SOSC 4319
2003 - 2004

Group Project








Actions speak louder than words

In order to determine whether Ananse stories match Vladimir Propp's model, one has make an assessment of the functions of the dramatis personae or main characters in the plot sequence of Ananse folktales. Three conditions are at stake here. First, Ananse tales should not reveal any more functions that the ones Propp identified. Secondly, the sequence of functions should remain identical to Propp's order. Finally, none of the functions in an Ananse story should contradict another function's overall contribution to the story's development.

At first glance, the Ananse stories, some of which are documented by Adowoa Badoe and illustrated by Baba Wague Diakite seem to fit neatly with Propp's model. Of the twelve stories included in their storybook, one cannot locate a single function that is not on Propp's list even though perhaps only a few of the 31 functions might be relevant to a single tale. On this basic level of investigation, one must conclude that Propp carried out a thorough and comprehensive study that applies not only to Russian folktales but that also has cross-cultural merits for African tales. Like Russian tales, Ghanaian's Ananse stories usually begin with an initial problem situation that warrants some bold action on the part of a major character.

Closer examination of the text reveals some discrepancies with Propp's theory in its application to Ananse stories. The second condition, which states that the sequence of functions must be identical to the one Propp delineated, is grossly askew. The incongruity of the sequence of functions in Ananse stories defies the standard Propp endorsed. In Ananse and the Feeding Pot, Ntikuma the hero receives his agent at the beginning and is recognized somewhere in the middle of the story. The rest of the story is dedicated to Ananse, the false hero, who carries out interdiction and reconnaissance and acquisition of a magical agent. The story ends when Ananse's magical agent betrays him and he is brought to open shame. Now, if one takes Propp's chronology of functions, one would find that at the very best, the Ananse and the Feeding Pot story has a circular structure. It was a bold assertion on Propp's part to argue that all folktales should have the same sequential structure, especially when taking into account the array of creative writing styles. Ananse tales do not begin with "Once upon a time;" neither do they end with "and they lived happily ever after." Storytellers of Ananse tales begin tales with a condition of Ananse or a problem situation and end abruptly when Ananse is either victorious or defeated; sometimes with a "Jack Mandora, me nuh choose none." Legendary folklorist Louise Bennet-Coverley explains that Ananse's deeds were often circumspect and the phrase "Jack Mandora, me nuh choose none" was vindication on the part of the storyteller. It literally means "Keeper of heaven door, I do not choose any of Ananse's ways." The point to bear in mind is that while folktales may demonstrate similar motifs their forms may differ in other significant ways.

In a similar vein on the issue of structure, the nature of Ananse tales is such that a story could end anywhere beyond the sixth function, which is trickery. There are times when the trickery is used throughout the tale. In The Mat Confidences, it is wits that Ananse uses to get the King's beautiful daughter and it is his cunning that he employs to get her to keep his secret of how he won her as his prize. Based on the post-structural nature of Ananse stories, originals myths may appear as variants within Propp's framework.

On the surface it may seem that Ananse or the other characters perform contradictory functions. This is not to imply that Ananse stories have complex plots. Far from the case! Ananse has the same foibles from beginning to end. Ananse is loved even in his folly because he is a classic, he is Ananse: tricky, hardworking, jealous, fame loving, witty and determined. In Why Ananse Lives on the Ceiling, Ananse is first active in interdiction along with the other heroes but by the time it get to the end Ananse turns out to be the culprit. Another example of seeming contradictory functions is in Ananse and the Birds. In this story Crow and the other birds acts as donors to Ananse by giving him feathers, which the talented Ananse takes and uses to make a pair of wings. It turns out that the same birds present a difficult challenge to Ananse by flying where the air is thinner; not so much as a test but more so that Ananse might not keep up with the flock. Not only do the birds take back their feathers after Ananse misbehaves at the feast but Crow pushes Ananse off the mountain. Here the functions might seem in conflict. Why would Crow wake Ananse after the birds stole the feathers when he was sleeping? Why not just leave Ananse stranded on the mountaintop? Again, the author's style defies Propp's notion of one function developing out of another. In Ananseland, all creatures live by their wits and Jack Mandora, me nuh choose none!









  Disclaimer     Haile Clacken                       © 2003 - 2004 by class of SOSC 4319 at York University