The Prince and the Orphan– A Tuesday Tale

I found this story in Raouf Mama’s book, Why Goats Smell Bad, and Other Stories from Benin.

A great king had many wives, but only one of the children they bore him survived infancy.Two months before this child was born, the king and his seer went into the jungle and determined they must choose for the coming child a secret name, that not even the boy would know.

They named him Denangan, which means “One of Them Shall Live.”

He was indeed the perfect prince. Not only was he handsome and talented, he was beloved by all his father’s subjects because of his wisdom and kindness.

When he grew to be a man and there came upon him the desire for a wife, the king let it be known that whoever could guess the prince’s name would claim him for her husband.

There was among his subjects a beautiful orphan girl named Hobami, “Woe is Me.”

The lowliest girl ever to fall in love with a prince.

Hobami was forced to work like a slave in the home of a woman with three daughters of her own.

These daughters, too, hoped to win the prince, and their mother bought for them rich dresses and bangles and jewels. She also planned to pay a powerful diviner to magically learn the prince’s true name.

The sisters told one another stories about dazzling the prince with their beauty, and tricking him into revealing his name so they could all marry him.

Their mother also gave Hobami new clothing, saying the king required all maidens to attend. But it was only rags.

The three sisters promised to leave a palm branch to mark the correct train to the palace, since Hobami had to finish her chores and could not accompany them.

Of course, they marked the wrong trail intending to lead her away from the contest.


On their way, the sisters met, as it seemed, an old woman who begged for something to eat, gently calling them, “My daughters.”

The girls were insulted.

“How dare you call me your daughter!”

“Our mother is far younger and much more beautiful than you, old hag!”

“You get out of our way before I pick you up and throw you into the bush!”

And continuing to shout insults and obscenities back at her, the sisters continued on their way to the palace.

When Hobami finally finished her work she dressed herself in the rags her guardian had supplied and made her way to the crossroads. While she looked about in the dusk for the palm branch the sisters promised to leave for her, a great wind blew up so much dust she couldn’t see.

When it ceased to blow, the palm branch was laying by the correct path and Hobami continued on her way to the palace.

Before long she met the same old woman the sisters had insulted and again she asked for food.

Willingly, Hobami shared the little she had. While they ate together the old woman asked Hobami where she was going.

“To try my luck at guessing the kind prince’s name. Though… I do not know what I will guess. I do not know his name.”

I know his name,” the old woman replied. “And because you have been so kind, I will tell you.”

She told Hobami the history of the family. The many babies lost before, and the king and his seer going deep into the forest. There the seer told the king:

A male child shall be born unto you.
Let his name be a secret to him,
To his mother, and to all your subjects.

A great many women shall yearn for his love,
But only one has been ordained to claim it.
She shall be his soulmate.
Through their union alone
Can he fulfill his destiny.

And the forest spirit, who had witnessed all this, whispered the name in Hobami’s ear, and vanished.

Her heart beating hard, the girl ran the rest of the way to the palace and arrived just as the last of the hopeful women had failed.

The three sisters’ expectation of ensnaring the prince with their beauty and persuading him to reveal his name proved useless, not only because, as the forest spirit revealed, the prince himself did not know his true name, but because he was shut away from all those who had assembled.

When the three sisters saw Hobami enter in her rags they screeched and would have attacked her, but the old seer ordered them off and gently asked Hobami if she wanted to guess the prince’s name.

“Denangan,” she whispered. “His name is Denangan.” The seer smiled and there was a roll of drums as the inner chamber was opened and the prince came out, smiling broadly, arms open, to meet his bride.

They were married and lived together long and happily, having many children.

The sisters and their mother, fearful of how they had treated Hobami, fled from village to village. But, while Hobami did nothing to avenge herself, the story of their treatment of the girl became a song and a legend that followed them like a curse the rest of their lives.

3 thoughts on “The Prince and the Orphan– A Tuesday Tale

  1. This is one of my favorite Cinderella variants, in part because it is the only one I’ve yet read that does not include the physical transformation of the the girl.

    She wins the prince while still in her rags.

    ~ ~ ~

    Winning the prince in this story seems especially significant to me because it looks like, by winning him, she won the place of ‘only wife.’

    In a generally polygamous society this must have been an *enormous* victory for her.

  2. I like this variant as well. I also like a native american variant that I’ve heard for the same reason. She wins him with kindness and honesty in the Native American version, which, knowing you, you’ve probable read.

    I love tales.

  3. She also wins him through her kind treatment of the old woman. I love that about traditional tales – often the kindness – to animals, beggars, etc – is the key for both men and women on journeys. The kindness they bestow leads others to be kind and help them.

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