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.



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