Fairy Tales in Different Cultures: The Golden Sandal: A Middle Eastern Cinderella

Since May is Asian-Pacific American Month, I thought I would feature some of the Asian fairy tales I have done and then I realized that almost all the Cinderella tales I haven't done yet are from Asia, so we are back to having Fairy Tales in Different Cultures. (I should add that we are behind in our cooking for Around the World in 12 Dishes, but that will be coming as soon as I get Hazel to cook with me.) We have already shared Cinderella tales from China, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and India and a Snow White tale from Armenia. We have also shared Islamic versions of both Cinderella and Snow White. Our tale today is The Golden Sandal by Rebecca Hickox. It is a Middle Eastern Cinderella tale. So first a bit about the Middle East. 
The Middle East is Western Asia. It is also called the Near East. The people of the Middle East come from long established ethnic groups including Arabs, Turks, Persians, Balochs, Pashtuns, Lurs, Mandeans, Tats, Jews, Kurds, Somalis, Assyrians, Egyptian Copts, Armenians, Azeris, Maltese, Circassians, Greeks, Turcomans, Shabaks, Yazidis, Mandeans, Georgians, Roma, Gagauz, Mhallami and Samaritans. Several major religions have their origins in the Middle East including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The majority of the area is dry and hot with a few rivers to provide irrigation for crops. The countries that border the Persian Gulf generally have vast reserves of crude oil. (Source)

In The Golden Sandal, a fisherman is left with his small daughter, Maha, after his wife drowns. A neighbor who is a widow with a small daughter of her own comes to take care of Maha every day. Maha begs his father to marry the widow. He tells her he will never remarry since a stepmother can be jealous of a stepdaughter. Maha continues to beg and eventually her father marries the widow. At first everyone is very happy, but the widow gets jealous of how much the fisherman loves his daughter and of her grace and beauty whereas her own daughter is clumsy and pale in comparison. The stepmother begins having Maha do all the work and feeds her only a few dried dates while the fisherman is away during the day. 

One day Maha is to bring fish back from her father's boat. On her way home, the red fish begins to talk to her and asks her to spare his life. Maha releases it in the river and the fish tells her Allah will reward her and to ask him at any time for whatever she needs. That night the father asks what happened to the red fish and the stepmother is furious that Maha did not bring all the fish back. Maha runs to the river crying and calls for the fish. The fish gives her a coin to give her stepmother and tells her to say she sold the fish. The stepmother is happy with the coin, but still not happy with Maha. 

Over the years both girls grow into young women. Maha works all day and the stepsister becomes lazy and mean to Maha. Maha goes to the fish whenever she feels overwhelmed and the fish does something to help her. One day, a merchant's daughter is to be married. It is the custom for all the unmarried girls to go to the women's celebration before the wedding where the bride has her arms and feet painted with red henna. The mothers of the unmarried men are present and see the girls who are available for marriage.  The stepmother scrubs her daughter and dresses her in the finest clothes they own and leaves Maha home to carry heavy water jugs and sweep the floor. When they leave she goes crying to the fish. The fish provides her a beautiful gown, pearl comb and golden sandals. Maha quickly cleans herself and dresses. When she enters the women assume she must be from an important family dressed as she is and the bride has her sit next to her. Her stepmother and stepsister joke about how she looks a bit like Maha but they could never imagine her in such fine clothes. Maha has such a good time she forgets to keep a close eye on her stepmother and leave before she does. She rushes out after her stepmother and loses one of her sandals in the river. She makes it home and is able to change before her stepmother and stepsister return. 

The next day the bride's brother, Tariq, stops by the river to let his horse get a drink, but the horse refuses to drink. Tariq finds the golden sandal and thinks it is so beautiful. He imagines the woman who wore it and takes it home to his mother. He tells her he wants to marry the girl who lost the sandal. The mother takes the sandal house to house starting with the wealthy families to have the unmarried girls try it on. Eventually she arrives at Maha's home. The stepmother sees her coming and locks Maha in the bread oven with a large rock in front of it. The sandal does not fit the stepsister. A rooster flies to the top of the bread oven and begins crowing with all his might and tells Tariq's mother that the one she is looking for is in the oven. She has her servant open the oven and Maha crawls out. Of course the sandal fits her. Tariq's mother gives the stepmother a purse of gold and tells her that Maha is betrothed to Tariq and they will be married in two days time. The bitter stepmother goes to the perfumer and asks him to make an oil that smells so foul  as rotting fish and that will make hair fall out. She combs this oil into Maha's hair the night before the wedding. The next day the procession comes for Maha and when she arrives and Tariq lifts her veil, the room fills with the scent of roses and her hair is even more beautiful than before. Tariq and Maha live in happiness.

When Tariq's brother sees how happy Tariq is, he tells his mother he wants to marry Maha's sister. The mother goes to the stepmother and gives her a purse of gold and tells her to prepare for the wedding. Since the oil worked so positively for Maha, she uses in her own daughter's hair. When the groom is able to lift the veil he finds a woman with a smell that almost chokes him and all her hair is replaced with red blisters. She is returned to her mother in shame. Tariq and Maha have seven children and live happily.

Like so many of the Asian Cinderella tales, a fish plays an important role in the story. Since the fish is a red fish, I used a red paper plate and made a simple red fish. I did it rather quickly and would have used googly eyes, but I didn't take the time to find them. Hazel wants to make one so our next one will have googly eyes.

For more Cinderella tales check out: