|"Grandmother crocodile splashed out of the water,|
holding a silver sarong that sparkled like the night sky."
Once upon a time, “in the Spice Islands, where clove and nutmeg trees grow, a girl named Damura lived long ago. Damur’a mother taught her to kindle a fire and cook, to tend and harvest rice plants, and to dance the graceful dances of their ancestors. There came a time when Damura’s mother grew weak and she knew she would not live much longer. So she called the girl to her bedside and reminded her to respect all wild creatures, for they would help and comfort her. Later, when Damura missed her mother, she would talk to the lorikeet and the little green parrot who came to perch on the nutmeg trees.” Now a widow in the village wanted to marry Damura’s father. She made friends with the child by bringing her dolls. Soon, Damura begged her father to marry the neighbor lady. At first he did not want to. He had all he needed, he said. But Damura begged and begged, and after awhile, he agreed. They were married and the widow brought her own daughter to Damura’s house. Now the lady was no longer kind to Damura. Instead, she made the girl do all the work. “Every morning, Damura arose before dawn, kindled the fire, and cooked. The the tidied the house and pulled weeds from the rice fields. When the lorikeet and the parrot came to talk to Damura, the stepmother shooed them away. At night, Damura slept on the floor amid the cold ashes of the hearth, and cried because she had traded her happiness for a doll.” One morning, as Damura was at the river washing her clothes, the water surged up and dragged the “ragged sarong from her hands. Damura was afraid to return home without it, and she began to cry. Then she remembered her mother’s advice. “Creatures of the wild, help me!’ she called out. Slowly, an ancient crocodile arose from the river and stepped onto the rocks. Damura showed no fear. “Good morning, Grandmother,’ she said. ‘It was wise of you to call me Grandmother,’ the crocodile replied, ‘for if you had not, I might have eaten you. Why are you crying?” And so Damura told her what had happened. Grandmother Crocodile said,” I will get it for you if you will watch my little one.” So Damura lifted up the tiny crocodile baby that was splashing in the water. She sat down on a rock and held the baby crocodile like a little child. It snapped its sharp little teeth and tried to bite her, so she gave it a stick to chew. She sang to it, while she rocked back and forth: “Rockabye, little baby crocodile, you smell like....” here her song paused. That little baby smelled bad! But it would hurt its mothers’ feelings to hear that, so Damura sang, “You smell like the nutmeg tree.’ Grandmother Crocodile came splashing out of the water. holding in her mouth a silver sarong that sparkled like the midnight sky. ‘That is not my sarong.’ Damura sighed. Mine is old and torn. ‘This is the one you deserve. Take it, and come see me again if you ever need anything.”
When her stepmother saw the beautiful sarong she snatched it from Damura and accused her of stealing it. When the girl told her that a crocodile had given it to her, she made Damura tell her own daughter exactly what she had done. So Damura told her, warning her to be polite. The stepsister went to the river, “tossed an old rag into the current, and pretended to cry.” When the crocodile surfaced, she said, ‘Good morning, Grandmother.’ and then told her a lie about losing her sarong. “I will get it for you. Just watch my little one for me while I am gone.’ The stepsister picked up the baby crocodile. When it bit her with its sharp teeth, she spanked it and sang, ‘Shut your mouth, stinky crocodile. You smell just like a garbage pile.” When Grandmother Crocodile came out of the water, she had a sparkling silver sarong in her jaw. Before she could say a word, the stepsister snatched it and put it on. But the moment she touched it, “it became a filthy rag swarming with leeches. The girl tried to pull it off but it stuck to her like glue. Home she ran, howling and weeping.” Several years went by. One day, all the village was full of excitement for “ the prince had invited all the young women to dance at the palace. He would choose the loveliest as his bride.” Damura begged to be allowed to go and wear her silver sarong. But her stepmother grabbed it from her and gave it to her own daughter. She told Damura to clean the house while they were gone. Later, when Damura was alone, she ran back to the river. She cried a little, and then called for Grandmother Crocodile. At once, the old beast rose to the surface. When she had hear Damura’s tale, she “sank into the water and soon reappeared with a sarong and blouse of pure gold, and slippers to match. ‘Leave the palace as soon as the first rooster crows, ‘ the crocodile warned her, and be sure to return everything to me before you go home.” Suddenly a “shining carriage appeared, pulled by a white horse.” Damura climbed up and raced to the ball. Everyone started whispering when she arrived. Who was this lovely princess? “And when the prince saw her dance, using the steps her mother had taught her, he knew that she would be his bride.” But when the music stopped, the girl ran away. The prince tried to follow, but she was too fast. All he could manage was to grab one of her slippers. When she got back to the river, Damura apologized to the crocodile for losing one of them. But the crocodile said, “ You needn’t be sorry. That one slipper will make you a princess.” Soon, a messenger was seen in the village. He carried an invitation for all the young ladies to come to the palace to try on the slipper lost by the strange princess. Of course Damura’s stepmother and her daughter went, and they brought Damura along as a servant, dressed in her raggedy sarong. When they got to the palace and had their turn to try on the shoe, it was much too small for the stepsister. Damura waited until the prince handed her the slipper, and “it fairly flew onto Damura’s foot and it fit perfectly.” So the prince called for a wedding feast, and he married Damura. But the stepmother and sister were very jealous. They decided to get rid of Damura and make the prince fall in love with the stepsister instead. “A few days after the wedding they arrived, saying sweetly, ‘ We are so sorry for the way we treated you, Damura. Let’s take a boat ride on the river and be friends again.” Damura, being a kind girl of gentle spirit, believed that they had changed their wicked ways. When the boat reached the middle of the river, she was very surprised when they pushed her right into the water! “Before she could draw a breath, she was swallowed by a crocodile.” Then the other two women waved their arms, as though calling for help. Back at the palace they told the prince the sad news. When he heard it, he ran to the river. He shouted, “Grandmother, grandmother!’ The great creature appeared and swam toward him. ‘Why have you come here?’ she asked. ‘Princess Damura has been eaten by a crocodile.’ he cried. Grandmother Crocodile thrashed her tail in anger. She called together all her river-children and asked, ‘Which one of you dared eat my precious grandchild?” After a few minutes of terrible silence, “a fat young crocodile confessed.” Grandmother Crocodile made him spit Damura right out. Then “she licked Damura’s face and brought her back to life.” Then she made all the crocodiles promise never to harm the prince, or the princess, or their children. But, she made take a second promise: that if they ever should find the traitorous stepmother and sister, they would gobble them up at once. All of the crocodiles made the promises, and the wicked stepmother and her daughter, who had been eavesdropping the whole time, ran away. They were never seen again, but “Damura and her prince returned to the palace, where they lived for many years in great splendor and happiness. Their chidlren splashed in the river, and talked to the lorikeet and the little green parrot, and played in the shade of the clove and nutmeg trees.”
This story was collected on the island of Halmahera in the Moluccas (the Spice Islands), in 1900,and was published in 1916 in Woordenlijst van het Pagoe op Noord-Halmahera. The Gift of the Crocodile: A Cinderella Story
Notes: It is wonderful to see all the different kinds of special clothing that the girl wears; here she has a beautiful sarong and no shoes. No need! The helpful crocodile parallels that ofAbadeha: The Philippine Cinderella, and the story of The Gospel Cinderella.
Here we have a marvelous opportunity to tie into history and travel geography. As author Judy Sierra says in her Folklore Notes: "Spice traders no doubt carried stories as well as spices."
Montessori Connection 6-9: Crocodiles in Poetry
1. Read this story again and think about crocodiles.
2. Choose one of these poems to memorize:
A. How Doth the Little Busy Bee:
How doth the little busy bee/ improve each shining hour/and gather honey all the day/from every opening flower/How skillfully she builds her cell/how neat she spreads the wax!/ And labours hard to store it well/with the sweet food she makes. (This is from 1715, Isaac Watts. It was required for children learning to read to memorize for over one hundred years, as part of McGuffy's Eclectic Reader.
3. The second poem is the Alice got it mixed up when she tried to recite it in Wonderland:
B. How doth the little crocodile/improve his shining tail/and pour the waters of the Nile on every golden scale/how cheerfully he seems to grin/how neatly spreads his claws/and welcome little fishes in/with gently smiling jaws. ( Lewis Carroll, 1890, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
9-12: Geography of the Moluccas, or the Spice Islands.
1. Find these islands on a map.
2. Imagine eating food without seasoning: think of no cinnamon, or salt, or pepper. How would your food taste?
3. Learn about cultivating spices:
4. Memorize a famous piece of poetry about spices:
"I had a little nut tree/nothing would it bear/but a silver nutmeg and a golden pear/The King of Spain's daughter/came to visit me/and all for the sake of my little nut tree/I skipped over water/I danced over sea/And all the birds in the air/Couldn't catch me. (Marguerite de Angeli's Book of Nursery and Mother Goose Rhymes, 1953)