An Anansi story

in Jamaican Creole

Told June 1958 by Mr. J.D. Lewis, an elderly man of Belmont in Portland JA, to David DeCamp

Recorded by David DeCamp (4A-9:45-11:05, Reel 14a).  Transcribed May 25, 1995 by Peter Patrick

Anansi stories are a traditional form of entertainment and moral instruction in Jamaica – a genre of trickster tales whose lineage in West Africa is well-known. Anansi the spider embodies a set of core values which Jamaicans both respect and scorn, including intelligence and guile, greed and pride, curiosity and patience. He is very crafty, and often fools others by playing dumb; at other times, by trying to be too smart, he makes a fool out of himself. He's also a terrible glutton and will eat anything that moves. In this story he encounters Sister Guinea-hen, a type of fowl who, as a bird of the air, is more intelligent and nobler than Anansi (and is destined to foil him or win out). It helps to know that this is a story about foolishness, and meddling. To 'Fass' is to meddle, to involve yourself in someone else's business; this is bad, of course, but Jamaicans (like other people) love to do it and often find the temptation irresistible.

Characters in Anansi stories are core vernacular figures, exemplars of folk culture, who speak in a consistently basilectal way. Several of the clauses that introduce quoted speech, on the other hand, show fairly standard English grammar. The framing of the story-telling – a performance being tape-recorded by a white American man from the University – inclines the teller to draw on formal and formulaic elements in his most standard guise, as in the coda (though not the moral). The juxtaposition of standard introduction followed by creole speech, standard coda followed by creole moral, creates a pleasing contrast.

The story, which takes 1 minute 30 seconds, was recorded by the late David DeCamp – creolist, dialectologist and variationist – in 1958 in the hills of Portland parish, in the eastern part of the island. The tapes were made available to me by Ian Hancock. My transcription is not intended to be strictly phonemic. Please feel free to reproduce this material for educational use, but please credit the speaker and the linguists who worked on it. For more information on Anansi stories, see Laura Tanna’s indispensable work, Jamaican Folk Tales and Oral Histories (1993, 2nd ed. Kingston Ja: Institute of Jamaica Publications).

 

Glossary:

Fass:   to meddle, interfere, intrude

Dry-head:       balding (insulting to a woman)

Met:     public assembly, church, revival, fair

Pickney:          child, children (<Port. pequenino)

Mek groun’:     to till soil, farm, grow crops

For more info, see the Dictionary of Jamaican English (1980, ed. F.G. Cassidy and R. B. Le Page, Cambridge UP)

and my 1995 article “Recent Jamaican words” in American Speech (70:3, pp227-264) [sample, see mek grong]

  

Anansi Mek Grong

1. Let me tell you some’pn bout Bredda Anansi.

Mek mi tel yu som?m boot Breda Anansi.

Him is a very smart man, you know!

Im iz a veri smaat man yu noo

I goin’ tell what happen to him to the end.

 

A gwain tel wa hapm to him tu di en

4. Now him form a law in him country once

Noo in faam a laa ina in konchri wans

that everybody that fass in another one business

dat evribadi dat faas in anada wan biznis

mus’ get hurt. But accordin’ to him,

mos get hort . Bot akaadin tu im

him supposed to get them fi eat.

him sapuos tu get dem fi iit

8. So him go up on a rock-top once

So him gu op an a rak tap wans

an say, well then, ‘im goin’ mek groun’,

an se wel den im gwain mek grong

because him know people mus’ fass with him.

 

bika im nuo piipl mos faas wid im

11. So while he was there workin’,

So wail ii woz deyr workin

as you pass on you say,

az yu paas aan yu se

"Hi! Bredda Anansi, wha’ you a do up there?"

Ai Breda Anansi wa yu a du op de

Hear: "Me nah do somet’ing an see if me can

Iyr mi naa du somting an se ef mi kyan

get anyt’ing out a it fi me wife an’ pickney them?"

get eniting oot a it fi mi waif an pikni dem

16. An’ by the time you reach roun’ the corner

An bai i taim yu riich roon di kaana

Hear them say, "But what a foolish man!

Yeyr dem se, Bot wat a fuulish man

That man can work up on black rocktop like that?"

Dat man kyan wok op an blak raktap laik dat

By your say-so, thru you fass you drop down dead.

Bai yu seso chru yu faas yu jrap doon ded

Bredda Anansi come down an’ eat you.

 

Breda Anansi kom dong an iit yu

21. Well, him carry on fi a while same way until

Wel im kyari aan fi a wail siem wie antil

Sista Guinea-hen hear bout ‘im an plan fi ‘im.

Sista Gini En hiyr boot im an plan fi im

An’ one day when she come now--

An wan die wen shi kom nou--

She’s a very dry-head woman you know--

Shiiz a veri drai ed wuman yu nuo--

25. and thru Anansi see ‘im come,

An chru Anansi sii m kom

when ‘im come, instead of she fass with ‘im,

wen im kom insted a shi faas wid im

him firs fass with her. An’ him say, ‘im say,

him fors faas wid ar . An im se im se

"Sista Guinea-hen, where you a go?"

Sista Gini En we yu a go

Sista Guinea-hen say, "Me nah go a met?"

Sista Gini En se, mi naa ga a met

30. Well, after she a go a met, she gone.

 

Wel afta shi a ga a met shi gaan

By she reach round the corner,

Bai shi riich roon di kaana

him forget the law. Him say, "Eh!

hin figet di laa . hin se ee

A whe’ that-there dry-head something a go?"

A we dat de drai ed sinting a go

Him can’ go a met, too? Same time

Im kyaan ga a met tu . siem taim

Bredda Anansi drop off o’ the rock an come down.

Breda Anansi jrap aaf a di rak an kom dong

Sista Guineahen jus' come back come pick him up

 

Sista Gini En jos kom bak kom pik im op

37. And that was the end of Bredda Anansi.

An dat was di hen av Breda Anansi

Him too smart. 

him tuu smaat

Peter L. Patrick's homepage

More Jamaican texts

Last updated 14 March 2005