The Magic Orange Tree

A tale from Haiti
Retold by Diane Wolkstein

CRIC? CRAC!

There was once a girl whose mother died when she was born. Her father waited for some time to remarry, but when he did, he married a woman who was both mean and cruel. She was so mean there were some days she would not give the girl anything at all to eat. The girl was often hungry.

One day the girl came from school and saw on the table three round ripe oranges. Hmmmm. They smelled good. The girl looked around her. No one was there. She took one orange, peeled it, and ate it. Hmmm-mmm. It was good. She took a second orange and ate it. She ate the third orange. Oh-oh, she was happy. But soon her stepmother came home.

“Who has taken the oranges I left on the table?” she said. “Whoever has done so had better say their prayers now, for they will not be able to say them later.”

The girl was so frightened she ran from the house. She ran through the woods until she came to her own mother’s grave. All night she cried and prayed to her mother to help her. Finally she fell asleep.

In the morning the sun woke her, and as she rose to her feet something dropped from her skirt onto the ground. What was it? It was an orange pit. And the moment it entered the earth a green leaf sprouted from it. The girl watched, amazed. She knelt down and sang:

Orange tree,
Grow and grow and grow.
Orange tree, orange tree.
Grow and grow and grow,
Orange tree.
Stepmother is not real mother,
Orange tree.

The orange tree grew. It grew to the size of the girl. The girl sang:

Orange tree,
Branch and branch and branch.
Orange tree, orange tree,
Branch and branch and branch,
Orange tree.
Stepmother is not real mother,
Orange tree.

And many twisting, turning, curving branches appeared on the tree. Then the girl sang:

Orange tree,
Flower and flower and flower.
Orange tree, orange tree,
Flower and flower and flower,
Orange tree.
Stepmother is not real mother,
Orange tree.

Beautiful white blossoms covered the tree. After a time they began to fade, and small green buds appeared where the flowers had been. The girl sang:

Orange tree,
Ripen and ripen and ripen.
Orange tree, orange tree,
Ripen and ripen and ripen,
Orange tree.
Stepmother is not real mother.
Orange tree.

The oranges ripened, and the whole tree was filled with golden oranges. The girl was so delighted she danced around and around the tree, singing:

Orange tree,
Grow and grow and grow.
Orange tree, orange tree,
Grow and grow and grow,
Orange tree.
Stepmother is not real mother,
Orange tree.

But then when she looked, she saw the orange tree had grown up to the sky, far beyond her reach. What was she to do? Oh she was a clever girl. She sang:

Orange tree,
Lower and lower and lower.
Orange tree, orange tree,
Lower and lower and lower,
Orange tree.
Stepmother is not real mother,
Orange tree.

When the orange tree came down to her height, she filled her arms with oranges and returned home.

The moment the stepmother saw the gold oranges in the girl’s arms, she seized them and began to eat them. Soon she had finished them all, ”Tell me, my sweet,” she said to the girl, “where have you found such delicious oranges?”

The girl hesitated. She did not want to tell. The stepmother seized the girl’s wrist and began to twist it.

”Tell me!” she ordered.

The girl led her stepmother through the woods to the orange tree. You remember the girl was very clever? Well, as soon as the girl came to the tree, she sang:

Orange tree,
Grow and grow and grow.
Orange tree, orange tree,
Grow and grow and grow,
Orange tree.
Stepmother is not real mother,
Orange tree.

And the orange tree grew up to the sky. What was the stepmother to do then? She began to plead and beg.

“Please” she said. “You shall be my own dear child. You may always have as much as you want to eat. Tell the tree to come down and you shall pick the oranges for me”, so the girl quietly sang:

Orange tree,
Lower and lower and lower.
Orange tree, orange tree,
Lower and lower and lower,
Orange tree.
Stepmother is not real mother,
Orange tree.

The tree began to lower. When it came to the height of the stepmother, she leapt on it and began to climb so quickly you might have thought she was the daughter of an ape. And as she climbed from branch to branch, she ate every orange. The girl saw that there would soon be no oranges left. What would happen to her then? The girl sang:

Orange tree,
Grow and grow and grow.
Orange tree, orange tree,
Grow and grow and grow,
Orange tree.
Stepmother is not real mother,
Orange tree.

The orange tree grew and grew and grew and grew. “Help!” cried the stepmother as she rose into the sky. “H-E-E-lp….”

The girl cried: Break! Orange tree, Break!

The orange tree broke into a thousand pieces and the step mother as well.

Then the girl searched among the branches until she found …. a tiny orange pit. She carefully planted it in the earth. Softly she sang:

Orange tree,
Grow and grow and grow.
Orange tree, orange tree,
Grow and grow and grow,
Orange tree.
Stepmother is not real mother,
Orange tree.

The orange tree grew to the height of the girl. She picked some oranges and took them to market to sell. They were so sweet the people bought all her oranges.

Every Saturday she is at the marketplace selling her oranges. Last Saturday, I went to see her and asked her if she would give me a free orange. “What?” she cried. After all I’ve been through!” And she gave me such a kick in the pants that that’s how I got here today, to tell you the story-“The Magic Orange Tree.”

Commentary

When a child is born in the countryside, the umbilical cord may be saved and dried and planted in the earth, with a pit from a fruit tree placed on top of the cord. The tree that grows then belongs to the child, who can barter or sell it. (Young children in Haiti very quickly become economically active.) Trees in Haiti are thus thought to protect children and are sometimes referred to as the guardian angel of the child. However, if the tree should die or grow in a deformed manner, that would be considered an evil omen.

The song of the orange tree is often sung by the storyteller after the cric?, before the beginning of the story. Each storyteller may offer a slightly different melodic version of the song. Therefore, the storyteller’s decision to sing before the story not only teaches the audience the storyteller’s specific melody but also warms up the audience, for singing gets the blood flowing and the heart’s juices pumping.

Source

Story and commentary are excerpted with permission from The Magic Orange Tree and Other Haitian Folktales, by Diane Wolkstein, Shocken: NYC, 1978. Purchasing information available at www.amazon.com

About the Contributor

A Storyteller’s storyteller, Diane Wolkstein is one of the founders of the renaissance of storytelling in the U.S. She has been invited to perform the stories in The Magic Orange Tree at festivals and museums throughout the world. The author of 22 books of folklore, Diane’s books have been translated into 10 languages and are used by storytellers everywhere. For more information see:
www.dianewolkstein.com

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