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Anansi and the Calabash of Wisdom

Long, long ago, there lived a clever spider named Anansi, who wanted to be wise. In fact, he decided he would settle for no less than all the world's wisdom!

Knowing that he had little wisdom himself, he set about the task of acquiring it: he prepared a hollowed-out calabash to store it in (that's a kind of gourd), and asked all the people he found for their wisdom. Sometimes he had to pay for it or trick it from them, but generally they would give it to him, because they knew from the spider's quest that they must have had more wisdom than he.

Finally after a long time spent collecting, he had all the world's wisdom contained in his calabash, and he thought to himself, "Ha ha, now I am the wisest of all! I have taken all the world's wisdom!"

"Now I must find a good hiding place so that no one else can find the wisdom, and I will remain the wisest!"

Searching, he realized there was a excellent place at the top of a tall, tall tree, where only a spider might go.  The calabash was heavy with its burden, however, and he needed all his legs to climb so high, so he found a strip of cloth and bound the calabash to his stomach.

He started to climb the trunk of the tree, but he could only get about halfway, before he could go no further, because the heavy calabash kept getting in his way!  He kept trying and kept failing and at last sat muttering to himself in his frustration.

About this time, his young son came by to watch, which irritated Anansi, since he did not like being caught without a plan!

But his son said simply, "Why not tie the calabash onto your back, Father, so that it cannot get in your way?"

"Hmm," thought Anansi, "this might work."  And indeed, upon trying it, he reached the top of the tree without difficulty.

But now the meaning of his quest had evaporated, for Anansi realized that even his young son had been wiser than he!

"There is no way to hold all the world's wisdom in a calabash!" he cried, and swung the calabash to spread its contents over the whole world.   And so it was that wisdom was spread to everyone in the world. For Anansi realized that sharing wisdom was the only way to be truly wise!

-- From an Ashanti myth, told in West Africa.

Text of this version of "Anansi and the Callabash of Wisdom" is ©2001 Terry Hancock. It may be redistributed according to the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Only license. This means you may republish it for free or for profit provided appropriate attribution is given.