Anancy and the Turtle: Thunder Bay author shares popular African folktale in new children’s book

A folktale, shared for centuries by West Africans and passed down as a story of hope by their descendants, many of whom were enslaved and transported around the world, is retold by a Thunder Bay, Ont., author in her new children’s book.

Anancy and the Turtle tells the story of what happens when a mischievous spider decides to go fishing, but catches a turtle instead, explained Annette Pateman, noting the tiny, eight-legged creature has a few surprises of his own.

“He is a trickster character,” and “a bit godlike” said Pateman. “Anancy is often depicted as a spider, but he’s also often depicted as a man… So, a spider-man, but not like the Spiderman of Marvel.”

Pateman remembers hearing the stories as a child growing up in Jamaica.

“My dad told a lot of Anancy stories. He was a great oral storyteller, and this was the one that came to mind when I sat down to write an Anancy story and I did it really in memory of my father,” she said of her father, who died in 2015.

Anancy and the Turtle is the latest book by Thunder Bay, Ont., author Annette Pateman. She says stories about Anancy, who is a spider but also a trickster, are common in Jamaica, where she grew up. Pateman says Anancy stories originated in West Africa and enslaved people in the Caribbean continued to share the stories as a source of comfort and hope. (Annette Pateman)

With a grant from the Ontario Arts Council, Pateman began to investigate the folklore and myths common in West Africa. She discovered that the Anancy stories likely originated in Ghana, which served as one of the main centres of the transatlantic slave trade. Over the centuries, millions of captives were held in dungeons along the coast before being shipped to the Americas and the Caribbean.

The enslaved Africans brought their stories across the ocean, and as they laboured on plantations and in fields, continued to share them as a source of comfort, Pateman believes.

She feels the Anancy tales, in particular, persisted because “they tell a story of endurance and survival.”

“In Anancy stories, this small spider creature tends to overcome and outwit these larger animals,” such as lions, tigers, elephants and even turtles.

‘Gave enslaved Africans hope’

“So in telling these stories, where something weak, something smaller, something without much power could overcome a more powerful system, it gave the enslaved Africans some hope.”

Pateman is now incorporating what she has learned about West African folklore and the Anancy stories in her anti-racism work with the City of Thunder Bay.

“I want Anancy, the book, to show people that there are different folktales, different folktales from around the world, different folktales from Africa and from the Caribbean. If that opens up that world, that’s a good thing and I think that is anti-racism.”

Anancy and the Turtle is available as a hardcover or e-book through Amazon.

You can hear the full interview with Annette Pateman on CBC’s Superior Morning here.

7:53Annette Pateman – Anancy and the Turtle

Anancy is a mischievous spider. One day he decides to go fishing, but what he catches isn’t a fish – it’s a turtle. What happens next is told in a new children’s book by Thunder Bay writer Annette Pateman. The book is called Anancy and The Turtle. It’s a retelling of a folktale that has its origins in West Africa. Pateman told the CBC’s Cathy Alex more about this tiny creature, who is much more than he seems. 7:53