(a West African folktale)
Once upon a time long ago, before Anansi was known far and wide for his tricks, he and his wife, Aso, visited her family’s house. The family was giving a party for Anansi and Aso to celebrate the fine springtime weather.
Anansi was proud of himself, and he wished to show himself off. “Let us dress in our finest clothes,” he said to Aso, and she agreed. She loved to wear her pretty dresses and her gaily colored headscarf. Anansi dressed in his finest clothes, and he wore a hat, too — a nice, tall one.
“I think I look important in this hat,” he said to Aso, and she agreed.
So off they set to her parents’ house, and when they walked in, all the guests turned and smiled and gasped. They were impressed, indeed. No one had seen a hat like Anansi’s, and so all evening long he walked around the room, showing off his hat, his pipe and his fancy trousers and bragging about how well he was doing.
Anansi was proud of his wealth, and he wanted everyone to admire him.
But Anansi was also greedy and hungry, and he walked to the table spread with fine food, ready to fill his plate as full as he could.
There it was — a feast fit for kings — lemon soup and curried corn, sosaties and chilies, guinea fowl eggs and fufu and jollof rice, baked yams and boiled sweet potatoes and roasted cassava. There were stews of every sort — goat and lamb and fish — and breads and spiced butter and palm wine. Anansi ate and ate until his stomach was so full, he couldn’t eat another bite.
But something was wrong. Anansi scratched his head. “Where are the beans?” he whispered to Aso. You see, Anansi loved hot beans more than anything else in the world.
“I don’t see them,” Aso whispered, “but there’s plenty of other food to eat, my dear.”
Anansi ate another helping of fish stew and another yam, and still he craved those nice hot beans.
Then he began to wonder. His father-in-law knew he loved hot beans. Why would he neglect to serve them? Perhaps he was hiding those beans. Anansi sniffed the air.
He sniffed again.
“Excuse me,” he said to his father-in-law, “but do you mind if I step outside to catch a breath of air?”
“Of course not,” his father-in-law said.
But this was a trick. He had no intention of walking outside; he just wanted to sneak into the kitchen and the way outside was through the kitchen.
Off he walked, and sure enough, he caught a whiff of something — “Yes!” he said under his breath. There was the pot of beans boiling on the stove.
“He’s hiding them from me,” Anansi said to himself. “How dare he try to keep me from the beans!”
Actually, his mother-in-law had just forgotten to serve them.
And so, checking to make sure no one was watching, Anansi found a satchel and filled it with spoonful after spoonful of beans. When the bag was full, he placed it on his head and covered it up with his hat.
Anansi, with those beans buried beneath his hat, walked quickly back into the party. “Aso,” he said to his wife, “I think it’s time for us to leave.”
“But Anansi, this party is in our honor,” Aso argued. Just then her father announced to everyone, “I wish to make a speech, please. Everyone gather round.”
Anansi’s father-in-law began to talk. “I want to say how proud I am of my fine son-in-law, Anansi. He is good to my daughter, and he is good to me and to my wife, and we wish everyone to know how fortunate we feel to have such a fine son-in-law.”
“That’s nice,” Anansi said, but his head was sweating, for those beans were hot. “Thank you, and now we’ll leave,” he said.
But his father-in-law waved a hand. “Not yet, don’t leave! I have so many things to say,” and everyone began to clap their hands.
“More, more!” they cried to the father-in-law.
By now Anansi was really worried, for those beans were burning his head, and sweat began to pour down his face.
“Thank you!” Anansi cried. “But you’ve already said more than enough.”
“Never,” said his father-in-law. “There aren’t enough fine words in the language for praising my fine son-in-law.”
“More, more!” everyone cried.
But now Anansi was in serious pain, and so he tried to lift his hat a little bit to let in some air, and when he did, those beans spilled out of the bag and poured down his head, onto his handsome trousers and his fine linen shirt and down to his sandals.
“What’s this?” his father-in-law cried at the sight. “Are you a thief?”
“Thief, thief!” everyone cried, and Anansi ran out the door, with his wife following him.
“Anansi’s a thief!” everyone cried again.
And ever since that day, Anansi’s head has been bald — a symbol of his greed.