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What the spider tales of Indians in the Caribbean reveal about our fragility and powers of endurance

Last week, Ajay Gandhi, Assistant Professor at the Leiden University College, wrote an article about how spider's webs can explain the dynamics of social beings.

"A web, rather than a root, gives a better image of how humans converge, unfold and heal as social beings"

The story of the Anansi Spider

In his article, Assistant Professor Gandhi tells the story of the Anansi Spider, which became a part of the Caribbean folklore since it has figured in oral tales for a long time. He elaborates how different variations of the story make sense of the society at that time. 

Anansi tales were picked up through different parts of society; on plantations, in créole towns, in Paramaribo’s yards. According to Gandhi, the Anansi stories trafficked between the Caribbean and South Asia, when Indians returned home. Moving athwart, spider-like, the Anansi story took a roundabout route from Africa to Asia via the West Indies. This non-linear movement shows how culture, a latticework, is diffuse and leaky. Some things stick – the Anansi’s travel through disparate societies – and others pass through. 

It offers a vision of what we might be. Connected through sticky links, not tethered to roots. In-process and undefined, not pre-set as fixed types. And able to mend and heal, not irredeemably damaged.

This movement and web can be found in our present as well. Gandhi mentions that it does not only tells us how we came to be, but also what we might become.
During this pandemic Gandhi saw that the state is mostly secondary to our well-being.  Gandhi brings up that we exist in the crisscrossing of migrants and (often female) dependencies. According to him our authorities tear and tangle – yet depend upon – these webs. They harass foreigners and underpay women, without whom society would collapse.

"A spider’s labyrinth, in this way, resembles our world: one that is partial and fraying, that requires constant mending and yet has, out of this incompletion and fragility, an overall architecture"

In a web, the spider constantly moves around and mends the form which supports it. For us, mending is both the manual activity of weaving fibres and the emotive aspect of interpersonal healing. According to Gandhi, maintenance becomes a practical and moral capacity. A means to live and to tell the story of how we ought to live.

Read the whole article here

Ajay Gandhi is an Assistant Professor, teaching at Leiden University College and affiliated to the Institute for Area Studies. His research interests are in urban, political, and economic anthropology, with a geographical focus on South Asia.

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