Print Friendly, PDF & Email
A red clay pot shaped like a flower vase

Djenne clay pot from medieval West Africa

Long long ago people didn’t know anything. They didn’t know how to plant crops, or how to weave clothes, or how to make iron tools. And the god Nyame up in the sky had all the wisdom of the world. He kept all the wisdom stored up in a clay pot. One day Nyame gave the pot with all the wisdom in it to Anansi.

a tree with a long vine dangling down

Anansi climbed the tree.

Every time Anansi looked in the clay pot, he learned something new. It was so exciting! But greedy Anansi thought, “I will keep all this wisdom to myself. I don’t want to share it with everyone.” Anansi thought it would be a good idea to keep the pot with the wisdom safe at the top of a tall tree, where nobody else could get it. He braided some vines together into a rope and tied the rope to the clay pot. Then Anansi tied the rope around his waist, so the pot hung down in front of him, and he started to climb the tree.

But it was hard climbing the tree with the pot bumping him in the knees all the time. Anansi was beginning to be very annoyed and bruised and tired. All the time Anansi’s little son had been standing at the bottom of the tree watching. Suddenly Anansi’s son said, “But Dad, wouldn’t it be easier to climb if you tied the pot to your back instead?”

A smashed pot in little pieces on the ground

Thanks to opacity on Flickr

Anansi tried tying the clay pot full of wisdom to his back, and it really was a lot easier. In no time he reached the top of the tree. But then he stopped and thought. “I’m supposed to be the one with all the wisdom, and here this little kid was smarter than me!” Anansi was so angry about this that he threw the clay pot down out of the tree. It smashed into pieces on the ground. Of course all the wisdom got out and flew away all over the world. That is how people learned to farm, and to make clothes, and to make iron, and all the other things that people know how to do.

More stories about Anansi
Greek story about getting fire from Prometheus

Bibliography and further reading about African literature:

African languages and literature
Ancient Africa home