Once upon a time, in a “beautiful island that lies in the southern seas”, where the orchids grow among the trees, and it is as hot by day as it is by night, lived a family of seven sisters. Their parents were dead, so the oldest girl was boss. She gave each sister a chore. One “had to clean the house, a second carried water from the spring in the forest, a third cooked their food, while to the youngest fell the hardest task of all, for she had to cut and bring home the wood which was to keep the fire continually burning." This was very hard work for the little girl, and she usually slept under a tree when her chores were done. But one morning, “as she was staggering along with her bundle on her back, she thought that the river which flowed past their hut looked so cool and inviting” that she thought a swim, rather than a nap, would be more refreshing. So she ran to the hut and unloaded her sticks. Quickly, she stoked the fire, then ran down to the river. She slipped into the water and —oh! How delicious the coolness was against her hot, dusty skin. She swam further downriver under the shade of the forest, and here she rested in the dark, cool air. After a little while she began to look around her, and she saw a fish that seemed to be made out of a rainbow. That’s what she thought when she looked at it, because it was so brilliant. The girl thought that the fish would make a fine pet. She scooped it up in her hands, taking care that it water to cover it, and ran to a secret place of hers. Here a tiny fountain gurgled into a little pool. She let the fish swim there, while she went back to the hut. That evening she came back with some grains of rice that she had saved. Djulung-djulung, for that was the fishes name, enjoyed the rice very much. Now the girl came every day to feed her pretty pet. In fact, she fed it so much of her rice that it became fat, while she became thin! She had no strength to do her work, and her sisters became suspicious. So they followed her one day, and observed her as she fed the rainbow fish. Now these girls ran back and told the eldest “that a lovely fat fish might be had for the catching.” And catch it the sisters did, then boiled it up for their supper. The little girl, being away deep in the woods at this time, knew nothing of this meal. In the morning she went to the pool and called for her little Djulung-dulung, but the bright little fish did not surface. Now, the little girl was a clever one. She knew that dead fish float on top of the water, and since there was no fish floating, there could be no dead fish in the pond. Her head felt heavy and dull and she was overcome with tiredness. Slowly, as though in a daze, she made her way back home. Here she collapsed into such a deep sleep that her sisters could not wake her up for many days. One morning, a rooster began to crow. He kept up his crowing so loudly and for such a long time that his cock-a-doodle-doo’s penetrated the dreams of the sleeping girl. The rooster spoke to her through his calling, and explained what had happened to her little colored fish. It told her where to find the fish’s bones, which were buried under the kitchen fire pit. Now the girl crept out of bed, and quietly, quietly, she retrieved her little friend’s bones. She carried them with her back to the fountain, where she dug a hole and buried them. She sang to them, “bidding the bones to grow till they became a tree— a tree that reached up so high into the heavens that its leaves would fall across the sea into another island, whose king would pick them up.” The girl began to eat all the rice she was given at home again, as she had no pet to feed. She soon regained her strength and her sisters forgot all about her pet fish. What they did not know was that their little sister visited her fishes grave every day. They did not know that the tree which now grew on it was very special. “ Its trunk was of iron, its leaves were of silk, its flowers of gold, and its fruit of diamonds”. One night in the dark, the wind blew one of the leaves straight across the sea to the feet of one of the king’s servants. Such a leaf was this should be brought straight to the king, thought the attendant, so that is what he did. When the king saw the leaf, he was consumed with curiosity. He simply had to find the tree from which the leaf had come! Being a sensible king, he began his search on the island closest to his shores. And there he found the tree. Such a marvel it was, and yet the people of that island claimed they knew nothing of how it had come there. The king decided to investigate further, and learned that the tree was on the property of seven sisters. He paid a visit to the hut of these sisters, and there he found the girls. Some were hoeing the garden. Some were boiling the soup. And some were inside cleaning the house. The king asked each girl about the tree and none could tell him how long it had grown there, or anything about it. The eldest girl began to get cross. Her sisters had lots of work to do, and there was nothing to be gained by a fuss about a tree. She told the king that if she and her sisters could not tell him about the tree then nobody could. Now the king said, “ But the boy told me there were seven of you, and there are only six here.” And all of the six girls said, “Oh, the youngest is at home, but she is always half asleep, and is of no use except to cut wood for the fire. “ “That may be, but perhaps she dreams.” answered the king, and went inside to see the seventh sister. He led her to the tree, and when she appeared, the tree bent down towards the earth, right in front of the girl. She picked a leaf and a flower and gave them to the king. "The maiden who can work such wonders is fitted to be the wife of the greatest chief." he said, and then he asked her to marry him. She said that she would. The village held a feast that lasted for many days—and the six sisters of the bride were kept quite busy with the cooking! But the youngest sister and the King lived happily together for the rest of their days.
From The Young Oxford Book of Folktales, Crossley-Holland, K. (ed.,1998) New York: Oxford University Press
Notes: This is such a parallel to the stories of Yeh-Shen, the Chinese Cinderella, and Pear Blossom, the Korean Cinderella. In both of those stories the girl befriends a fish, which is then killed and eaten by the stepsisters or mother. In those stories too, the magic power of the bones is revealed to the child, who retrieves them, buries them, and nurtures a tree that grows in the place. The tree theme is very similar to the Grimm tale. It is also similar to The Little Red Cow, a story from Finland, in which forests with trees of silver, gold and copper are passed through by the girl. Here again we see the bird, here as the animal that alerts her to the butchery of her
rainbow fish. Montessori Connection: Geography/Oceans of the World/South Pacific/Literature/Pippi Longstocking!
1. Read this story again, and notice how the setting of the story affects the plot. Example: Here the weather is described as very hot; in The Twelve Months, a story from Czechoslovakia, the girl is sent out into the snow, and gets very cold.
2. Find the South Pacific Ocean on the globe.
3. Identify the countries there. (Australia, New Zealand, the Fiji and Polynesian Islands)
4. Learn more about the Great Barrier Reef: Australia and New Zealand (True Books-Geography: Countries) or The Young Geographer Investigates: Islands
5. Read some fiction about the South Pacific, Pippi Longstocking: Pippi in the South Seas.