African Tricksters

Tricksters exist in folklore all over the world. From Loki of Europe to Coyote of the Americas, tricksters abound in folklore. They are often used to teach lessons or to explain why certain things exist in the world around their respective cultures. In some stories, they steal things from the gods and give them to mortals in an attempt to help them. In Africa, there are two major tricksters that I was able to find that weren’t Egyptian. Those two tricksters are Anansi of the Ashanti people in Ghana, and Elegua and Eshu of the Yoruba people in Nigeria.

Anansi of the Ashanti

Anansi is the trickster god of the Ashanti, a group from Ghana, that is so popular that belief in him as spread throughout West Africa and the Caribbean islands. There are even legends of him in the southern United States, where his name is Aunt Nancy. He also knows every story, and is said to switch forms between spider and man, and sometimes stop somewhere in between. One of the most famous tales about Anansi involves how he came to know all the stories in the world, and how he gave them to humanity. Anansi quite likes humans, and found that they tended to be bored and restless around their campfires at night, and so he decided that he would ask the sky god, Nyame, for his box of stories, so that he could give them to the humans. Nyame laughed at him and told him that he would have to bring four things to get the box of all the stories in the world: a snake that could swallow a goat, a leopard with teeth like spears, a nest of hornets with stings like hot needles, and a fairy that no one could see. Anansi, with the help of his wife, Aso, was able to catch all four beings that Nyame named as his price. He tricked the snake by saying that his wife did not believe how long it was, and so he needed to measure it with a stick, which he proceeded to tie the snake to with his spider thread. The leopard, he trapped in a pit and tricked into trying to climb his sticky threads. The hornets, Anansi threw water on their nest and on himself, and tricked them into coming into a gourd he held for safety. The fairy, Anansi trapped with its favorite food and a doll he had tied with his spider silk. When Anansi brought all of these to Nyame, he was given all the stories in the world, which he gave to humanity.

Elegua/Eshu of the Yoruba

Elegua and Eshu are two facets of the same god, worshipped by the Yoruba people of Nigeria. Elegua represents the beginning and end of life, and is depicted as a child or an old man. He is always mentioned first in any ritual to speak to the gods, because without his permission, the doors to the other deities stay closed. He likes candy, alcohol, dancing, and children’s toys. He is seen as a very kind deity who is mostly about fun and games, and tends not to act negatively towards humans unless provoked. Eshu, the darker side of Elegua, however, tends to play much more harmful tricks. Many houses welcome Elegua into their homes ritually, but very rarely is Eshu invited. The people do not consider Eshu evil, they just consider him the much darker side of Elegua, whose harmful tricks are not really something they want in their homes.

~Victoria

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