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Literature / The One-Handed Girl

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The One-handed Girl is a Swahili Fairy Tale. Andrew Lang included it in The Lilac Fairy Book.

A dying man offers his children the choice between his property and his blessing. The son wants his property, the daughter his blessing. Then, their mother did the same. The son let his sister have only a small pot and a vessel to clean corn in. She supported herself by letting the villagers borrow her pot, and did well. (She also planted a pumpkin seed.) This made her brother envious, and he stole them. But the pumpkin vine did well, and she sold the pumpkins and lived on that.


When her sister-in-law tried to buy one, the sister gave her one for nothing, but when she tried to buy another the next day, they were all gone, so she told the brother that his sister had refused to sell her one. The brother cut the vine down to punish her; when she tried to protect it by throwing herself in the way, he cut off her hand as well, and then sold the home she lived in.

She went into the forest to hide there from him. Seven days later, a king's son found her there, fell in love with her, and married her. They had a baby, and then the king's son had to go on a journey. Her brother heard of the bride who had only one hand, and guessed it was his sister. He tells the king and his wife that she is a witch who had killed three husbands, and lost her hand and been exiled for it. They exile her again, with her baby.


In the forest, she sees a snake and sits very still when it begs her to let it hid in her pot. After another snake passes by, it brings her with him, and tells her to bathe her baby in a pool. She loses the baby and searches around with her hand. The snake tells her to use her other arm. She does, and finds both the baby and that her hand has been restored. Then the snake brought her to its parents, who kept her as their guest because she had saved their son.

The king's son, who had fallen ill and taken such a long time to return, was shown two graves made as if for his wife and child.

The daughter, after a time, wanted to return home, and on the snake's advice, asked for its father's ring and its mother's casket, which would feed her and protect her from harm. Using them, she got herself a fine house. The king, his wife, and his son came to visit, bringing along her brother. The daughter recounted her tale, and was reconciled with her husband, and her brother was exiled.


Full text here.

It is Aarne Thompson type 706, the Girl Without Hands. Compare "Donkeyskin", "Catskin", "Cap o' Rushes", and "Tattercoats" for the beginning, and "The Dancing Water, the Singing Apple, and the Speaking Bird" for the ending.

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