Quotidian 2 (December 2010)Flora Illes; Theo Meder: Anansi comes to Holland

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Finally, we can summarize the results of the research into cultural meanings in the contemporary oral Creole spider tales and their illustrations in the Netherlands. This survey does, incidentally, merely present an indication at a given moment in time of a constantly changing, dynamic phenomenon, showing in what way the spider stories in the Netherlands are currently functioning and changing. The research presented here places the spider stories in their broader cultural context and shows what sort of cultural meaning they carry for the narrative community.

The Anansi stories have an explicit cultural function: they serve as an instrument of transmission of Creole culture, and because of their flexibility, they contribute to an adaptation of this system of meanings to the surrounding culture. This flexibility and changeability is expounded here, in both a historical and a contemporary dimension. An attempt has been made to show that the metamorphosis of Anansi continually goes hand in hand with the changes in the cultural identity of the narrative community.

The Anansi stories have made a long journey from West Africa to the Caribbean and subsequently to the Netherlands. In this migratory process, the spider Anansi has constantly undergone gradual role changes, from a divine trickster to a human trickster and survivor with a family, subsequently reverting to a rebel with a sense of values and a growing ethnic self-awareness, applying retroactively for the iconic position of popular ethnic hero and freedom fighter.

In the contemporary Anansi stories in the Netherlands, we can see a constant interaction between Caribbean and European motifs, which indicates an interaction between tradition and modernity in cultural identity. Although dynamics and changeability are noticeable, the older cultural values tend to shine through in the stories. These values safeguard the preservation of the cultural identity of the narrative community, partly by telling stories to new generations.

Anansi is the most important fairy-tale hero of the Surinamese and Antillean Creoles, also in their modern Dutch living environment. The coexistence of old and modern elements symbolizes the changeability of the cultural identity and brings about a creolization of the semiotic system, which is supposed to guarantee the survival of the cultural identity in the changed environment. The supposition that the cultural identity of a group is reflected in its animal tales and illustrations is confirmed by the abovementioned results. In addition, these stories and illustrations are an excellent proof of the fact that this so-called “cultural identity” is a dynamic phenomenon.