Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast
Birds can represent the fluttering, darting thoughts of intuition. This is why little birds helped Cinderella help herself.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cinderella #13 Sootface: An Ojibwa Cinderella (1994)

Once upon a time, by the shores of Lake Superior, there lived an Ojibwa man and his three daughters. He had no wife, as she had died. The three girls were expected to share the housework while their father was out hunting, but "The two older girls, though pretty enough, were lazy and bad tempered." They picked on their  youngest and made her do the dirtiest jobs. And sometimes they "beat her and smeared her face with ashes. Then they made fun of her and called her Sootface." All day long they bullied her and badgered her with their calls of, "Hurry, lazy Sootface!". Her father noticed how dirty and bruised she was, but foolishly believed the girls when they lied about the reason. " That one is so clumsy, she fell over her own feet and rolled through the ashes. " The young girl knew that if she told her father, then her sisters would only torment her more. So she did the work and sang to herself, " Oh, I am thinking, Oh, I am dreaming! That even ugly as I am I will someday find a husband." Poor Sootface. Her sisters grabbed all the nice soft deer skins for dresses and made her wear a skirt that she had to make out of their scraps.  Rude young men in their village laughed and hooted as she walked by. A neighbor lived across the lake with his sister.  The neighbor was a mighty and learned warrior who had studied with a great medicine man and been taught the secret of making himself invisible. Except for his white moccasins. That was how his sister knew he was still around. Those white moccasins would walk past, or be hung on a peg outside the teepee if her brother had taken them off. One day the warrior asked his sister a favor. " Go to the village across the water, and say that I will marry the woman who can see me. This means that she has a kind and honest heart. Each day I will carry my magic bow. The woman who tells you what my bow and bowstrings are made of will be my bride. " So his sister did as he asked. And soon, the warrior's wigwam was swarmed with young ladies, each hoping to marry him. And each failed the test when he asked them to say what his bow and bowstrings were made of. Well, one day, Sootface's oldest sister decided that her day had come. She made Sootface brush, and brush, and brush her hair, and help her put on "her best deerskin robe [and] finest beaded moccasins." And off she went. Soon she was talking gaily with the warrior's sister as they strolled along the shore of Lake Superior.
And sure enough, along came the white moccasins stepping carefully along the water's edge. Well? Can you see my brother? the great man's sister asked this false girl, and of course she told a lie. When it came time to say what the bow and bowstrings were made of,  she guessed.  Those of all the men she knew were made of birch and rawhide, so that is what she said. But the warrior's sister said, "You did not see my brother." and sent the untruthful girl home. Of course the middle sister had to try next, and she fared no better. When it came time for her to say of what the bow and bowstrings were made, she said, "Horn", thinking of the finest bow she could imagine...and braided horsehair" for the string. She was quite pleased with these clever answers, but the warrior's sister said, "You have not seen my brother. " And now Sootface determined that she too would try. She begged her sisters to help her wash her face and hair, and lend her a deerskin robe that wasn't tattered and stained. Those cruel, selfish girls would not lift a finger to help. Sootface had not really expected their help anyway, so she walked into the forest.   Settling beneath a silver birch tree she implored its spirit, " Sister birch tree, share your soft, white skin with me. Then I can wear a new skirt when I go to seek a husband. " Then she cut strips of bark from the tree and sewed them together to make a silvery white wrap. For color and beauty she wove wild flowers together into a garland.  Then she swam in the lake, soaking herself until her skin glowed. Her old moccasins, which she had worn into the water, became as soft as new. Walking back through the village, Sootface sang to herself, " Soon, I am thinking, Soon, I am dreaming, that I will find a husband . I am sure it will be so." But her sisters hooted with laughter when they saw how she had dressed herself, and ordered her home saying that she would make the family a laughing stock. "But Sootface walked on as though they were no more than chattering birds in the trees. " She ignored the taunting of the villagers and her family. She kept walking, and, after a time, she met a young woman walking along the shore. This woman walked beside her, and they began to talk of one thing and another. That's when Sootface saw a handsome young man walking toward her. She asked her new friend if she knew who it was.
 " You can see him?" the sister asked excitedly, and when Sootface said she could, the woman asked,  " Of what is his bow made?" Sootface saw that it was made from a rainbow, and so she said. " And how is it strung?" asked the warrior's sister. " With white fire, like the Milky Way, the Path of Souls." declared Sootface. Then the warrior's sister hugged her with joy, and told her that she would marry her brother. She led her to a wigwam and " poured water into a big pot and mixed in sweet-smelling herbs. Sootface found her hurt and sadness washed away as easily as the ashes from her face. " Dressing her new sister in " a dress of soft white buckskin decorated with beads and quillwork" and combing her hair with "a magic comb that made it long and thick and shiny as a blackbird's wing." Sootface couldn't believe how beautiful she had become, but her sister in law said, " Your beauty was merely hidden beneath the scars and ashes." She called to her brother, who tenderly embraced his bride and asked her name. When she answered with the ugly nick name everyone always called her, he responded by shaking his head. " Your eyes shine with such joy that I will call you Dawn Light." And while her new husband carried a gift of fresh game to Dawn Light's father, her sister in law led her to the wife's place of honor by the door flap, saying, "From now on, this is your home. " And Dawn Light sang, " Now, I am happy! Now, I am certain, that I have found my husband, my new sister, and new home."  They were marreid beneath a giant rainbow that filled the sky with its dazzling colors. Everyone in the village was joyful...except those selfish sisters, who now had to do all the work themselves!
Notes: The Ojibwa American Indians are also known as the Chippewa. Historically, their territory was around Lake Superior, on the U.S. side in the  states of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and across the lake on the Canadian side. This version of the tale is one retold by Robert San Souci, after extensive research. It is based on the more than two dozen American Indian versions of the Cinderella story that he encountered. The exquisite illustrations, by Daniel San Souci,  are done in lush earth tones: layers and layers of greens for the forest, dappled birch bark and liquid, gray shadows.

Montessori Connection
 1. Literature. Henry Wordsworth Longfellow's famous poem, Hiawatha, was based on Chippewa American Indians.

2. Fundamental Needs: Clothing and Shelter. The illustrator, Daniel San Souci, did research at the Anthropology Library at UC Berkeley to make sure that the pictures he painted were accurate. They show Ojibwa life during the 18th century.
Red winged blackbird on the Berkeley Marina

3. Blackbirds, study of.

a.  Agelaius phoneniceus can be found year round in California. The brilliant red streak on the wing is quite beautiful.
b. Blackbirds in literature. See Mother Goose, A Song of Sixpence. "Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie..."