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Friday, 20 March 2015

Maureen Green's 'Lightweight Heroes'

Spiders are remarkable creatures that have been around since the dawn of time. Their silk, stronger than titanium alloy, is able to flex without breaking. 35,000 different species of spiders create silk, but not all are web weavers. Some spin strands of silk and balloon travel. Ballooning spiders climb as high as they can on an object, stand on raised legs with their abdomen pointing upwards and then release several silk threads from their spinnerets into the air. Because each strand is polarised, these strands repel one another to form a triangular shaped parachute which carries them away on updrafts of winds even in the slightest of breezes.

In my research, to find and bring to attention the purpose of mythology, I have discovered spiders figure prominently in worldwide Mythology, Legends and Historical events. Timeless myths and legends are a magic mirror through which the hopes and fears of people from the earliest time may be viewed. Yet, eyes often cloud when I mention spiders and, "Can't stand spiders," permeates the air. This reaction may stem from the Christian belief that spiders represent human fragility and the enticement of evil.  But in many cultures, spiders are viewed as heroes. According to German folklore, Spider, recognizing the birth of Christ as glorious, spun silver and gold webs on trees. Throughout Africa, Spider is either a trickster or a great god. Japanese believe Spider Woman ensnares careless travellers, the Pueblo Nation of America that Spider Woman created the universe. The Greeks and Norse thought of spiders as weavers of peoples' fates.

From myths gleaned from the past, a number so old they were recounted before the advent of the written word, I have selected spider stories that show how spiders influenced mankind. The work, Lightweight Heroes, to be published this year, retells of ancient stories.

Here's a taste to whet the appetite.

The Story Bringer

African Story Retold


Long before writing was invented story telling became a lost art. Displeased with mankind, Nyame, the Sky God, took away the stories and locked them a box. Anansi, saddened by what he saw turned to his wife.

"Look, Aso, look at the people's faces. They work all day and are lost without their stories to tell at night."

"So, so sad," Aso said. "Many have tried to persuade Nyame to give them back, but he just laughs in their faces."

"People want to make sense of their world. They need their stories, Aso.  I'll go and ask father the free them."

"But… "

Anansi looked to the heavens. "Yes. I know it was he who turned me into a spider and banished me to Earth, but I have to do this."

Straight away he climbed to the highest point in the tree he called home, teased out a sticky thread and began to build a staircase to heaven. Higher and higher he inched to his former home in the sky. Finally he stood before his father.

A frown creasing his brow, Nyame looked down on his son. "I did not summon you. Why are you here?"

"I came to ask for the people's stories."

"What! You want the stories?"

His derisive laughter ringing throughout the heavens, the wind blew harder, feathery clouds scudded across the sky faster and the sun hid in thunderheads. "Many have tried to get them back but have failed. Why should I unlock the stories for you?"

"Without their story telling the people on Earth are sad. They work hard all day, have nothing to share at night and have no way of making sense of their world."

"And that is how they will stay."

 "What will it take, Father, for you to give back the stories?"

An expression of surprise flittered across Nyame's face. "You, you little thing. You could not pay the price."

"I may be small, but I am willing to do whatever it is you wish to win back the stories for the people."

"Whatever I wish?" A malevolent chuckle burst from Nyame's lips before he said, "you'll have to bring me four rare fierce animals."

No fear showing, Anansi looked his father in the eyes, "And they are?"

"A snake that swallows animals whole. A leopard with sharp teeth like spears. A hornet that stings people and Mmoatia, the invisible fairy. Bring all of these to me and I'll give you the stories."

"Then it shall be so."

His father's face broke into a broad smile and amidst raucous laughter that reverberated through heaven and Earth Anansi began to climb down wondering how he was to capture the creatures Nyame desired.

"Well?" Aso asked when he reached his web.

"Little change in father's mind, but he did set me a challenge."

His story told, he looked to Aso. "How I am going to do these things I cannot think."

Aso stroked one foreleg along the other while she thought. "The snake first. Take a good long thick branch and some strong vines to the river where the snake lives," then she whispered in Anansi's ear in case Nyame was listening.


Using magic powers retained when his father changed him into a spider Anansi grew to gigantic proportions. Armed with a stout branch he made his way to the river mumbling, "This one's longer than he is. No. It's not. Yes, it is. No, its not."

"Yoh there, Anansi," snake called as he emerged from the water. "What's all the mumbling?"

"Aso and I are arguing about how long you are."

Snake wound its way closer.

Anansi held out the branch. "She says you are longer than this. I think not."

"I'm a huge snake, much longer than that stick you hold. Here, put it next to me. I'll straighten out and you measure."

Anansi lay the branch on the ground and snake glided along its length.

"You've still got kinks," Anansi called. "I'll tie you along the branch and then we'll have a true measure."

"Right," snake said.

In a flash Anansi secured him with to the branch with vines and took him to heaven.

His face showing no emotion, "Leopard, hornet, the fairy. Where are they?" Nyame said as he looked along the length of the snake.

No further words forthcoming, Anansi rappelled back to Aso.

"Well," she again asked on his return.

"Father was not amused, he just said, leopard, hornets, the fairy. Where are they? How on earth do I capture a leopard?"

Aso thought for a while. "Go dig a big hole." She leaned in and whispered the rest of her plan in his ear.

Straight away, Anansi assumed a super size, dug then covered a deep hole with branches before returning home. Next morning a leopard lay in the pit.

"Here you must be tired from trying to get out," Anansi called as he lowered himself down. "Let me help you."

As soon as the leopard was close enough, he tied it to long sticks with his sticky thread and whisked him to heaven.

A stone-faced Nyame looked at the leopard and then to his son. "Two," was all that he said.

"I'll return," Anansi called from over his shoulder and slid down to Earth.

"The hornets and the invisible fairy, Aso, how do I capture them?" and listened intently to her plan.

Armed with a gourd full of water Anansi went to a tree where hornets buzzed around the hive entrance. He watched for a while before pouring water over the hive then he cut a leaf from a banana tree, held it over his head and poured the rest of the water over himself.

"Hey hornets," he called. "It is raining. Your hive is wet. Come shelter in my dry gourd."

The hornets busily shaking water from their wings abandoned the hive and flew into the gourd. As quick as a flash Anansi spun a web to seal the opening. The hornets captured, he looked to the West where he knew one of the Mmoatia who cared about people dwelt. The final task to complete he climbed to the top of the hornet's tree, launched and silken thread tracking behind, floated on the wind until he reached the Mmoatia tree.

"Mmoatia," he called.

"Who calls?"

"Anansi, son of Nyame."

Suddenly a small black, red and white creature less than thirty centimetre tall, its feet pointing backwards appeared. "What do you want?"

"Help. Help me get back the people's stories from my father."

"All who have tried have failed."

"Together we can succeed."

The fairy just stared, continued staring at Anansi until he added, "Father set me a challenge. He agreed to give the people back their stories if I complete four tasks. Three have been completed."

"And the last one is?"

"Bring him an invisible fairy."

"What!" The Mmoatia disappeared, reappeared in the highest branch of the tree and called, "You want me to…" as she slowly descended to stand in front of Anansi.

"Why me?"

"You care about the people. We could…"

The plan explained, the fairy blanked out for what seemed to Anansi, a life time before reappearing.

"Right then," she said. "Let's do it for the people"

Hornet nest held tightly, Anansi and the invisible fairy climbed to heaven.

The smile on Nyame's face disappeared when his son greeted him.

"The tasks are complete, father, I've brought you the hornets nest and the Mmoatia. Release the stories."

"I see no fairy."

No sooner had the words left Nyame's mouth than he cried, "Owww! Ouch!

"Do you feel the Mmoatia, father?"

"The pain's nothing other than my bones creaking."

Air suddenly whooshed from his throat and he doubled over."

"You feel Mmoatia's presence now, father?"

"Yes, yes," he croaked.

"Then release the stories."

The lock, corroded by time, creaked open. Out spurted thousands of ancient stories. For a while they floated on the air before raining down on Earth.

Anansi and Mmoatia looked down on the village. Smiles on every face, the people gathered before Hene Mojo, the oldest and wisest of all the villagers. His mind filled with long forgotten and new stories, his gaze touched every face before he perched on the ancient stump where storytellers of the past had sat.

His eyes lingered on the hushed gathering before he said, "Long before writing was invented all of our stories were locked away by Nyame the Sky God."

Gasps filled the air.

"Let me tell you how Anansi the Spider and a Mmoatia made him give us back our stories.

Maureen Green



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