As part of our “Cinderella Around the World” series, I am so excited to review one of my favorite Cinderella stories: The Golden Sandal: A Middle Eastern Cinderella Story retold by Rebecca Hickox and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. This version of the famous story comes from Iraq, and was originally called The Little Red Fish and the Clog of Gold (see an on-line retelling here). Many of the same elements are also present in eastern Iranian, and western Afghanistan stories.
In this Middle Eastern Cinderella version of the story, sweet Maha begs her widowed father to marry their good neighbor. Despite his hesitation, he does remarry, and brings his new wife and her daughter into his house. The stepmother begins to become jealous of the fisherman’s lovely and clever daughter, and gave her more and more work to do. One day, Maha befriends a little red fish helps her in various ways as she grows older (like the magical fish in the Chinese Cinderella story!).
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One day, a wedding is being prepared, and all of the women in the town will gather to celebrate and watch the bride’s hands and feet be painted in henna. Maha is left home to carry heavy water jugs and sweep the floor- until she visit her friend the fish. The fish gives her a silken gown and a pair of golden sandals, and warns her to leave the henna party before her stepmother does. After a wonderful time at the party, Maha rushes home and drops one of her golden sandals into the water below. Tariq, the brother of the bride, later discovers the sandal and sends his mother to try it on all women in the town. At Maha’s house, Maha’s stepmother hides her in the bread oven, and tries to force her own daughter’s foot into the sandal. Just as Tariq’s mother was about to leave, a rooster flies tot he top of the oven and crows”
The one you seek is hidden below.
Tariq’s mother is excited to have found her son a worthy bride, and gives the stepmother a bag of gold. The wicked stepmother uses the money to buy foul-smelling oil that should make Maha’s hair fall out. However, when Tariq lifts her veil, she is more beautiful than ever. Tariq’s brother sees Tariq’s happiness and asks his mother to arrange a wedding with Maha’s sister. The stepmother buys the same potion again, hoping to beautify her daughter- but her hair falls out and the groom refuses to marry her.
Cultural Notes on the Middle Eastern Cinderella Story
Notice the different proverbs, or sayings sprinkled throughout this Middle Eastern Cinderella story:
“Allah says a kindness never goes unrewarded.”
“They say water will wear away stone. In the end the fisherman married the widow...”
“Oh Allah Whom we praise, how much this lady resembles my husband’s daughter! But then, don’t they say ‘Every seven men were made from one clod of clay’!”
“Ki-ki-ki-kow!/Let the king’s wife know/They put the ugly one on show/And hid the beauty down below!/Ki-ki-ki-kow!”
Ask your children to guess what each saying means. Sometimes poetic language is difficult for children to grasp, so help them understand the significance.
Another interesting cultural aspect of this story is the bride’s henna ceremony. Henna is a dye derived from a the leaves of a small shrub (see more here, plus a henna hands craft!). Women in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa use henna in a paste to make intricate temporary tattoos that decorate their hands and feet. Note that men and women attended functions separately, and that the bride’s henna ceremony was not a chance for young girls to meet a young man that they might marry, but rather a chance for young girls to meet the mothers of a young man they might marry.
Check out all of our Cinderella Around the World stories, with links and activities!