CREATIVE SPACE #4 of 2022 (uploaded February 16th 2022)
CREATIVE SPACE is an award-winning series spotlighting local (Antiguan and Barbudan/Caribbean) art and culture. As a brand, it dates back to 2009, published exclusively in LIAT’s inflight magazine. It was revamped in 2018 as a blog series and syndicated as of 2019 on Antiguanice.com. Its publishing partner, as of 2020, is the Daily Observer newspaper. It has its first print run in the paper every other Wednesday, with the online extended edition with EXTRAS running here on the blog and full interviews and extras on AntiguanWriter on YouTube. In 2021, the two–part CREATIVE SPACE mini-series on marine culture placed third in the OECS clean oceans journalists challenge. CREATIVE SPACE is created, owned, and written by Joanne C. Hillhouse – Antiguan-Barbudan/Caribbean author, journalist, producer, and freelance writer, editor, and trainer.
Here’s a link to the issue as it appeared in the Daily Observer newspaper on February 16th 2022:
Below is the extended online edition (not a duplicate of the edition with publishing partner Observer Media) with EXTRAS.
CREATIVE SPACE #4 OF 2022 – RE-IMAGINING ANANSI
Anansi, the Spider, is an indelible part of African-Caribbean folklore. Anansi means spider in the Twi language of the Asante and, among the Asante, symbolizes wisdom. There are variations on Anansi’s origin in what has been passed on to us of the Asante belief system, one being that he (he’s traditionally presented as a he) is a deity (Anansi Koroko, God or literally the Great Spider). Our post-Colonial Judeo-Christian sensibilities may balk at this but we can all agree, I believe, that he is largely the source of the non-European stories we grew up on – Anansi Stories. Stories with enduring appeal even in a world of largely American cultural dominance through its exports of TV, film, books, and music. And we have been playing with Anansi imaginatively – crafting our own tales of his cunning and sometimes comeuppance – ever since we understood that we too could pung story.
Some examples just off the top of my head. My book Musical Youth in which the characters stage American writer of Antiguan descent Ashley Bryan’s The Dancing Granny, in which Anansi lives up to his trickster reputation, distracting granny to steal the food she grows. Bryan’s Granny has also since been staged in real life. Another Anansi staging that comes to mind is one in 2005 by Kanika Simpson-Davis’ Stage One youth theatre on how Anansi tricked Tiger in to giving him the stories by trapping Snake (just one version of how Tiger lost the privilege of authorship). Jamaican Philip Sherlock was not the first to document Anansi (Jamaican expat Walter Jedkyll published Jamaican Song and Story: Anancy Stories, Digging Sings, Ring Tunes, and Dancing Tunes in 1907) but his books (beginning with 1954’s Anansi the Spider Man and including the popular Illustrated Anansi in circulation to this day) are perhaps the definitive gathering of Anansi and by extension Caribbean folklore. There is, of course, Anansi in the oral tradition popularized by the likes of Ms. Lou, Louise Bennet (author of Anancy Stories and Dialect Verse), in Jamaica, and various island folklorists. More recently Guyanese author Imam Baksh’s teen/YA novel Children of the Spider finds the spider in a modern urban setting in the body of a woman. Taking Anansi stories and making them our own is almost a rite of passage for the Caribbean writer, from King Obstinate’s calypso ‘Children’ Melee’ which ends with a tale of Anansi borrowing feathers from birds to take a trip to the moon to Turtle Beach author Barbara Arrindell’s spin on ‘How Snake Stories became Anansi Stories’, published in Womaspeak Journal, Vol. 7, in which it was Mrs. Anansi who hatched the plan and insisted on sharing the credit.
Sharing credit while transforming Anansi seems a fitting description for swimmer and rower Christal Clashing’s Yemoja’s Anansi, a collaborative photo-illustrated book project with make-up artist and art director Arati Jagdeo and Rio of Stella Photography. “It was really nice to let people be their creative selves, working together, without putting any restrictions on them and just working collaboratively,” Christal said. “That was a very eye opening process and a very empowering process.” In fact, she said she looks forward to more creative collaborations and more exploration of this world she’s building of which Yemoja’s Anansi is only the origin. It began with 12 unworn dresses. “The dresses came, the story came in spurts… I was shooting these images even before I had completed the story, so as I was writing the book, the images were being shot, so it was a bit of interplay within knowing what the story was ahead of time and then using the dress to tell the story and sometimes it was the dress that pushed the story along.”
“This is the first image we shot. We shot this at Half Moon Bay and this was supposed to embody just light and sand and turqouise waters, and just playfulness and joy, like there was supposed to be an innocence to it because this is where you meet the Yemoja character and so this was really just about having fun and just playing with my body and the dress under the water and trying to imagine what Yemoja wuld have felt just being in clear chrystal blue waters.”
It is its own new myth with its casting of Anansi as a young girl from an African village raided during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and water goddess Yemoja as characters, the latter gifting the former transmogrification as a means of surviving her capture. “It’s an Anansi tale, I dig it” I noted about 15 pages into reading. I am a sucker for an Anansi story and an Anansi re-imagining. While some of the images struck me as more of a fashion shoot and I found myself uncertain at times if the character being modelled by Christal was meant to be Anansi or Yemoja, which Christal said was intentional, I liked the story overall, especially when it found its most visual expression (“the locs appeared like multiple arms around her face”).
“This one has tear drops, we kind of created some tears with my make-up artist Arati Jagdeo, and it was supposed to represent the loss Anansi was feeling after bording the slave ships and realizing that her people, and her family, all she knew was gone.”
I thought the images on pages 6, 18, 20, 22, and 24 in particular were beautifully lit and magically realized.
The book works as an assertion that fear of water was not our original state but the state imposed on us by history, and a reclamation of our relationship with Africa.
“It was just a way for me to make sense of what I was doing with my work, and (I) got influenced by different stories of Western Africa and the goddeses, the water deities there,” Christal said. “Anansi is a part of our culture and the Anansi stories have come from West Africa, and I found that that was important to me given the fact that a few years ago I did the crossing, crossed the Atlantic from off the coast of Africa with Team Antigua Island Girls and it made an impact on me in ways I didn’t realize…it felt a natural fit to my own experiences to have something that mirrored that crossing. It’s also a way to connect Caribbean culture to African culture.”
Video highlights of my interview with Christal Clashing.
About Christal Clashing: Christal was featured in the first part of the award winning CREATIVE SPACE mini-series on marine culture. You can read all about her there for the most part, though I should add that since then, in addition to this project she has announced that her rowing crew Team Antigua Island Girls, which became the first all-Black, all-female team to row any ocean when they rowed the Atlantic, 2018-2019, will be undertaking a Pacific Ocean row. She began writing in 2016 – travel and adventure initially and more recently tech and culture, and now this creative project. More on Christal and her projects at her website.
Trailer for staging of Ashley Bryan’s The Dancing Granny. RIP to Bryan who died February 2022.
Some of the Anansi meaning in this article can be credited to Emily Zobel Marshall’s 2007 article ‘Liminal Anansi: Symbol of Order and Chaos: An Exploration of Anansi’s Roots Among the Asante of Ghana’ in Caribbean Quarterly. The article looks at Anansi as a complex part of the Caribbean cultural tapestry, who was born in West Africa and reflected key elements of Asante thought and culture. It references his chaotic nature and how he came to symbolize the struggles of enslaved Black people working to overturn the system.
Ms Lou, courtesy the National Library of Jamaica.
This version of Mrs. Anansi was a Wadadli Pen Challenge art winner by Garvin Jeffrey Benjamin in 2013.
Two bloggers with lists of children’s books featuring Anansi as a character.
Spider Stories: Caribbean Children’s Books Featuring Anancy/Anansi/Ananse.
Anansi isn’t just a Caribbean or Caribbean diaspora thing anymore. Who can forget the best scene from the TV adaptation of English author Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
And it’s been reported that Gaiman’s Anansi Boys, based on his first bestselling book, about the adventures of the dead African deity and his two sons, is to become an Amazon Prime series. This is being developed in collaboration with Jamaica-descended Black Brit Lenny Henry.
While the expanding appeal of Anansi is good to see, we may need to take some tips on branding from the trickster spider
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