|Fish swam in the deep pool.|
Once upon a time, in South Africa, there lived a little girl named Nomi. When she was very small, her mother died, and her father married again. "This woman had a daughter named Nomsa. Nomi was a beautiful, tall child, but Nomsa was very short and ugly. The second wife did not like Nomi. Often she beat her and sent her to bed without supper. Ever since the girl was six years old, she had sent her to the veld to look after the cattle." Each day at dawn, she pushed the child out the door, telling her," Drive the cattle to the veld. Do not come home at midday, for I have no food for you. And take your ugly dog with you!" So Nomi had no choice but to obey. It happened one day, as the cattle were crowding around a watering hole, that Nomi sat down to watch. She had seen a large fish flash by under water, and hoped to catch it: she was so hungry. Now she started to cry, and that's when the fish swam up and spoke to her! It said, "Do not be afraid, Nomi, I shall not touch you. Why are you crying?" And the child sobbed, "I am hungry. My father's second wife is very cruel to me. Often she gives me no food to eat. This morning, before breakfast, she sent me to the veld with the cattle. Last night I had no supper. Look at my arms. They are very thin. My fingers look like the claws of a bird. In winter I am cold. I have no warm coat to wear. Look at these ugly clothes I am wearing. I have no pretty clothes." And the fish spoke kindly to Nomi, and gave her some bread and milk. It asked her to bring the cattle to that pond every day, and she would provide a meal for her while the cattle drank. So this Nomi did, and soon she "grew fat, and looked happy and beautiful. The dog too, was fat, and did not creep under the table." And of course this made the mean stepmother angry and suspicious. "She beat Nomi with a big stick but Nomi would not tell her who gave her the food. Then the cruel woman beat the dog. At last, the poor animal said, 'A big fish that lives in a deep pool in the river gives us food each day.' The girl ran to the pool and told the fish," who answered, "I know the wicked woman will kill and eat me. Do not cry but take my bones and throw them into the chief's garden. Do not let anyone see you doing this." Sure enough, the very next day, the woman tricked her husband into thinking that she was very sick. The only cure for her, she insisted, was to eat the big fish that he would find swimming in a certain part of the river. So Nomi's father killed her friend, and her stepmother ate the fish. The only thing left on her plate when she was done was the fish's bones. Now she said, " Nomi take this plate and wash it. Now, nobody will give you food to eat, you naughty girl. Take the cattle and go to the veld. There is no food for you and your ugly dog today. You will soon be thin and ugly again, with fingers like the claws of a bird." So Nomi carried the plate away and washed it, but secretly, she hid the bones. Late that night, when the house was asleep, she tiptoed out in the dark. Quietly, she made her way to the chief's garden, and there she threw down the bones. Then she went back home and went to bed. In the morning, there was a big commotion. The chief had found some white bones in his garden, and there was something very mysterious about them: no one could seem to pick them up. First one, then another, and finally, a third, servant was sent to pick up those bones. But each time anyone reached down to grab them, the bones eluded them. A person's fingers simply passed right through them as though the bones were made of smoke. At last the chief himself stamped out to clear them. He had no more luck than his own servants. So he called for all the girls of the village to come and try to pick them up, declaring that he "would marry the girl who brings the bones" back to him. So all the maidens dressed in their finest robes, and went to the Great Place, as the chief's house was called. Not one could get their hands around them. "When all the girls had tried, the chief said,'Are all the girls of the village here?' One woman said, 'Nomi is not here. She is on the veld, looking after some cattle.' Nomsa's mother said, 'Nomi is not strong. She is very thin, and cannot pick up the bones.' But the chief said, 'Send a servant to fetch her.' When Nomi was brought to the Great Place, she walked over and picked up the bones, just like that, with her little dog barking merrily behind her! " And the chief watched this beautiful, tall girl, and her laughing dog, and said to her,"I will marry you tomorrow." And then "many women stamped mealies and made big loaves of bread. The men killed six oxen and many sheep, and the next day, there was a great feast. Nomsa and her mother didn't come to the feast. They were afraid, and ran away into the forest."
From The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series: Cinderella. Sierra, J. (1992)
Notes: This is very similar to many European stories involving the slaughter of the helper animal. In Greece, the step mother ate Cinderella's pet goat, (roasted, with olive oil and rosemary); in England, her cow.
Montessori Connection: Geography/Africa/South Africa
1. Read the story.
2. Find the continent of Africa on the globe, and then find the country of South Africa.
3. Learn about the rivers and the fish of South Africa:Wildlife of South Africa: A Photographic Guide or John Muir's Last Journey South to the Amazon and East to Africa: Unpublished Journals and Selected Correspondence.