Robin Redbreast

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

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cinderella #16 Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, A Cinderella Story from Zimbabwe(1987)

birds flock to Nyasha's garden
Once upon a time, "in a certain place in Africa, a small village lay across a river and half a day's journey from a city where a great king lived." A man lived there, with his two daughters, whose faces were a delight to look upon. Their names were Nyasha and Manyara. Nysasha was gentle and goodnatured, and Manyara, well, she was the kind who saw the ugly in everything. Nothing pleased her, and the thing which pleased her least was her little sister. She did her best to wipe the smile off of Nyasha's face whenever she could, and one of her favorite things to say was, " Someday, Nyasha, I will be queen, and you will be a servant in my household." To which her mild mannered sister replied, " If that should come to pass, I will be pleased to serve you. But why do you say such things? You are clever and strong and beautiful. Why are you so unhappy?" Manyara blamed Nyasha for everythig: for making HER look bad because she was so good, for growing a rich and bountiful garden when her own straggled along, and most of all, for being the favorite of their father. Nyasha just shrugged her shoulders and went to tend her garden. She sang while she weeded and watered, and her sunflowers and yams and millet were so  tall and vibrant that they attracted birds from all around. Their bright red heads and golden wings bobbed among the leaves, and their song mingled with the girl's. Birds were not the only creatures attracted to the garden. One morning , " Nyasha noticed a small garden snake resting beneath a yam vine. " Good day, little Nyoka" she called to him, " You are welcome here. You will keep away any creatures who might spoil my vegetables. " She bent forward, gave the little snake a loving pat on the head, and then returned to her work. " The garden flourished, and time passed. One day, a messenger from the big city arrived. "The most Worthy and Beautiful Daughters in the Land are invited to appear before the king, and he will choose one to become queen!". That was the message. Now, Mufaro called for both his girls, assuring them that each of them had what it took to be chosen. He knew not of the rivalry between them, as Manyara was cunning as well as cruel, and Nyasha was passive as well as polite. She did not complain to her father because she knew it would sadden him to hear. Now, Manyara tried to convince their father that Nyasha was too frail for the journey, that she would waste away from missing her home if she went to the city, but father would not hear of this plan. " Preapare yourselves for a journey to the city. I will call together all our freinds to make a wedding party. We will leave as the sun rises."  And so the plan was made. But greedy Manyara would not wait. She snuck away in the night, taking a pouch of food. She had thought it would be easy to arrive first, but had not figured on the dark being so dark, or the way being so long. She was nervous, and, suddenly, a small boy appeared in her path. "I am hungry. Will you give me something to eat?" he asked sadly, eyeing her bag. But Manyara shoved him rudely aside, saying she had business to attend to and no food to spare. And off she went. After awhile, she came to an open place, where the moonlight shone. And there an old woman sat upon a big rock, watching the girl approach. "I will give you some advice Manyara, " she offered, but that girl snorted rudely, asked how the lady knew her name, and tried to hurry past. The old woman gave her the advice anyway: soon, she said, Manyara would come to a grove of laughing trees, whose laughter must not be returned, and then, a man with his head tucked under his own arm would pass by. She was to show him respect, as well as the trees. Manyara was sure she knew better than a silly old grannie sitting on a stone in the forest. So when a mile or so down the road, the trees on either side beside began to chuckle as she passed, she jeered right back, " I laugh at you, Trees! " and raced on down the path. That's when she saw a man with his head underd his arm, and she sure enough wasn't going to make polite conversation with him! "I will be queen! I will be queen!" was the rhyme that kept her feet moving all the way to the big city. When dawn came in the village, they found her gone. Nyasha savored a look at her home, drinking in the details, wondering if she would see it again. Could she trade its familiarity for the home of a king? She would find out soon. The party travelled through the green woods, and " brightly plumed birds darted all about in the cool green shadows beneath the trees. " Suddenly, a small boy appeared in the pathway  in front of Nyasha. He was so thin and forlorn that she immediately drew one of her  homegrown,  roasted yams from her purse, saying, " You must be hungry." He took the yam, and was gone.  By and by, Nyasha saw an old woman, sitting on a stone by the side of the path, pointing the direction to the city. Her reward was a handful of the delicious sunflower seeds Nyasha had harvested. Now the path took them under a grove of tall trees, which swayed and bent respectfully before her. And now, "Nyasah ran ahead and topped the rise before the others could catch up with her." She called to her father, and he joined her ,and together they gazed in awe at the gently rolling hills, the floating clouds, and the towers of the city in the distance. Late in the day they reached the city gates, and who should they see running towards them but Manyara? She was shaking and snuffling, and clutched at her family. " Do not go to the king, my sister" she babbled, talking on and on of a snake with five heads who recited her faults to her and made her cower. Nyasha was scared, but she had come this far, and would see what fortune brought her. Mufaro took Manyara under his arm, and watched while his younger child went bravely to the door of the king's chamber. With trepidation, she pushed through, and, as her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she burst out giggling with relief. Indeed there was a snake: her little friend, Nyoka. "Why are you here?' the girl asked, stroking his smooth, soft scales. And he replied, " I am the king." and transformed into a young man whose warm brown skin glowed under the white of his robe. Gold bracelets encircled the muscles of his bare arms, and his body seemed to ripple with strength as he told her, " I am the king. I am also the the hungry boy with whom you shared a yam in the forest and the old woman to whom you made a gift of sunflower seeds. But you know me best as Nyoka. Because I have been all of these, I know you to be the Most Worthy and Most Beautiful Daughter in the Land. It would make me very happy if you would be my wife." The preparations for the wedding were made, and Nyasha herself baked the marriage bread, of millet harvested from her own garden, rich with the love of her home. As for Mufaro, he lived happily ever after. Why not? He had two beautiful daughters, one of whom was queen....and the other, a servant in the queen's household!
Notes: This Caldecott Honor Book by John Steptoe is a scholarly recreation taken in part from the 1895 book, Kaffir Folktales. It is dedicated to the children of South Africa. The illustrations show historically accurate clothing; the landscapes and wildlife are accurate representations of life in Zimbabwe.

Montessori Connection:
6-9: Research birds and snakes of Zimbabwe. 1. Get the book, Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters,and read it. 2. Go back and really look at the pictures carefully. 3. Choose birds or snakes to research. 4. Find a picture of your animal in the book, and either draw a careful line drawing of it with watercolor pencils, or write a paragraph describing it. Put in as many details as you can see. 5. Look in an Animal Encyclopedia, table of contents for either Snakes or Birds. Try to identify the bird or snake you drew. Label your drawing.

9-12.  Zimbabwe, past and future. Compare two books, Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters and the 1995  Newbery Honor Medal book,  The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, by Nancy Farmer. Both are set in Zimbabwe, one in the 18th century or before, the other in the future year 2194, which makes it Science Fiction. It is an adventure about three children, whose father is the general and president of Zimbabwe, who sneak out of their carefully guarded home in Great Zimbabwe. This real city was founded sometime between the 11th and 14th century. The kids are kidnapped by criminals and taken to work in the plastic mines by the Vlei People, chased by the genetically atered Blue Monkey and held hostage by their family Praise Singer's mother before getting back home. Details of historic life in Zimbabwe, its culture, its spiriuality and religion are explored and explained.
1. Read both books. 2. Look for the ways that Manyara and Nyasha are similar to Tendai, the big brother, age 13, Rita, the sister, age 11, and Kuda, their baby brother, aged 4. Write a few paragraphs comparing and contrasting one character from each book.

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