AUTHOR: Myrna J. de la Paz
PUBLISHER: Shen’s Book
REVIEW PUBLISHED IN papertiger.org on September 2009 by Abigail Sawyer
Myrna J. de la Paz’s upbringing in a Philippine town where indigenous culture and spiritual beliefs are practiced alongside Christianity inspired her to share a world of magic and myth that had become familiar to her but was in danger of disappearing as a result of the long history of Spanish Colonization and Americanization. Abadeha: The Philippine Cinderella is a story that had already disappeared from mainstream Philippine folk literature, and de la Paz made it her mission to rescue this tale with its indigenous roots intact.
A universal story (Shen’s Books alone has published six culturally distinct Cinderella stories as well as In Search of Cinderella, a curriculum that includes 12 Cinderella stories from around the globe), Abadeha’s struggle against her wicked stepmother and stepsisters and her eventual triumph over them, aided by magic, will be familiar to most young readers. What sets Abadeha apart are the details.
Rather than a fairy godmother, the “Spirit of the Forest” comes to Abadeha’s aid, first in completing the impossible tasks her stepmother has set out for her and ultimately in arranging her marriage to the prince. At one point the Spirit gives Abadeha a sarimonok, a brilliantly colored chicken with long, flowing tail feathers. However, when Abadeha takes the bird home, her stepmother kills and roasts it for dinner. Devastated, Abadeha buries the bird’s feet near her mother’s grave in the forest, and at this site grows an enchanted tree laden with gold and jewels. The son of the island chieftain discovers the tree while hunting and takes a ring from it. Later, he cannot remove the ring as his finger swells with pain. In a dream a sarimonok reveals to the prince that a certain young maiden can remove the ring from his finger. When he tells his father, it is decreed that the girl who can remove the ring will marry him.
To recreate this story, rich with cultural references, de la Paz pulled together local religious beliefs and practices and incorporated native flora, fauna, and names into the tale. The soft, colorful illustrations by Youshan Tang paint an evocative picture of indigenous life in the tropical islands. Abadeha:The Philippine Cinderella is a great story for opening the door to a heritage worth preserving.