How the Lizard Lost and Regained His Farm


Bibliographic Information (best version for telling):

"How the Lizard Lost and Regained His Farm." In The Hat-Shaking Dance and Other Tales from the Gold Coast by Harold Courlander. Hartcourt, 1957. Also in Storytelling Art and Technique 3rd ed., by Ellin Greene. Bowker, 1996


Ethnic Origin:

West African


Running Time:

approximately 9 minutes and 46 seconds


Power Center(s):

Astonishment of lizard at the spider's boldness, injustice that the lizard feels when the chief rules in Anansi's favor, determination that the lizard has to get his farm back, and vindication the lizard feels when Anansi cannot fill the hole.


I chose these emotions because they are fresh in my memory. This weekend I went to the store and I parked in a space next to a handicap park. When I came out of the store, I had a ticket for parking in a handicap space! I proceeded to wait and I called the cop. I was determined not to pay $100 for doing nothing wrong. I waited an hour and a half for the cop to return. I got the ticket voided and felt much better.


These emotions are core to the process of righting injustice and taking matters into your own hands. The main emotions I want to focus on are astonishment and vindication. Many people will sympathize with these emotions because of the situation the lizard was in. I hope to draw people into the story with these emotions and win them over.



Kwaku Anansi (the spider)

Intikuma (a male child of Anansi's)

Anansi's children

Abosom (the lizard)



Nyame (Sky God)

cloak of flies



1.      Anansi hears about Abosom's garden, having no food of his own he plans to steal it.

2.      The night before Abosom's garden is ready for harvesting Anansi gathers his children and creates a path between the garden and his house.

3.      Abosom comes upon Anansi and his children stealing food from his garden. Abosom argues with Anansi that the garden is his. They go to the chief to settle the dispute, but the chief rules in favor of Anansi. Abosom is so shocked at the injustice he is unable to speak.

4.      The lizard plans to get his garden back. He makes a deep hole with a very small opening and a cape of flies. He visits town and everyone wants to buy the cloak from him. Abosom will not sell the last thing he owns. Anansi hears of the cloak and covets that also.

5.      Anansi visits Abosom and offers to buy the cloak. Abosom tells Anansi he will sell the cloak if Anansi can fill the hole outside his house with food. Anansi begins to put food in the hole but is not able to fill it with all the food from his house. Anansi begs that Abosom discharge the debt. Abosom offers to discharge the debt if his farm is returned.

6.      Anansi returns the farm and is given the cloak to seal the deal. A gust of wind comes along and takes the cloak away. Anansi chases the cloak but is not able to catch it. This story explains why spiders make webs to catch flies and why lizards bob their heads up and down.



It was a time of famine and, Kwaku Anansi was wondering how he would fill his storehouse with food. His son Intikuma told him that Abosom, the lizard had a beautiful garden.  Anansi went to see for himself. After seeing the garden, Anansi planned to take it for himself.


Anansi gathered his children on the night before Abosom's crop was ready for harvesting. They created a path from their house to the garden. In the morning they began to harvest the yams and the okra. Abosom came to his garden and asked them what they were doing. Anansi claimed that the garden was his. Anansi and Abosom argued for ownership of the garden. They went to the chief to settle the matter.


The chief visited the garden and both Abosom's and Anansi's houses. He ruled that the garden belonged to Anansi since he had a path between the garden and his home and the lizard did not. Everyone went home.


The lizard planned to get his garden back. He created a deep hole in front of his home and created a beautiful cape of flies that buzzed in the wind. Abosom went to the village and everyone who saw the cape wanted to buy it. Anansi heard of the cape and he went to town to see for himself. Once he saw the cape he wanted it for himself.


That night Anansi visited Abosom and offered to buy the cape. Abosom said if you fill the hole outside of my house with food, the cape is yours. Anansi looked at the hole he agreed on the deal. The chief made the deal official. Anansi began to fill the hole with food. He put all the food from his house in the hole but it did not become full. Anansi complained he had nothing left to give, and Abosom offered to discharge the debt for the return of his farm. Anansi readily agreed. Abosom gave Anansi the cloak to seal the deal. Anansi flaunted the cloak proudly, but not for long. The wind came along and took the cloak from him. He ran after it but could not catch it.


Each day Anansi tries to make a cloak of flies like the one the lizard made. He spins the cloth and catches the flies, but then he gets angry and eats them. Each time Abosom remembers the false judgment of the chief he bobs his head up and down calling upon the Sky God to take note of the injustice.





Rhymes/Special Phrases/"Flavors":

"If I had this garden, I'd have no more worries." - Anansi after seeing Abosom's garden


"Don't question your elders! Follow me and do as I do!" Anansi responds to his children when they are tired of walking back and forth between the garden and home.


"There is no path. Among my people, when we go from one place to another, we rarely go twice the same way. Sometimes we go on top of the grass. Sometimes we go between the grass. Sometimes we jump from tree to tree." - Abosom explaining why there is no path between the garden and his house to the chief.


"It has been witnessed, the land is mine. Here is the cloak." - Abosom proclaims when is garden is returned to him.


"This is the way Abosom, the lizard, got back his garden and his crops. Ever since then Anansi has been trying to make a cloak of flies like the one the lizard made. He spins the cloth and catches flies in it. For a while they buzz, but the Anansi gets hungry and eats them one at a time. And he has never been able to keep the cloak he is trying to make.


As for the lizard, whenever he remembers the false judgment of the chief that gave his farm to Anansi, he moves his head up and down helplessly, calling upon the Sky God to take note of this miscarriage of justice." - The end




This story appeals to a large audience, ages 8 to adult. For adolescences this story explains why the spider spins his web and catches flies. From Piaget's development stages during the ages of seven to eleven children are going through a period of concrete operations. Piaget states that children love mysteries and puzzles. During this stage they are classifying objects and events that leads to orderly thinking.


According to (Greene, p139 Storytelling Art and Technique) "That said, it is not surprising that teens like stories that provide a bit more intellectual challenge, that are more psychologically complicated, that contain characters who are not necessarily all good or all evil, that poke fun at accepted values or authority figures, that provide a look at some of darker aspects of life and an opportunity to face fearful beings situations, that include family conflict, that hint at the complications  of emotional and physical love, and that speak to feelings of powerlessness."


The story of How the Lizard Lost and Regained His Farm contain many of these components. It invokes a feeling of powerlessness when the lizard loses his farm and he can do nothing about it. It provides a look into the darker aspect of life that bad things happen to innocent people. The situation of having your belongings stolen is a very frightening situation and also very realistic. The character Anansi is not all good and not all evil. Anansi contains some sense of morality because the second time instead of tricking the lizard he offers to buy the cloak fairly.


Greene describes several story types that adolescents like. She lists ghost, horror, suspense tales, urban-belief, humorous tales, myths, hero tales, legends and folktales. The tale of Abosom and Anansi fits into the motif of a myth tale. These tales explain the characteristics of animals, or explain the existence of natural phenomenon.


The younger audience will like the repetition of Anansi. The teen audience will like the complexity of the adventure.


Bibliographic Information on other versions/variants (at least two)?

Native American, Wishosk: Van Laan In a Circle Long Ago 60-63

Native American, Wiyat: Max Spider Spins a Story 17-18

Vietnam, Forest: Widsum Tales Around the World 106-108

Liberia, Dan: MacDonald Earth Care 32-34


Northern Rhodesia (Bemba) Courlander THE KING’S DRUM AND OTHER AFRICAN TALES 1962 98-100


Brief comparison of all versions/variants in terms of language, rhythm, "tellability,"

The tale of How the Lizard Lost and Regained His Farm falls into the general motif of the creation of animal characteristics.  I felt that this story had other motifs that could be used to find good candidates in The Storyteller’s Sourcebook. I also looked under Deception, Famine, Harvest, Garden and Animals in the subject index. I was able to compile a partial list of stories that contained similar aspects.


There are stories that explain the origin of the spiders thread. In Earth Care the chief proclaims that no one can tap on the magic trees. The spider taps them anyway and the trees grow high into the air. The spider is given a thread if he promises to behave. After receiving the thread the spider swings down from the tree and he keeps it.


Spider Spins a Story also explains the origin of the spider’s thread. The Old Man Above gives the spider a string that the spider eats. A storm comes and the spider uses string to swing down to a dry spot. In the dry spot the spider makes a web and catches flies.


In one story the spider brings light to the world. The possum goes for light and his tail is burnt. The buzzard goes for light and the top of his head is burnt. When the spider goes for light she makes a pot and it hardens along the way. This story explains why the spider’s web look like sun rays.


Other Anansi stories involve Anansi tricking other animals. In the story of Anansi and the Turtle Anansi is eating and the turtle stops by. Anansi doesn’t want to share any of his food so he tells the turtle to wash his hands before he can eat. The turtle goes back and forth between the river and the table. Anansi is finished eating before the turtle can come to the table with clean hands. The turtle invites Anasi to come and eat with him in the future. Later, Anansi gets hungry and decides to go visit the turtle. The turtle serves the meal under the water and Anansi is not heavy enough to go eat. He tries many times to go down into the water and fails many times, finally Anansi has to put on a coat that has rocks in his pocket in order to descend. The turtle says that in his house people take their coat off before they eat. Anansi takes the coat of and he floats to the surface and is thrown back on the shore.


There are other stories that explain why the spider has bent legs, why the spider has eight feet and crawls on the ground and why the spider has a thin waist.


Then there are the stories that explain the characteristics of the lizard.


In one story, a dispossessed rich man loses a bet that a beggar cannot name something he does not have. The beggar asks for a chipped cup. The man is turned into a lizard. This story explains why the lizard goes “tzch.”


There are a series of stories related to digging that involve devils. In one story a man asks the devil to fill his boot with money. The man cut a hole in the bottom of the boot so the devil can never fill it.


I was looking for a story that involved two animals and that explained the characteristics of both. I was unable to find another story that I considered a good candidate for a different versions or variants of How the Lizard Lost and Regained His Farm. There are many tales explaining why the spider has thread or why the spider spins his web, but few tales gave me the richness and the dynamics of the story that I chose.


I looked for stories that had the exact same form but slightly different characters or actions. The other Anansi stories come closest to this because they involve the spider in different situations. I expected to find spider stories in near by countries but I did not. It was a difficult task identifying the versions and variants I did find and with more practice I may be able to find a different version or variant. At the last minute I found related stories in the first edition of the Storyteller’s Sourcebook.


In the first story from Ashanti culture, the lizard bobs his head up and down because he is watching for Ananse whose bride he stole. In the story from Northern Rhodesia, the lizard is shaking his head in dismay at the way man treats companion dog.


I was not able to locate these stories because of time and because of how old they were.