air; baffle the Devil and cheat Death. Even if Anansi loses in one story, you know that he will overcome in the next. For an oppressed people Anansi conveyed a simple message from one generation to the next:--that freedom and dignity are worth fighting for, at any odds.

Title Page




1. Tying Tiger. [Note]
2. Tiger as Substitute. [Note]
3. Tiger as Riding-horse. [Note]
4. Tiger's Sheep-skin Suit. [Note]
5. Tiger Catching the Sheep-thief. [Note]
6. Tiger's Breakfast. [Note]
7. Eggs and Scorpions. [Note]
8. Tiger's Bone-hole. [Note]
9. The Christening. [Note]
10. Eating Tiger's Guts. [Note]
11. Throwing away Knives. [Note]
12. Grace Before Meat. [Note]
13. Day-time Trouble. [Note]
14. New Names. [Note]
15. Long-shirt. [Note]
16. Shut up in the Pot. [Note]
17. House in the Air. [Note]
18. Goat on the Hill-side. [Note]
19. Dog and Dog-head. [Note]
20. Tacoomah's Corn-piece. [Note]
21. Anansi and the Tar-baby. [Note]
22. Inside the Cow. [Note]
23. Cunnie-More-Than-Father. [Note]
24. The Duckano tree. [Note]
25. Food and Cudgel. [Note]
26. The Riddle. [Note]
27. Anansi and Brother Dead. [Note]
28. Brother Dead and the Brindle Puppy. [Note]
29. The Cowitch and Mr. Foolman. [Note]
30. Dry-Head and Anansi. [Note] [Music: Fly Along, Brudder Hawk]
31. The Yam-hills. [Note]
32. The Law against Back-biting. [Note]
33. Fling-a-mile. [Note]
34. But-but and Anansi. [Note]
35. Tumble-bug and Anansi. [Note]
36. Horse and Anansi. [Note]
37. Anansi in Monkey Country. [Note]
38. Curing the Sick. [Note]
39. Anansi, White-belly and Fish. [Note]
40. Goat's Escape. [Note] [Music: Meat a da me yard] [Music: You no havey a han' you no sure of it]
41. Turtle's Escape. [Note]
42. Fire and Anansi. [Note]
43. Quit-quit and Anansi. [Note]
44. Spider Marries Monkey's Daughter. [Note]
45. The Chain of Victims. [Note]
46. Why Tumble-bug Rolls in the Dung. [Note] [Supplementary Note]
47. Why John-crow has a Bald Head. [Note]
48. Why Dog is always Looking. [Note] [Supplementary Note]
49. Why Rocks at the River are covered with Moss. [Note]
50. Why Ground-dove Complains. [Note]
51. Why Hog is always Grunting. [Note]
52. Why Toad Croaks. [Note]
53. Why Woodpecker Bores Wood. [Note]
54. Why Crab is afraid after Dark. [Note]
55. Why Mice are no Bigger. [Note]
56. Rat's Wedding. [Note] [Supplementary Note]
57. Cockroach Stories. [Note]
58. Hunter, Guinea-hen and Fish. [Note]
59. Rabbit Stories. [Note]
60. The Animal Race. [Note] [Music: Iyaa yao sa (1)] [Music: Iyaa yao sa (2)]
61. The Fasting Trial (fragment). [Note]
62. Man is Stronger. [Note]
63. The Pea that made a Fortune. [Note]
64. Settling the Father's Debt. [Note]
65. Mr. Lenaman's Corn-field. [Note]
66. Simon Tootoos. [Note] [Supplementary Note] [Music: Come take me up]
67. The Tree-wife. [Note] [Music: Jesta beyo]
68. Sammy the Comferee. [Note] [Music: Sammy de Confaria]
69. Grandy-Do-an'-Do. [Note]
70. Jack and Harry. [Note]
71. Pea-fowl as Messenger. [Note]
72. The Barking Puppy. [Note] [Music: Phinney man]
73. The Singing Bird. [Note] [Music: Fine waitin' boy] [Music: Golden Cage]
74. Two Sisters. [Note]
75. Asoonah. [Note]
76. The Greedy Child. [Note]
77. Alimoty and Aliminty. [Note]
78. The Fish Lover. [Note] [Music: Timbo, Limbo] [Music: Fish, fish, fish]
79. Juggin Straw Blue. [Note] [Music: Na Kooma] [Music: Juggin Straw Blue (1)] [Music: Juggin straw Blue (2)]
80. The Witch and the Grain of Peas. [Note] [Music: Dearest Mama]
81. Bosen Corner. [Note]
82. The Three Dogs. [Note] [Music: Sharpen Me Razor] [Music: Blum-blum Sinde Dido] [Music: Chin Fallah]
83. Andrew and his Sisters. [Note] [Music: Ya, Bwa]
84. The Hunter. [Note]
85. Man-Snake as Bridegroom. [Note] [Music: Kom Go Yeng]
86. The Girls who married the Devil. [Note] [Music: Handsome Man Snake] [Music: Carlie]
87. Bull as Bridegroom. [Note] [Music: Pon, pon, Me Dearie] [Music: Gracie and Miles (1)] [Music: Gracie and Miles (2)]
88. The Two Bulls. [Note]
89. Ballinder Bull. [Note] [Music: Geshawnee]
90. Bird Arinto. [Note] [Music: Arintoe]
91. Tiger Softens his Voice. [Note]
92. Hidden Names. [Note]
93. Anansi and Mr. Able. [Note] [Music: Brar Able]
94. The King's Three Daughters. [Note]
95. The Dumb Child. [Note]
96. The Dumb Wife. [Note]
97. Leap, Timber, Leap. [Note] [Supplementary Note] [Music: Leap, Timber, Leap (1)] [Music: Leap, Timber, Leap (2)] [Music: Come, Little Timber]
98. The Boy fools Anansi. [Note]
99. The Water Crayfish. [Note]
100. Ali Baba and Kissem. [Note]
101. Bull-of all-the-Land. [Note] [Music: Return To Me, Bull-of-all-the-Land]
102. The Boiling Pot. [Note]
103. The Twelve One-eyed Men. [Note]
104. Bird and Hunter. [Note]
105. Jack and the Devil Errant. [Note]
106. The Magic Hat and the Staff of Life. [Note]
107. Uncle Green and Jack. [Note]
108. Big Begum and Little Begum. [Note]
109. The Fool and the Wise Brother. [Note]
110. The Children and the Witch. [Note]
111. The Boy and the Mermaid. [Note]
112. Difficult Tasks. [Note]
113. The Grateful Beasts. [Note]
114. Jack and the Bean-stalk. [Note]
115. Jack and the Devil. [Note]
116. Jack's Riddle. [Note]
117. Jack as Fortune-teller. [Note]
118. Robin as Fortune-teller. [Note]
119. Jack and the Grateful Dead. [Note]
120. The Boy and his Master. [Note]
121. The Language of Beasts. [Note]
122. The Three Pieces of Advice. [Note]
123. Three Brothers and the Life-tree. [Note]
124. The Skilful Brothers. [Note]
125. The Three Sillies. [Note]
126. A Misunderstanding. [Note]
127. Big-head, Big-belly, and Little-foot. [Note]
128. The Goat in the Lion's Den. [Note]
129. The Donkey, the Cat and the Lion's Head. [Note]
130. Clever Molly May. [Note]
131. Dancing to Anansi's Fiddle. [Note]
132. Anansi claims the dinner. [Note]
133. Anansi seeks his Fortune. [Note]
134. The Pannier-jar. [Note]
135. Anansi kills his Grandmother. [Note]
136. White Belly and Anansi. [Note]
137. Monkey hunts Anansi. [Note]
138. Anansi and the Pig coming from Market. [Note]
139. The Fifer. [Note] [Music: Minnie, Minnie]
140. In Come Murray. [Music: In Come Murray]
141. Tacoomah makes a Dance. [Note]
142. Anansi makes a Dance. [Note] [Music: Kelly Bambomba (1)] [Music: Kelly Bambomba (2)] [Music: Jump Shandelay] [Music: Timmo Limmo]
143. Red Yam. [Note] [Music: Red Yam (1)] [Music: Red Yam (2)] [Music: Tom Drunk]
144. Guzzah Man. [Music: Guzza Man (1)] [Music: Guzza Man (2)]
145. Fowl and Pretty Poll. [Note] [Music: Pretty Poll]
146. The Cumbolo. [Note] [Music: the Cumbolo]
147. John-crow and Fowl at Court.
148. Wooden Ping-ping and Cock.
149. Animal Talk. [Note]
Old-time Fools. [Note]
Duppy Stories. [Note]
Animal Jests. [Note]
Lies. [Note]
Philosophy. [Note]


Note 1. Tying Tiger.
Note 2. Tiger as Substitute.
Note 3. Tiger as Riding-Horse.
Note 4. Tiger's Sheep-skin Suit.
Note 5. Tiger Catching the Sheep-thief.
Note 6. Tiger's Breakfast.
Note 7. Eggs and Scorpions.
Note 8. Tiger's Bone-hole.
Note 9. The Christening.
Note 10. Eating Tiger's Guts.
Note 11. Throwing away Knives.
Note 12. Grace before Meat.
Note 13. Seeing Trouble.
Note 14. New Names.
Note 15. Long Shirt.
Note 16. Shut up in the Pot.
Note 17. House in the Air.
Note 18. Goat on the Hill-side.
Note 19. Dog and Dog-head.
Note 20. Tacoomah's Corn-piece.
Note 21. Anansi and the Tar Baby.
Note 22. Inside the Cow.
Note 23. Cunnie-more-than-Father.
Note 24. The Duckano Tree.
Note 25. Food and Cudgel.
Note 26. The Riddle.
Note 27. Anansi and Brother Dead.
Note 28. Brother Dead and the Brindle Puppy.
Note 29. The Cowitch and Mr. Foolman.
Note 30. Dry-Head and Anansi.
Note 31. The Yam-hills.
Note 32. The Law against Back-biting.
Note 33. Fling-a-mile.
Note 34. But-but and Anansi.
Note 35. Tumble-bug and Anansi.
Note 36. Horse and Anansi.
Note 37. Anansi in Monkey Country.
Note 38. Curing the Sick.
Note 39. Anansi, White-belly and Fish.
Note 40. Goat's Escape.
Note 41. Turtle's Escape.
Note 42. Fire and Anansi.
Note 43. Quit-quit and Anansi.
Note 44. Spider Marries Monkey's Daughter.
Note 45. The Chain of Victims
Note 46. Why Tumble-bug Rolls in the Dung.
Note 47. Why John-crow has a Bald Head.
Note 48. Why Dog is always Looking.
Note 49. Why Rocks at the River are covered with Moss.
Note 50. Why Ground-dove Complains.
Note 51. Why Hog is always Grunting.
Note 52. Why Toad Croaks.
Note 53. Why Woodpecker Bores Wood.
Note 54. Why Crab is afraid after Dark.
Note 55. Why Mice are no Bigger.
Note 56. Rat's Wedding.
Note 57. Cockroach Stories.
Note 58. Hunter, Guinea-hen and Fish.
Note 59. Rabbit Stories.
Note 60. The Animal Race.
Note 61. The Fasting Trial.
Note 62. Man is Stronger.
Note 63. The Pea that made a Fortune.
Note 64. Settling the Father's Debt.
Note 65. Mr. Lenaman's Corn-field.
Note 66. Simon Tootoos.
Note 67. The Tree-wife.
Note 68. Sammy the Comferee.
Note 69. Grandy Do-an'-do.
Note 70. Jack and Harry.
Note 71. Pea-fowl as Messenger.
Note 72. The Barking Puppy.
Note 73. The Singing Bird.
Note 74. Two Sisters.
Note 75. Assonah.
Note 76. The Greedy Child.
Note 77. Alimoty and Aliminty.
Note 78. The Fish Lover.
Note 79. Juggin Straw Blue.
Note 80. The Witch and the Grain of Peas.
Note 81. The Witch at Bosen Corner.
Note 82. The Witch and the Three Dogs.
Note 83. Andrew and his Sisters.
Note 84. The Hunter.
Note 85. Man-Snake as Bridegroom.
Note 86. The Girls who married the Devil.
Note 87. Bull as Bridegroom.
Note 88. The Two Bulls.
Note 89. Ballinder Bull.
Note 90. Bird Arinto.
Note 91. Tiger softens his Voice.
Note 92. and 93. Hidden Names; Anansi and Mr. Able.
Note 94. The King's Three Daughters.
Note 95. The Dumb Child.
Note 96. The Dumb Wife.
Note 97. Leap, Timber, Leap.
Note 98. The Boy fools Anansi.
Note 99. The Water Cray fish.
Note 100. Ali Baba and Kissem.
Note 101. Bull-of-all-the-land.
Note 102. The Boiling Pot.
Note 103. The Twelve One-eyed Men.
Note 104. Bird and Hunter.
Note 105. Jack and the Devil Errant.
Note 106. The Magic Hat and the Staff of Life.
Note 107. Uncle Green and Jack.
Note 108. Big Begum and Little Begum.
Note 109. The Fool and the Wise Brother.
Note 110. The Children and the Witch.
Note 111. The Boy and the Mermaid.
Note 112. Difficult Tasks.
Note 113. The Grateful Beasts.
Note 114. Jack and the Bean-stalk.
Note 115. Jack and the Devil.
Note 116. Jack's Riddle.
Note 117. Jack as Fortune-teller.
Note 118. Robin as Fortune-teller.
Note 119. Jack and the Grateful Dead.
Note 120. The Boy and his Master.
Note 121. The Language of Beasts.
Note 122. The Three Pieces of Advice.
Note 123. The Brothers and the Life-tree.
Note 124. The Skillful Brothers.
Note 125. The Three Sillies.
Note 126. A Misunderstanding.
Note 127. Big-head, Big-belly and Little-foot.
Note 128/129. The Goat in the Lion's Den. / Donkey, Cat and the Lion's Head
Note 130. Clever Molly May.
Note 131. Dancing to Anansi's Fiddle.
Note 132. Anansi Claims the Dinner.
Note 133. Anansi seeks his Fortune.
Note 134. The Pannier Jar.
Note 135. Anansi kills his Grandmother.
Note 136. White-belly and Anansi.
Note 137. Monkey hunts Anansi.
Note 138. Anansi and the Pig.
Note 139. The Fifer.
Note 141. Tacoomah makes a Dance.
Note 142. Anansi makes a Dance.
Note 143. Red Yam.
Note 145. Fowl and Pretty Poll.
Note 146. The Cumbalo.
Note 149. Animal Talk.
Notes on Witticisms.
Supplementary Note 46. Why Tumble-bug Rolls in the Dung.
Supplementary Note 48. Why Dog is always Looking.
Supplementary Note 56. Rat's Wedding.
Supplementary Note 66. Simon Tootoos.
Supplementary Note 97. Leap, Timber, Leap.