Saturday, January 17, 2015

"How Spider Cooked His Children, And Found Them Bitter"*

*THE COMPLETE, ANNOTATED EDITION

Spider and Other Stories is a 32-page booklet staplebound booklet that was compiled an written by "Aunt Clara" for Radio Station ELWA in Monrovia, Liberia. This is the third printing of the booklet, which was published in September 1972 by the Board of Missions of the Evangelical Congregational Church in Shillington, Pennsylvania.

According to the foreword: "Stories are for telling. Older folks as well as children and young people enjoy a good story, well told. You will find these stories by Aunt Clara, 'Liberia's favorite story-teller,' both enjoyable and containing Biblically-based truths." (Keep those last parts in mind.)

There are 17 stories in the booklet. In addition to "How Spider Cooked His Children, And Found Them Bitter," there are tales titled:

  • "How Dog Came to Live With Man"
  • "How Spider Robbed a Goblin & Cheated Death"
  • "Why Leopard is an Enemy of Deer"
  • "How Spider Was Beaten, Skinned and Burned"
  • "How Turtle Drowned Leopard in the Sea"
  • "How Spider's Son Was Eaten by a Goblin"

You know! Just some enjoyable stories for children, containing Biblically-based truths! And violence and murder! And the eating of children!

Here, for your enjoyment, is "How Spider Cooked His Children, And Found Them Bitter" in its entirety, along with my notes and thoughts, in italics.

Spider and Hare made some traps and set them in the woods to see what they could catch. Spider set his traps in the river, and Hare set his on land.
Spiders catch their food in webs and rabbits are herbivores. Right from the start, we have issues.
Spider was hungry before Hare was, and very early next morning he went to his traps. He had caught a few fish. Then he began wondering what Hare had caught, and went to see. In Hare's traps he saw some things which he knew were better to eat than fish; so he took what he found in Hare's traps, and left his own fish there instead.
Spider didn't really think things through. How might you have handled this theft differently? Discuss.
Later in the morning Hare went off to see if anything good to eat had been caught in his traps during the night. He went close to them and looked. He went even closer and looked more carefully. Finally he looked very carefully; and after a lot of thought he finally came to the conclusion that there were fishes in his traps. He sat down and looked at this fish for a long time, and then said in small voice: "This is curious."

He sat there for an even longer time. He tried looking away at the trees, and the sky, and the flowers, and then suddenly looking at the traps again; but each time he did this the fish were still there.
It's possible that Hare has disassociated from reality in a serious way at this point, which would explain later events.
Finally he said, in a louder voice: "This is very curious, indeed. How did fish get into my traps?"

After sitting there for a very long time indeed he said quite loudly: "Spider has been at my traps!"
That's not necessarily the only logical conclusion.
Then he collected the fish and went home. He cooked the fish, pounded them to a paste, and mixed them with dumboy and palm oil and honey. When he saw Spider coming he told his children to hide, and sat down to eat his meal. Spider came in and sniffed.
1. So Hare didn't ACTUALLY mind the fish. 2. Dumboy is a doughlike food made by boiling and pounding a starchy vegetable. It is more commonly known as fufu. 3. Where did Hare get the honey? Are we to believe Hare is capable of taking on a bee's nest? Or is there a local store? And if that's the case, why did they need to set traps?"
"That chop smells wonderful." He tasted a little. "What is it, Hare?"

"Ho," said Hare, "I was feeling hungry, so I cooked my children."
The proper response by Spider at this point would have been to mask his sheer terror, leave as quickly as possible and notify the authorities.
"Well," said Spider thoughtfully, "children are very nice to eat."
Not the proper response.
He ate half of Hare's meal and went home.
Also not the proper response.
He killed his own children and cooked them,
What the actual hell??
but the food he made was bitter, so he came back to Hare and said: "I cooked my children and ate them, but they aren't as sweet as yours."
This is a not community you want to move to.
Hare laughed and laughed.
The laugh of a criminally insane psychopath.
"Here are my children, still alive," he said, and pointed to them. "Next time you go trapping be content with what you catch."
How else might Hare have conveyed this lesson? Do we have a moral obligation not to trick people into killing and eating their own children?
Spider went home and cried all night, for he had killed and cooked all his children.
Wait until Mrs. Spider finds out.
It is never wise to steal from another person's traps.
Nor is it wise, probably, to read this story to children right before bedtime. And especially not with a jar of honey sitting prominently on the bedside table. And especially not using THAT voice. That's just wrong.

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