Saturday, January 30, 2016

Four Jamaican Anancy Stories That Include John Crow

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents four Anancy folk tales from Jamaica that include the character John Crow.

This is part of an ongoing pancocojams series on the folk character/symbol John Crow in Jamaica.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

Click for an overview of John Crow in Jamaica. Links to other pancocojams posts on this subject are included in that post.

"Anansi (/əˈnɑːnsi/ ə-NAHN-see) is an African folktale character. He often takes the shape of a spider and is considered to be the spirit of all knowledge of stories. He is also one of the most important characters of West African and Caribbean folklore.

He is also known as Ananse, Kwaku Ananse, and Anancy; and in the southern United States he has evolved into Aunt Nancy. He is a spider, but often acts and appears as a man.

The Anansi tales originated from the Ashanti people of present-day Ghana. The word Ananse is Akan and means "spider". They later spread to other Akan groups and then to the West Indies, Suriname, Sierra Leone (where they were introduced by Jamaican Maroons) and the Netherlands Antilles. On Curaçao, Aruba, and Bonaire he is known as Nanzi, and his wife as Shi Maria.

Anansi is depicted in many different ways. Sometimes he looks like an ordinary spider, sometimes he is a spider wearing clothes or with a human face and sometimes he looks much more like a human with spider elements, such as eight legs."

Quoting from Martha Warren Beckwith's now classic 1924 collection of Jamaican folklore entitled Jamaica Anansi Stories:
"The trickster Anansi, originally a West African spider-god...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."

John Crow is a character in numerous Jamaican Anancy stories. The stories in this post are given in no particular order. I've assigned the numbers for referencing purposes only. In these Anancy stories Anancy and John Crown are anthropomorphic characters (characters who act like humans). I don't recognize any negative attitudes toward John Crow that that bird has in Jamaica today.


1. & 2.
From Jamaica Anansi Stories by Martha Warren Beckwith
Animal Stories (Why John-crow has a Bald Head)
"47. Why John-crow has a Bald Head.
a. The Baptism.
Margaret Brown, St. Anne's Bay.

Anansi always has a grudge wid John-crow; he say whenever he make his nest, de Crow fly on it an' catch it up an' he never can make his nest, so he have a hatred for Crow. He say he was going to married and he was going to invite no one but Crow. An' he have a big dinner an' no one was at de table but Crow. So after de eat an' drink done, he said he was going to have a baptism but he don't baptize wid not'ing but boiling water. So after de water's boiling, he took it off an' order Crow to sit round de copper an' so he dip ev'ry one head into de water, an' dat why Crow have bald-head to-day.

b. The Dance.
Henry Spence, Bog, Westmoreland.

Anansi and John Crow had a ball one night, so dey fin' dinner de night fe all de dancer. John Crow a great 'tepper, can 'tep better'n Anansi. So as Anansi fin' John Crow can dance neater dan him, he get bex. So after de dinner de pop was hot, so he said to John Crow him mus' dance up to de pop. So jus' to get rid of John Crow de night, he got a ladle an' dash on John Crow wid de hot pop right up on de head, an' all John Crow head 'trip off. All de John Crow in dis worl' never have ne feder upon i' head heah; Anansi bu'n 'em off wid hot pop."

3. From Google Book Folklore from Contemporary Jamaicans
By Daryl Cumber Dance, (1985) page 22-23
"15. Bredda Anancy and Bredda John Crow
Once upon a time there was Bredda Anancy and Bredda John Crow. Bredda Anancy and Bredda John Crow were mouthin' each oder, said which one can stay the longest without eating, you know. Anyway, Bredda John Crow said he can stay longer than Bredda Anancy. Bredda Anancy say he can stay longer than Bredda John Crow. So they both get together got two rooms. Bredda John Crow went into one room, and Bredda Anancy went into the oder. Bredda John Crow, everytime he would go inside he would call out "Bredda Anancy, are you there?" Bredda Anancy say "Yes". Bredda John Crow said "Yes, I am here still."

Keep up for long time. They calling each other, they answering, answering Anyway, Bredda Anancy said to Bredda John Crow, "Bredda John Crow, I am tired to answer now, man. Gon' tek a nap of sleep, so anytime you call me, I no goin' bother say 'yes'. I now say 'pup'; that mean you know I am alive still. Right?". Bredda John Crow say 'yes'. Meanwhile Bredda Anancy get a goalie, pour a hole, and put some water in it. By this time Bredda Anancy waan' to go and look food because Bredda Anancy a man can't stand hungry, but he want to get food and outlast Bredda John Crow. Bredda Anancy put the water in the gourd, bore a hole, and get a piece of string and -and tie it upon on the ceiling. Meanwhile Bredda John Crow say "Bredda Anancy!" The water drop out of the gourd on the floor and say "pup!". So Bredda John Crow know say Bredda Anancy is still around. That time Bredda Anancy gone to get food. Bredda John Crow call Bredda Anancy hear "pup". Anyway bredda Anancy go out and look for food for a long while, full him belly and him come back. Him come, him say "Bredda John Crow!" "Bredda John Crow!" Him don't hear no sound. Him say "Bredda John Crow, Bredda John Crow are you there still?" [Pause] he hear no sound. Bredda Anancy go round and bus' down the door and go inside. When he look, Bredda John Crow stone dead. So him take a stock. Bredda John Crow only have one tripe, only wha could a las' him for a day. That's why we know say John crow only have one tripe. Yeah, one tripe Bredda John Crow have, man.

[Notes from that book] Collected in Kingston, 1978
See K81.4 "Contest; Who will eat least", in Baughman, Type and Motif Index
"Bredda" = brother
This folk tale is an example of a story that may not make sense to people unless they live in that culture and know the folk saying that the story is meant to explain. gives these definitions for the word "tripe"
: the stomach of an animal (such as a cow or ox) that is eaten as food
: something that is worthless, unimportant, or of poor quality
-end of definition-
Could the folk saying "John Crow only have one tripe" be a play on the first and the second definition of that word? Does it mean that a John Crow type person is only given one chance to do something dumb?

4. [My summary of this folktale: Anancy is hungry, but instead of working, he tricks others so they will fall down dead and he will eat them. So he makes a law that no one can talk to anyone else and then he starts digging at a rock. When one by one the characters ask Anancy what he is doing, they fall down dead and Anancy eats them. But Anancy is tricked by John Crow and ends up dying himself.]

Quoted portion from
"Once up on a time Bra Anansi mek a law that no body in the country should chat one anada. If dem chat people dem go drop down dead. So one day hungry bite him and him nuh know what to do so him tek up him pickax and drill an went up on a high stony hill...

Again craving Anansi gone back pon de same rock gone wait fi somebody else fi come along. But Pa John (John Crow) a fly round and him see what Bra Anansi was doing so him ketch the rake (saw what Anansi was up to). Anyway Pa John say to himself well mi a go see what Anansi getting off a dah rock de so. So him fly down wit him walking stick and slam it against the rock.
BOW! BOW! BOW! (Loudly)

“Mawnin Bra Nansi.”

“Mawnin Pa John.”

But before Bra Anansi could say anything else is Pa John dat (speaking very sternly and quickly):
“I jus seein what I can get off here fe de comin year.”

Pa John:
“Anyway Bra Nansi I goin down to de barber to get a trim, so I will see yu.”

An Pa John fly off and gawn around de corna, an Bra Anansi look up an say to himself:
“Masha Gawd shee an know shee mi no talk people business, but. Wha Pa John ave pon fi im ead fi trim off?”

An Bra Anansi drop down an dead. Pa John did expect it. Im neva talk so him turn back and see Bra Anansi stiff dead so im eat im up an all de other people dat Anansi did et before.

Jack Mandora mi nuh choose none."
The sentence "Jack Mandora mi nuh choose none" is used at the end of a number of Jamaican folkltales. Click for theories about the meaning of that sentence.
I don't know when this folk tale was collected.

"Bra" = "brother". Notice that in this story John Crow is given the title "Pa" (Pastor).

The author of the web page indicates that one of the traditional endings for Jamaican stories "Jack Mandora mi nuh choose none." (Jack Mandora I did not choose any) means "I have told it the way I received it; used when recounting a story"

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