June 9, 2008

Anancy and Bullying: Reader Question

AnancyDear Geoffrey,

I just read your book
Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories, and found myself a little disturbed by the message. Could you explain what you intended that your readers should learn about bullying from this book? I am hoping that your explanation will help me understand your book better and appreciate the application of Anancy to everyday life.



I am hoping that Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories will be read by a parent and child together. I am also hoping that the parent and child will think about Kevin's bullying and ask questions like these:
How else could Jimmy have avoided/solved the conflict?

Was Jimmy "right" in doing what he did?

Anancy stories are about a smaller, weaker individual outsmarting a bigger/stronger individual and they typically fall within the area of Trickster tales in folk mythology. This is why I would like the book to be read by parents with children because the character of Anancy is basically amoral.

In other words, if Anancy stories are misread, they are dynamite. Within the West African tradition Anancy stories would have been told by an elder or a griot to school the untrained in the values of the community. The story would have been used to show the consequences of actions and in Jamaica (it's not included in the Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories), Anancy stories end with the disclaimer, "Jack Mandora me no choose none!" By repeating this refrain, the storyteller would remove herself from the actions within the story and claim a morally disinterested perspective. The claim was often far from the truth.
Anancy, as part of the cosmogony of the Akan people, represents the archetypal creative impulse that thrives on momentary chaos, drama, and disorder in the lives of the actors (sometimes he creates it), in order to achieve a resolution to a dialectical conflict and take the conversation to a higher level. Anancy's message is always clear:

Always outsmart/outwit the bully or overcome the situation that threatens you. You are greater than any situation or circumstance.

I want the children (and perhaps the grownups) to understand that there isn't any situation that our imagination cannot overcome and to every problem, there is a solution. We just have to use our mind, and this is why Anancy stories are always relevant.

We will also need intergenerational conversations so that the children will be able to figure out when it is appropriate to use their "Anancy powers." For like any other archetypal figure, Anancy does have a shadow, and just as Caregiver can become a "suffering martyr" and a Ruler can become a Tyrant, so too can Anancy become a "Shadow Fool."
So, Anancy's application to real life involves creative thinking and realizing that conflicts can be solved if we think "outside the box" and NOT locking ourselves into EITHER/OR mindsets. These are just a few of the values of Anancy stories.

Anancy as a creative problem solver and a figure in conflict resolution offers what Edward de Bono calls Alternatives, Possibilities, and Choices.

For the grownups, they could also think about Snake's role as the Ego that always wants "more, more, more" and Tiger as the archetypal Ruler who despite the fact that he appears "weak" still manages to keep his kingdom in order by "using" Anancy to bring about a resolution without resorting to violence.
Indeed, both Jimmy's story and Anancy's story could be read allegorically with Kevin, as the cause of the karmic disorder, who is removed from the setting, and Jimmy as the hero who restores order.

Take care and thank you for this great question!



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FSJL said...

Since when is Anansi part of Yoruba cosmogony? Anansi is part of the mythology/cosmogony of the Akan peoples.

Geoffrey Philp said...

You are right.. Akan!

FSJL said...

Jack Mandora, mi nuh choose none.