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Anansi Masters – World traveller Anansi finds a virtual home
Arts, 02 Oct. 2007 - Africaserver Magazine
Nicholas Kowalski, based on the story: ‘If you didn't hear it clearly, ask again’

This fall lots of things are happening around Anansi, the spider who plays such a prominent role in West-African storytelling: starting the 5th of October there will be an exhibition in the Tropenmuseum, a DVD, many stories on the Internet, a presentation with live music in the Tropentheater and more. For now these are the highlights of Anansi Masters, a versatile project of many shapes and colours.
 
Anansi the spider is to West-African storytelling what Reinaart de Vos is to dutch storytelling; the clever rascal who likes to outsmart the other characters, pulls pranks, often gets himself in trouble but almost always seems to find a way out. His stories made their way over to the Caribbean and North-America on slave ships, for Africans there they were often a link to their original culture and a means of communication; making music was not always allowed and neither was holding meetings, but storytelling usually was. Just like the stories themselves, the name of the spider has also changed with its environment and he is now for instance also known as Compa Nanzi or Aunt Nancy. The last decades he has conquered a new continent, Europe . He now lives for instance in the Bijlmer, at home with people from Suriname or the Antilles and also with people from Ghana .

Extensive project
A few years ago, a few people from Ghana and the Netherlands came together to shoot the Ghanaian-Dutch movie ‘See You Amsterdam ’. The subject of conversation came to how remarkable it was that so many people would spontaneously start talking about the clever spider, how important the existence of Anansi apparently was, so far away from home. The eyes of many people in the Bijlmer lit up when the conversation came to Anansi: ‘Yes, I know that spider, that’s from our culture’. Over here the stories aren’t told very often anymore, people don’t make campfires in the Bijlmer and sit around it to tell stories, and then there is TV, Internet and other forms of entertainment which divert the attention and leave little room for storytelling. Even so, many people find it important to record these stories for future generations.

At that moment, the people present, Jean Hellwig of Vista Far Reaching Visuals, George Duncan of foundation Sankofa, actor/director Pius Mensah and Highlife-eminence and storyteller Nana Ampadu, decided to go to work with Anansi. What developed from that was Anansi Masters, the main organization for many diverse projects. The idea for the stories was to put them on video. Many Anansi-projects have been done in the past, but usually they were modern theatrical interpretations, a book or recording the stories on paper. The dynamics, the way in which people tell the stories, how the audience reacts, the interaction between storyteller and spectators can only really be shown in moving pictures. Furthermore the stories had to be made public to as many people as possible by means of an Internet database. That has resulted in Anansi Masters Net (www.anansimasters.net), a site where, apart from the database, much more information can be found about the project. At the moment of this article only journals of the project are availabe, starting October most of the recorded stories will be added. A special part of the site, the Arena, a dark cinema-like area, has been developed to ensure that the movies can be enjoyed as much as possible. All stories will have subtitles in English and Dutch and will be documented, this way the viewer can search the database on country or keywords for instance. By the end of this year the complete database should be online.

Projects of this size take a lot of effort to get going. It takes time to raise funds, even when, as in our case, sponsors are enthusiastic and realize the importance of the project, partners have to be found and a long list of things need to be arranged.


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Last year the project got of to a start and the first public activities took place. A team of Anansi Masters went to Ghana and together with local partners they organized storytelling competitions in three towns. There were about thirty stories recorded in every town. Afterwards in the Netherlands those ninety stories were translated from Twi into English. Also last year the first storytelling gathering took place in the Netherlands , in Rotterdam. Early this year there was one in the Bijlmer, in collaboration with Imagine IC, and later this year there will be one in The Hague. People from many different cultures attended these gatherings in the Netherlands , people from Suriname , the Antilles, Ghana , Holland and more. All the stories that have been recorded so far (around 150!), will be put on the Anansi Masters site. During the gatherings in Ghana and in the Netherlands certain differences became visible. In Ghana there is a moral to every story and they all end with a wise lesson. For the people from Suriname and the Antilles in the Netherlands that is not always the case, they just tell a good story. Anansi also picks up things from its environment. That can be seen in the animals that play a role in the stories but also in the washing machines, mobile phones and other modern equipment that appear in the stories that are being told nowadays.

Scientific symposium and workshops for young people
The storytelling gatherings were not the only events that were organized. Early this year there was a scientific symposium, where experts from different backgrounds gave there views on the phenomenon Anansi. In the Bijlmer workshops for young people were held that focused on giving modern impressions of Anansi, again in cooperation with Imagine IC. For instance an entire wall was covered with pictures and collages. Most activities are naturally focused on grown-ups but this one was especially focused on young people in order to get them involved with Anansi in their own way, because they will lose touch with Anansi if their parents don’t pass on the stories.

Paintings and an exhibition
Artists from Ghana have made paintings of a few stories, with their own contemporary interpretation. In collaboration with SBK, the same has been done with artists living in the Netherlands . This way you get a diverse view of different people from different cultures in different countries. On the 5 th of October all of that comes together in an exhibition in the gallery of the Tropenmuseum. Visitors can view the story that relates to a work of art on a beamer.

DVD and storytelling afternoons
Before the end of the year a DVD will come out as well. The Anansi Masters team has returned to Ghana and has made a short report about the daily life of all three winners of the storytelling competitions in the three towns. Including the reasons why they loved telling the stories and more background information to their story. Theatre producer Wijnand Stomp has made his interpretation in the Netherlands of the story of one of the winners from Ghana , recently that has been recorded as well. All that and more will be on the DVD, including various songs recorded at a performance by the Mister Anansi Band, with Wijnand Stomp, at the latest Africa festival in Delft . Furthermore there is a series of Anansi storytelling afternoons in the Tropentheater. They are officially not part of the project but complement it very well.

It’s become a project in which many different facets of Anansi have been brought together in various ways: different cultures, different art forms, different types of media, different target groups and many different people. Among them, the masters of storytelling, the true Anansi Masters. Some people know Paul Middellijn, others Wijnand Stomp, and then there is Winston Scholsberg, and so forth. One of the wonderful aspects of the project is that all those masters come forward to show us what they can do.

Busy, busy, busy
So it will be busy around Anansi the coming period of time, but there are also lots of plans and ideas for the future. There are plans for new storytelling afternoons in different places throughout the Netherlands , an educational path will be set up and the people of Anansi Masters are already planning to visit Suriname , the Antilles and other Caribbean countries to record new Anansi stories.

Be sure to check out Anansi Masters Net , there you will find everything there is to know about the project.
 
Willem Kerkhoven / translation by Klaas Bottelier
 
The exhibition: from October 5th until January 3rd, in the gallery of the Tropenmuseum

The festive launch of Anansi Masters Net: the 6th of October in the Tropentheater, with a performance by Nana Kwame Ampadu

This article is the result of an interview with Mona Veld of Vista Far Reaching Visuals, one of the initiators of the project

The Vista Far Reaching Visuals foundation is a media production group that has originated from the visual anthropology branch of the cultural anthropology and sociology section of the University of Amsterdam. It started out as a group where students were able to do an internship and learned how to make film productions. The visual anthropology branch no longer exists due to lack of budget, but Vista was already making successful productions, educational material and documentaries and has simply moved forward into developing new projects and finding new ways. Apart from Anansi it is currently working on several other projects, to name a few:

- ZOSoap, a soap-formula to work with young people in the Bijlmer on talent development and education on HIV and AIDS.

- Ties, a scientific research project taking a look at second generation migrants from Turkey and Morocco. A fun element (in the future) will be Tiescast; immigrants will be invited to capture their daily life on video and cast the movies in a YouTube-like environment.

- Internet environments, for which much work is done together with Designserver, like ASK, a site for sociologists and anthropologists.

The web environment of Anansi Masters was built by the team of Designserver, also the driving force behind Africaserver.


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Sites for this article:
Anansi Masters Net
http://www.anansimasters.net

Tropenmuseum (exhibition)
http://www.tropenmuseum.nl/smartsite.shtml?ch=FAB&id=14096

Tropentheater Nana Ampadu 6 october
http://www.tropentheater.nl/smartsite.shtml?ch=FAB&id=TT_VOORSTELLINGEN&ActiviteitID=4273&BeginDatum=10/6/2007%208:30:00%20PM&RecordTitle=Nana%20Kwame%20Ampadu%20%26%20Band

Vista - Far Reaching Visuals
http://www.vistavisuals.nl/

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