Summary of Ananse by Kamau Brathwaite


Ananse is a trickster spider (which often pranks and even takes human shapes) which is one of the primary characters in West African and Caribbean folklore. The poem has been divided into two parts.

  • In the first part, Ananse thinks and memorizes the native culture of his country which once existed but has been lost now.
  • In the second part, Ananse weaves and recreates the lost culture by binding past stories, cultures, words, songs of Africa and thus like God, he brings the dead African culture to life.

In every stanza, Ananse changes its form and presents something different.


Part 1

In part 1 of the poem, the poet says that Ananse, the trickster spider is thinking with his eyes open while sitting in the periphery.

The memories of the past culture and past myths are in his mind like pupa of butterfly i.e. the memories are in their lifeless state in the “dark space” or in other words buried deep inside the mind and he is thinking about them.

He observes the forgotten and submerged ancient histories, past stories of ghosts, myths, Caribbean identity, and culture. He memorizes folklores, songs, music, and carnivals (festivals) of villages which have also been forgotten by the people.

A number of men in the villages have heard him. He inspires them to take action. The dead traditions have no “glamour of noon” or influence on the present man. However, the tradition is not totally dead and unknown but are in hibernation. Ananse is recognizing these dead myths, folks etc.

Part 2

Having thought about the past of his dead culture, Ananse shifts to a corner of the ceiling where no broom can reach him. This shifting probably means shifting back to the past culture where colonialism cannot harm him or his thinking.

Having shifted to the corner, he prepares to recreate the past culture which has been destroyed now. The poet compares this creation from destruction (“dust, desert’s rainfall of soot”) to the rise of Adam on earth after his fall from Heaven (“a new fall from heaven”).

Ananse starts weaving the past (threading the moon moonlight stories) and conspires to create things. By his weaving of the past, the tradition and the culture which was dead is rising again and coming to the surface.

Thus the shadow (which was in the mind of Ananse) is turning into reality (i.e. coming into existence). The histories, stories, ghosts, beliefs, rituals, myths, language, accent, thinking of past culture, which were mere shadows have emerged now and thus the past culture has come to life again.

Ananse as the creator of this culture thus becomes God who brings African identity having “black beating heart” which every African can adopt having the language of every African.

Ananse is the word-breaker (rules of colonial language) by which he becomes creator and maker of a definite identity and culture for the people of Africa.


In this poem, the poet has tried to challenge the canons of language set by colonialists. He challenges these rules by breaking away from them.

He believes that the culture which had been destructed by the colonial powers can be regained only by rejecting the rules of language set by colonialists.

The very title of the poem “Ananse” depicts this deviation. The correct spelling of this word in British English is “Anansi”. However, the poet deliberately chooses the word “Ananse” to show his revolt.

In the English language, the literature is always in written form and is meant to be read, however here in this poem, we find the concept of “Orature” or oral literature which can only be understood by listening to it.

The past culture of Africa had their literature in oral form which was meant to be heard. This concept does exist in this poem. The meaning of the poem lies in the sound of the poem or in other words form of the poem gives its meaning.

This is on contrary to English literature which is in written form and is meant to be read in order to get the meaning. Thus the poet is actually referring to the importance of Orature.

The break away from the set rules can be found in the poem. e.g. poet deliberately uses the term “hun-ger” instead of “hunger”. Again he uses the word “iron-eye’d” instead of “ironied”.

The use of Ananse as the narrator, creator, and breaker signify the power of an African, who can recreate his culture, reject the colonial culture and rise to the status of God (of Colonialists). Thus we find a revolt against the domination of culture (of Colonialists) through the use of language in the poem.