Robin Redbreast

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

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Cinderella #366: Chinye: A West African Folktale by Onyefulu, O.

Chinye: A West African Folktale by Obi Onyefulu
"Long ago there lived a girl called Chinye. Her father and mother were dead, so she lived with her stepmother Nkechi, 
and her
"You will find the floor of the hut covered with gourds!" Illustration by
 Safarewicz, Evie, (1994)
stepsister, Adanma."
Well, those two made Chinye do just about all of the chores. Adanma, "who was spoiled and lazy", was no help at all. In fact, that girl liked to lounge around and take so many baths that she was always using up all the water.  One night there was not a drop left in the hut to use for cooking dinner, so Nkechi sent Chinye to fetch some, although it was dark night. She told her, "Go to the stream at once and get more water, you bad girl", even though Chinye was not really bad at all. But she went to get the water because she had no choice. When she was halfway there, "a shape loomed up on the path" and the girl shrieked with terror. But then a loving voice asked, "Where are you going, child?" and the shadow seemed to transform into an antelope. When Chinye explained why she was out so late, "the shape sighed and let her pass". When Chinye was three quarters of the way to the stream another shadow burst forth, and it looked like a hyena! It spoke calmly to her, questioning the girl as to why she was about in this dangerous neck of the jungle at this late hour.  When Chinye told her, the hyena said, “Go on your way with my blessing. But take care: a lion is following me. Hide behind this tree and wait until it has passed.” So Chinye waited, then ran as fast as she could to the stream.  It whispered as it passed in the dark, but there were no animals about.  Chinye filled her water gourd, and turned to leave. “Suddenly, right in front of her she saw an old woman, bent with age. ‘Bless you, child”, she said.  Then the old one told the girl that on her way home she would hear drumming and singing coming from a certain hut in the jungle, and that she should enter this hut.  The river spirit told her that there would be gourds scattered over the hut’s floor, and that Chinye should “choose the smallest, quietest gourd”, not the large ones that would call out asking to be picked up. With another blessing for Chinye, the spirit wafted away. And all passed just as she had foretold.  The hut with the sound of drumming and singing was there, and its floor was crowded with gourds.  Some had straight necks, some curved.  Some were nearly as big as Chinye, some small enough to hold in her palm.  She sought out the littlest one, picked it up, and left the hut. And the old woman of the river appeared again.  “You have chosen wisely.  Make good use of whatever fortune brings you”, she said.  And then she was gone.  But when Chinye got home, her stepsister slapped the little gourd from her hand and shoved Chinye to the fire pit to begin cooking.  Her stepmother slapped her for being late, and shouted, “We’ve waited long enough for food tonight.”  So Chinye had to cook and serve the their supper and could not find a minute to open the gourd.  In the morning, she slipped out with the tiny pumpkin and sat down in a vacant hut she knew of.  Then she used a rock and cracked open the pumpkin and “at a stroke the bare hut was transformed into a treasure-house.  Gold ornaments spilled across the floor, mingled with ivory and swaths of rare damask in all the colors under the sun.”  And Chinye, who was as generous as she was dutiful, ran to share the good news with her stepmother.  “Aha! Nkechi’s eyes gleamed greedily”, and she sent lazy Adanma to the river to seek the spirit.  Of course that girl found her, and of course the spirit gave her the same blessings and advice she had given to Chinye. But  did Adanma listen? No she did not!  She followed her own greedy nature and the training of her avaricious mother instead.  When Adanma came to the hut with the sound of drumming and dancing, she made sure to choose the biggest calabash she could carry. She hauled it home, laughing to herself about the silly advice of that old woman by the water, and how pleased Nkechi would be when she got home.  But things worked out a bit differently than the greedy girl imagined. When she got home, her mother gloated with her, saying, “We’re rich! We’re rich!” and slashing the gourd open with her longest kitchen knife. And then “there was a flash of light and a clap of thunder…a great whirlwhind sprang up, gathered all their pots, pans, clothes, and cowrie shells” and blew them away into the night.  Adanma and Nkechi fled after their belongings, “too proud to ask for help”.  But Chinye remembered the river spirit’s words, and decided to use her fortune in jewels to help her community, and Chinye, and her village, lived happily ever after.
From Chinye: A West African Folktale, by Onyefulu, O. & Safarewicz, E. (1994)   New York: Penguin Books USA, Inc.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Pink Flamingo

Cinderella #129 Chinye: An African Cinderella
Once upon a time, in Kenya, there lived a girl named Chinye.  Her mother had died, and her father
Birds are Cinderella's helpers all over the world, from Kenya to Disneyland. 
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 gourd 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. 

Note: Gourds (gouorde from L.cucurbita) are, according to Webster's New 20th Century Dictionary, are cousins to the Halloween pumpkin. Consider the magical calabash: from a fat, white seed grows an immense vine, with leaves the size of dinner plates. Soon, this vine bears enormous brilliantly colored fruit, which can be dried, cut open and used as water containers, or scraped and baked and eaten. 
his story was written by Rachel Hope Crossman using a story fragment described on website

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Birds of Berkeley

Birds appear as helpers to Cinderella in stories all over the world. Here are birds that have appeared to me as inspiration, here in Berkeley, Ca.  
A goose at Tilden Little Farm, Berkeley.

A blackbird at the Berkeley Marina.

A turkey at Tilden Little Farm.

A blue heron at Jewel Lake, Tilden Park.