Uncle Spider

An African Folk Tale

The spider is the hero of many west African tales. Nobody knows why a spider, of all creatures, should be so honoured. Some say the spider represents a legendary warrior of ancient times, a man renowned for his cunning as well as for his valour; others say the spider is a solar symbol, perhaps because its legs radiate out from a central orb, like the rays of the sun. Here is a spider tale from northern Nigeria.

When Mother hyena was away, Anansis, the spider, went to her den and informed her cubs that he was their uncle, For-you-all.

"Wake me up when your mother brings food," he said and curling up in a corner, went to sleep. Presently Mother hyena came with meat which she gave to her cubs, saying: "This is for you all." The cubs woke up the spider and gave him the meat which he devoured. Mother hyena brought meat twice more, on each occasion saying, "This is for you all," while handing over the food to her cubs. Each time, the cubs dutifully woke up Anansis and gave him the meat.

In the evening when Mother hyena came home the cubs started crying for food.

"Still hungry after all the meat I gave you?" she asked, surprised.

"Uncle ate it all!" they wailed.The spider, realising that it was time to run, darted out of the cave and sprinted away.

"That's Uncle For-you-all!" shouted the cubs.

"Is he!" said their mother, grimly, and bounded after the spider. Anansis rushed into Dog's house and sat beside him.

"I've just finished eating," said the dog. "I've nothing to offer you."

"That's all right," said the spider, "I've already eaten. That's why I'm here."

The hyena came in just then.

"Which of you was the rascal I was chasing!" she demanded.

The spider pointed to the dog. "He has been running," he said. "See how he's panting with his tongue hanging out."

The hyena pounced on the dog who twisted away and jumped out of the window. The hyena followed him. The spider, knowing that it would be a long time before the dog got back, stretched out on his bed for a short snooze.