(a West African folktale)
One day a long time ago, the spider everyone knew as Anansi woke from a long, lazy afternoon nap to the smell of his wife’s cooking.
“Mmmm,” Anansi sniffed the air. His wife was a very good cook, and she had just made a delicious pot of stew. But just as Anansi was about to take a taste, another scent caught his nose.
He skittered outside on his little legs — in those days, Anansi’s legs were short, like a beetle’s. He sniffed the air, as he also liked to seek out other people’s food. He began to walk toward Rabbit’s house, where the scent was coming from.
“That’s it!” Anansi cried as he caught a whiff of the big pot of greens that Rabbit was stirring. “Rabbit, your food smells wonderful!”
Rabbit was glad to see Anansi, for she needed help — someone to sweep the floor and prepare everything for supper.
“Anansi, come on in and stay awhile and share our meal,” she said. But Anansi knew Rabbit. He knew she’d ask him to work, and Anansi did not like to work.
“I’d love to share your meal,” Anansi said, thinking fast — Anansi always had a trick in mind. “But I have to do some errands. How does this sound? I’ll spin a web and tie one end to your pot and the other end to one of my legs, and when it’s time to eat, you can just tug upon the web and I’ll come running!”
Rabbit thought about this for a moment, and she decided that would be just fine. When the pot was ready, she would tug the web. When Anansi came, he could help prepare the meal.
“Very well,” she said. So Anansi spun a web, tied one end to the pot and another to one leg, and off he ran as fast as his little legs would carry him.
You see, Anansi had smelled something else — beans! It was beans he smelled, and Anansi adored beans, so he followed the smell. Before long, he came to Monkey’s house, and sure enough, Monkey was cooking a great big pot of beans.
“What a wonderful smell!” Anansi crooned to Monkey.
Monkey, who was very proud, nodded and said, “They smell good, don’t they, Anansi? Why don’t you come in and we’ll all share a meal.”
While Anansi craved those beans, he was worried that Monkey would want him to dance or sing — or watch all the little Monkeys before the meal. Anansi did not like to Monkey-sit.
“I’d love to, but I have so many errands to run,” Anansi said. “How does this sound? I’ll spin a web and tie one end to your pot and one end to my leg, and when it’s time to eat, you just tug, and I’ll come running!”
So he spun a web and ran along, and soon he smelled sweet potatoes. “Ohmyohmyohmy,” Anansi squeaked as he sniffed that marvelous scent.
Before long, he came to Leopard’s house, where Leopard’s wife was stirring a big pot of sweet potatoes and honey.
“Yum yum,” Anansi said, “those sweet potatoes smell awfully good!”?
“You ought to join us for a meal,” Mrs. Leopard suggested. “We have plenty!”
But Anansi was shrewd, and he paused for thought. Leopard was forever trying to teach Anansi a lesson — surely he would ask him to work. And so, once again, Anansi suggested the web, and Mrs. Leopard thought that sounded fine.
Anansi spun a web and tied one end to the pot of sweet potatoes and the other end to one of his legs.
But as he was leaving, he remembered that Leopard was a tricky fellow. He might not pull the string. And so Anansi tied another part of the web to the sweet potato pot, and then another, and off he scurried to play the same game on several other animals while they prepared their evening meals.
Then Anansi ran down to the river to sunbathe for a while, and as he was resting — “after all,” he said, “spinning a web is not an easy thing, I need my rest!” — he suddenly felt a tug on one leg.
“Terrific!” Anansi sat up, and his mouth began to water. “I wonder whose pot is ready!”
But just as he was about to run, he felt another tug upon another leg, and soon after that he felt another, and another, and before he knew what was happening, he was being pulled in four directions at once.
“Oh my,” Anansi said — this was uncomfortable, you see. And then he felt a fifth tug, and a sixth, and a seventh and eighth, and Anansi was being pulled this way and that, that way and this.
The tugs became harder, and Anansi’s legs grew longer and thinner, longer and thinner.
“Oh me oh my!” Anansi said. “This will not do!”
And so he dived into the river and he splashed around until those webs had washed away, and he was free.
But ever since that day, Anansi’s legs became very long and very thin, and ever since that day, Anansi became much more careful about the tricks he played on his friends.