Children’s Literature in Jamaica
As children in the United States, we grow up listening to the stories of Dr. Seuss and Curious George as we fall off to sleep to the sound of our parent’s voices echoing in our dreams. As we start to grow older and the poetry of Shel Silverstein’s, "Where the Sidewalk Ends" no longer holds our imagination as much as it did at eight years old, we begin to read stories that are a reflection of the environment we live within. We engaged ourselves in the lives of such characters as the Hardy Boys and Willy Wonka.
What these stories lacked however, are the social issues that are ever present in today’s society. Not all of American children’s literature is without social content, but the literature many of us grew up with was about adventure and mystery. On the other hand, Caribbean children’s literature tends to base its work on survival. The stories of Jamaican folklore for example, tell the tales of the original inhabitants of the Caribbean Island and how they survived colonialism, slavery, poverty, and racism. From generation to generation these stories have been passed down in their original form through oral history.
Oral tradition is a method that I believe is no longer preserved in American culture.
Rarely do you read of an individual who was sat down on his grandparent’s knee to hear the childhood stories he or her was told by their grandparents before them. In today’s society, all a child has to do to be entertained is turn on the television, or log on to the internet to hear and read the rhetoric of today’s entertainment industry. Whether it is a lack of communication between parent and child, or a loss of innocence, the tradition of a parent telling the story of his or her ancestors to their children has become a lost art form.
The Anancy Stories
The tradition of oral folklore however, is alive and well on the island of Jamaica, and preserved in the pages of children’s storybooks. Children’s folklore and literature thrives in the stories of Anancy. Anancy is an indestructible and irresistible spider who is both, "fooler and fool, maker and unmade, wily and stupid, subtle and gross, the High God’s accomplice and his rival." (Dance, 11) Anancy is generally a figure of admiration whose cunning and scheming nature reflects the indirection and subtleties necessary for survival and occasionally victory for the Black man in a racist society.
In Jamaica, Anancy, the descendant of a West African deity takes on special significance in a society, which has its roots in a system of slavery. It is as though every slave strove to be Anancy and he who achieved the Spider-form became a kind of hero. Anancy’s greatest attributes however, are his character flaws. Anancy is far from a perfect folk hero, and many of his characteristics are egotistical, selfish, and ignorant. Regardless of the wealth of character flaws he possesses, Anancy has an irresistibility that has been preserved in its most...