|The heron is a cousin to the flamingo.|
Once upon a time, in Kenya, there lived a girl named Chinye. Her mother had died, and her father remarried. Her stepmother, however, did not have a drop of human kindness. Instead of helping to take care of Chinye, the motherless child, the woman used her to do all of the hardest chores. Because Chinye looked so much like her mother, this stepmother secretly wanted to get rid of her. She began sending her out for water, each night. The forest near there home was thick and dark, even during the day time. At night, it was as black as ink, and filled with the sounds of many animals. Despite her stepdaughter's protests, the cruel second wife forced her out into the night. "And don't come back with an empty gourd!" she shouted, "or you know what will happen." So Chinye had to go out into the dark woods. She crept slowly along, feeling her way before her. Suddenly, she heard a growl and felt something large rush past her! It was a cheetah racing by and Chinye shook with fright. Yet she crept onwards. Soon, she heard snorting and snuffling. It was a herd of wildebeests settling down for the night. Chinye tiptoed past them, and walked on, towards the lake. At last, she could smell the water. Quietly she moved towards the rippling water. Then she froze: there was a pride of lions drinking! Now Chinye was really afraid. If she stepped forward to fill her gourds, the lions would eat her. But if she went home without the water, her stepmother would beat her. As she stood shivering behind a tree, she felt something touch her head. She looked up and saw that there was a large pink bird standing next to her! "What are you doing here, my child?" the flamingo asked her. "I have come to fill my water gourds, but I am afraid of the lions." "You would be a fool if you were not afraid of the lions," answered the flamingo solemnly. Then it said, "I will take care of the lions. When you hear me caw once, be ready. When you hear me caw twice, fill your gourd. And when you hear me caw three times, run as fast as you can!" So Chinye waited by the lake until she heard the flamingo caw once. She held her gourd tightly, and looked over at the lions. They had all turned toward the sound of the bird. Now the flamingo cawed for the second time. Quick as a flash, Chinye darted forward and filled her gourd. Just as the water filled it, Chinye heard the flamingo caw for the third time. She ran as fast as she could! Now she heard laughter, and realized that the flamingo was hopping through the trees just ahead of her. "This way, Chinye! Come this way!" So Chinye followed the flamingo, and suddenly, there before her, she saw a hut. She had never seen a hut near the lake before, and wondered how it came to be there. An old woman stood in the doorway, and beckoned to her. When Chinye came near, the woman said, "Chinye, my daughter, you are an old and worthy soul. You should be living a good life now, not suffering at the hands of your stepmother. Come, child. Come in to my hut. " So Chinye came into the hut. "Sweep the floor for an old woman, now, for my bones are stiff and I cannot draw the broom." So Chinye carefully set her water gourd down, and took up a palm broom, and began to sweep the floor. She saw that it was entirely covered with gourds! Some were very small, and others were huge, and they were of all colors. "How will I sweep the floor, Grandmother? It is all covered with gourds." asked the girl. And the old one said, "You must bend and pick up the tiniest gourds, those no bigger than your thumb." But when Chinye bent to the floor, the big gourds pushed in front of the little gourds, and called out, "Take me! Take me!" Calmly, Chinye pushed the big gourds aside and gathered the small ones. When her apron was full of them, she said, "What shall I do now, Grandmother?" And the old one said, "You must tie them up in your apron and take them home. When you get there, crack them open, and see what happens!" So Chinye tied her apron corners together to make a bag, and filled it with the little gourds. Then she picked up her water gourd and went home. She heard the flamingo laughing ahead of her in the trees. When she got home, her stepmother stormed and shouted. "Why were you gone so long? Were you playing in the lake? You lazy, good for nothing, I shall beat you if that gourd is not filled to the brim." And Chinye gave her the water gourd, and showed her that it was filled to the brim. Then she said, "Stepmother, please excuse me for being late. There was an old woman in the woods and I swept her floor for her and she has given me gourds." With that, Chinye drew out a handful of gourds. She cracked them open, and her stepmother's eyes nearly popped out of her face. From each gourds spilled pearls, and rubies, and emeralds! She grabbed as many of these as she could, so quickly that Chinye did not have time to pick any of them up. Then she made the girl tell her exactly what she had done, and where the woman's hut was. So Chinye told her, and the woman made her own daughter take an empty water gourd and go to the lake. The girl quaked and shivered in the woods just as Chinye had done. When she got to the lake, the lions were still there, and so was the flamingo. The big pink bird told her to be ready when it cawed once, to fill the jug when it cawed twice, and to run like the wind when it cawed the third time. This Chinye's stepsister did, and soon her gourd was filled to the brim. In two steps she reached the hut of the old woman. This one beckoned for her to come in, and the girl rushed over. When the old woman asked her to sweep the floor, she set her gourd on the table, and grabbed the broom. But when she tried to sweep, she saw that the entire floor was covered with gourds. "How shall I sweep, old woman? Your floor is dirty with gourds." And the old woman told her to gather the tiniest ones, and leave the big ones alone. And Chinye's stepsister bent forward, and the big gourds jumped up and down calling out to her. The little gourds lay quietly on the floor. The greedy girl laughed aloud and grabbed four of the biggest gourds she could carry. Without even bothering to pick up her water gourd, she ran home. Her mother was there, waiting to see what she would bring. "Open them up!" urged the woman, and she grabbed two of the calabashes from her daughter. Each took a knife and sliced the big rinds open. And then what a wailing Chinye heard! Those big gourds were filled with wasps, and biting flies and scorpions. They swarmed and bit every inch of Chinye's stepmother and daughter, but they didn't touch Chinye herself. Now those two wicked women began to swell up, their faces turning red and their eyes running. They scratched and slapped at themselves in their attempts to get the bugs off, and ripped off their clothing, so frantic were they. All of the villagers gathered around and laughed and laughed at the two naked women, covered with bee stings and hornet bites. Now the stepmother and her daughter ran, and Chinye's father ran after them. And the last time I looked, they were still running. As for Chinye, she went back to the hut and cut open the rest of the little gourds. There were enough jewels there to make a thousand women rich, so Chinye invited all of the women of the village to come with her to sell the jewels in town. With the money, they bought large herds of cattle, goats and pigs, and Chinye and the sisters of her village lived in peace and plenty for many years.
Notes: This story is taken from a short summary listed on an unidentified web site called Cinderella Around the World. It is very interesting to see the use of gourds as magical containers. I believe that the many fairy tales from Africa, Asia and the West Indies that features the combination of wise women, witches and gourds is what inspired Charles Perrualt to use a pumpkin in his story.
Montessori Connection: Zoology/Birds of Africa/Flamingos
1. Read the story and find Kenya on the globe.
2. Learn that flamingos belong to the order Ciconiiformes, which is made up of very large wading birds.
3. Learn that there are four species of flamingo.
4. Learn that the California Blue Heron is its cousin.