As much as this might be a bit controversial, (which is not the aim of this) it’s a fair question to ask since the Ananse is famous for being a trickster. Tricksters, in many mythologies, are characters who tend to exhibit a great degree of intellect and use it to play tricks or otherwise disobey normal rules and conventional behavior.
They are usually portrayed as troublemakers who rely on their wit and smarts for selfish gain or heroes who rely on their wit and smarts to save the day. Ananse I feel is a special case that needs to be explored mainly because he’s not just any trickster, he’s a folk hero in many Ghanaian stories and I feel that his exploits in a way do not make him heroic at all.
To set the ball rolling on this article, a folk hero (national hero) is a type of hero – real, fictional or mythological – with their name, personality, and deeds embedded in the popular consciousness of a people, mentioned frequently in folk songs, folk tales, and other folklore; and with modern trope status in literature, art and films.
Pay mind to the emphasized part of that definition, it will be important for the point I’m trying to make. Since folk heroes mostly represent the people, they are often depicted in the most positive light with their stories often revolving around themes like honor, respect, honesty, hard work, valuing your fellow human, redemption and any other positive character trait aimed at ensuring members of the society adhere to an accepted positive standard of behavior.
Due to this, folk hero stories, much like superhero stories are told around the characters overcoming threats through hard work, feats of strength or superior intellect.
These acts are carried out selflessly and even if the heroic act was done with the intention of personal gain, the hero still ends up saving the community from some sort of immediate danger.
In every story the folk hero, even if flawed, is an individual who seeks to write a wrong carried out by some great power usually in the form of an evil deity or just an a**hole in a position of power.
You can see all these in many folklore tales across the world. This can even be seen in superhero stories mainly because superheroes are kind of the modern folk hero as well as a representation of the best in us.
They are ideal to aspire to both physically and morally. They do what is right regardless of the odds, regardless of what it costs, regardless of if they’re appreciated or hated for it, regardless of If the people deserve it.
Looking at this if most of you know the various stories and escapades of Ananse, can you honestly say he’s a hero? Why despite all his acts, which involve plain trickery, and dishonesty for sheer selfish gain, is he seen as a credible folk hero?
Granted other heroes from other folklore’s have exhibited flaws as well but in the case of Ananse, it’s so prevalent in a lot of his stories it’s practically a character trait.
This is what he’s famous for, he uses his wisdom mostly to trick and deceive for personal gain. This to me makes him the direct antithesis of what a hero is. He’s not known for exhibiting good moral ethics, he doesn’t put others before himself, he doesn’t do good for the sake of being good and only does them for the reward he will receive at the end and it seems he only ever learns a lesson when punished by some higher deity. And to add on to this, he never even gets a chance at redemption in these stories.
A point can be made that this is used to teach moral lessons to people in society and to that I have to ask, why? Why do we need a folk hero who acts in such a way and gets punished in order to teach a lesson?
Why can’t we just have a plain do good hero who does what is right in order to inspire us to do good because it’s the right thing to do and not because of fear of consequence?
One of the main aims of folklore stories from the definition is to impart knowledge and accepted behaviors in a society so what exactly does that say about us as a people when this is our folk hero?
What does it say about the things that we value, that we admire and respect? I mean, the fact he’s wise, highly intelligent and witty is positive proof that we as a society value these things. Then you realize that these things we value in our folk hero are mainly used in a slew of negative activities and it just makes me ask……..why?
I could go further into this by pointing out various stories that do not paint Ananse in a heroic light but in order to make this article brief, I’ll refrain from doing that. Bear in mind, I don’t hate the character, I have actually had no problem with him. My issue is mainly how a character with his traits ended up as our folk hero and what it says about us as a society culturally.