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This is a project by Michelle Piergoelam

‘The untangled tales’ visualizes the stories of the Anansi storytellers and the Angisa-folders, and the ways in which these traditions allow us to glimpse at the years of slavery.

About the project

Er tin tin, sigri tin tin… 

Once upon a time, long ago… Tales were told that everyone could hear, but not everyone could understand. Numerous stories tell about the mythical spider Anansi who had to deal with a tiger who tried to make his life miserable. Although the spider was physically weaker, it was often able to defeat the tiger with its cleverness and cunning. Is it really just a myth? These stories, passed down from Africa to Suriname, and from generation to generation, enabled the enslaved to share their thoughts without the plantation owner knowing what was actually meant.  

In a similar way, the Angisa’s worn by women were not only beautiful headkerchiefs: their intricate folds contained hidden stories and wisdoms that could only be read by those who had learned to. 

Through memories and imagination, ‘The untangled tales’ visualizes the stories of the Anansi storytellers and the Angisa-folders, and the ways in which these traditions allow us to glimpse at the years of slavery.

Anansi stories

"Some people say Anansi is a spider, others say he's a human being, just like you and me. I know Anansi's awfully smart."

For those who didn't know it yet: Anansi is a cheeky rascal who is permanently hungry, but creatively avoids to working for his living. To fill his belly, he invents fantastic tricks; he even betrays his wife and children for a tasty meal. And if he ever does something good, for example bringing the yam (food) into the world, it is in spite of himself, by accident or by calculation. 

Anansi often gets in trouble, sometimes gets tricked himself, but he always stays calm and saves himself from the abashment with his cleverness and alertness, preferably when the noose is already hanging around his neck. He makes a fool of those in power, grinning with pleasure, and thus grotesquely demonstrates that the perspicacity of the little ones wins out over the stupid strength of the big ones. No matter how grossly selfish the little villain may be, he automatically wins everyone's sympathy. Besides being an underdog and anarchist, Anansi is also a life artist with a survival instinct bordering on the unbelievable.

Text written by Wijnand Stomp 

The Angisa

The Surinamese angisa is a beautiful, colourful head creation folded out of a starched cloth or a traditional printed headscarf. Due to a certain folding technique, various artistic creations can be folded, each of which can convey a message. It demands patience, creativity, artistry and love.

This headwear is considered the most important part of the Surinamese Creole costume (the koto) and is much more than a beautiful or functional garment. The angisa harbours a wealth of stories, traditions and wisdom of life. This headscarf functioned as a means of communication during colonial rule and contained hidden messages about the person wearing it. By wearing the angisa, the wearer could communicate non-verbal with her surroundings, for example, about her state of mind, her loved ones, and her social position.

At the moment the angisa is in the spotlight and there is international recognition for this Surinamese cultural heritage. In 2014 the koto and angisa were placed on the list of intangible cultural heritage in the Netherlands and Surinam.

Text written by Jane Stjeward-Schubert

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