Image from Cinderella (1950)

Like many young girls, some of my favorite movies in my pre-teen days (and, admittedly, some of my favorite movies still) were the classic Disney princess films. Preceded by Mulan and Belle, Cinderella ranked among the top three.

Westerners may best know that European Cinderella created by Charles Perrault, a French author who paved the way for the fairy tale genre. However, Perrault’s Cendrillon does not stand alone on the fairy tale stage. Through history, numerous cultures have told their own rags-to-riches Cinderella stories. That dream of rising from poverty to prosperity speaks to the hope of people in all different worlds.

Below I have compiled a short list of Cinderella stories from different cultures’ folktales.

Algonquin  – the Rough-Face Girl

9780590469326_mresInternationally-acclaimed storyteller Rafe Martin adapted this version of the Cinderella story from an old Algonquin Indian folktale. Oochigeaskw, which means the Rough-Face Girl, a weak girl and the youngest of three daughters, is so named for the scars left by her cruel oldest sister, who burnt her with hot coals. She lives in a large village at the edge of Lake Ontario, where also resides the Invisible Being, a mighty hunter, and his sister. To marry him, a girl had to prove to his sister that she had seen the Invisible Being. The sister will ask a prospective bride questions about his appearance, such as the material of his shoulder strap. One day, though many better than herself have failed, Oochigeaskw tries.

China – Ye Xian (叶限)

yeh-shenThe story of Ye Xian comes from a Chinese fairytale from the 3rd century B.C. Ye Xian’s mother dies in childbirth, and her father Chief Wu in her youth, leaving her with her father’s second wife and her half-sister. Ye Xian excels in embroidery and surpasses her stepmother’s daughter in beauty, so that when Chief Wu dies her stepmother grows bitter toward her and treats her ill. Despite her hardship, Ye Xian finds happiness in a beautiful red fish with golden eyes and red fins. After her stepmother, jealous, kills the fish, an old man advises Ye Xian to hide the bones and, when in great need, to pray to them and receive whatever she wished. Not until the important suitor-seeking Cave Festival does she use them.

74143Greece – Rhodopis (Ροδώπις)

The historical record of Strabo in the 1st century B.C. makes the first mention of Rhodopis, though the story he recounts does not align exactly with true events. However, Rhodopis did exist, a girl who rose “from sex slave to celebrity courtesan.” [1] The story crafted by folklorist Shirley Climo casts Rhodopis as a slave who meets the Pharaoh.

India – Nagami

anklet_fcThe Indian Cinderella, written about in Anklet for a Princess: A Cinderella Tale from India, springs from the East Indian folktale Nagami. Cinduri completes all of the chores for her stepmother and stepsister, receiving scraps in return. Godfather Snake at the lake where she fetches water hears of her struggles, and acts as the Fairy Godmother of this Indian adaptation, enabling Cinduri to attend the Navaratri Festival and meet the Prince.

Russia – Vasilisa the Beautiful


On her deathbed, Vasilisa’s mother gives her a magical little doll that, when given a bit to eat, will accomplish any task asked of it. Thus begins the fairytale of Vasilisa the Beautiful, who endures abuse from her stepmother and stepsisters when her father remarries. One day, the household has need for light, and Vasilisa is sent to the house of the man-eating witch Baba Yaga. With the help of her mother’s gift and magic from the witch’s hut, Vasilisa frees herself from her wicked step-family and, through her own industry, comes in contact with the Tsar.

Vietnam – Tấm Cám

51rxqtvoqwl-_sx258_bo1204203200_Tấm and Cám, half-sisters, live with Cám’s mother after their father and Tấm’s mother die. Tấm’s stepmother, Cám’s mother, forces Tấm to slave in the household. One day the stepmother sends Tấm with Cám to the field for shrimp, where Cám takes the shrimp that Tấm collected and returns home. In place of the shrimp, a small goby fish swims in the basket. This fish, an old man, and a sparrow help her sneak under her stepmother’s and half-sister’s noses to attend the festival hosted by the king. (The original story also includes a couple murderous acts of revenge between Tấm and Cám after the festival. Nothing like a little jealous bloodshed to wrap up a story.)

Zimbabwe – Nyasha

98440In 1895, South Africa historian and archivist George McCall Theal compiled stories in the collection Kaffir Folktales, among them what would become award-winning author/illustrator John Steptol’s picture book Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters. [2] It tells of the daughters of Mufaro (“happy man”), the kind-hearted Nyasha (“mercy”) and the selfish Manyara (“ashamed”). The King seeks the “Most Worthy and Beautiful” for his bride, and the two girls set out for the palace to present themselves, encountering along the way persons in need of help – a test of character, it turns out, from the King.

Do you know any Cinderella adaptations?

[1] The story of Rhodopis
[2] Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters