Legends and Fables from Around The World

June 2, 2007

The Story of the Watermelon

Filed under: Vietnam — Edvan @ 3:25 pm
One day a slave merchant offered King Hung VIII a child from the faraway Southern Seas. The child was unusually intelligent, and on growing up showed patience and will at every trial. He learned the Vietnamese language in a very short time.
Having a high opinion of him the King conferred on him the exceptional honor of being called Mai An Tiem. He heaped favors on him and married his daughter to him.
An Tiem lived in perfect harmony with his young wife and their two children, a boy and a girl. it often pleased him to say that “everything that he owned was a gift from Heaven.” The courtiers remarked to him: “As a subject of the King you owe everything to our sovereign: clothes and food. Your words seem to deny your gratitude to him.” An Tiem only smiled. The courtier told the King of the attitude of the man of whom they were jealous:
“Today he dares to speak disrespectfully,” they said. “Who knows whether he will not go as far as fomenting a rebellion against you? We beg Your Majesty to exile him to a deserted island to see if he can survive.”
The King loved An Tiem, but he valued his throne even more. These words hurt him deeply.
He was carried away by suspicion. He exiled An Tiem to a deserted island, off the district of Nga Son (present-day Thanh Hoa province).
An Tiem left with his family. At the sight of this desolate island battered by waves on every side, the young wife held her children close in her arms and started to cry. An Tiem tried to console her, then penetrated into the forest, to feed his family on the products of gathering and hunting.
One day he saw sea bird droppings on the rocks and, among them, shiny black seeds.
“These are seeds,” he said to his wife. “We will plant them and see what they turn into. The birds eat them, so they must be edible.”
The couple started to prepare the ground, then planted the seeds. They watered them and protected them against the birds. Some time later, when they germinated, the seeds turned into a creeping plant until then unknown, with leaves of a tender green. Then flowers appeared which turned into fruits. These fruits were as large as a head, and covered with a smooth skin. An Tiem opened one of them. The inside was a beautiful red, sprinkled with shiny black seeds. The pulp was fresh, cool and had good flavor. The very happy couple picked the fruits and stored them in grottoes.
They cleared new ground and thus, year after year, the whole island was covered in a beautiful green cloak. Junks navigating in the vicinity grew accustomed to anchor and to exchange other food and products for these fruits. One morning during the watermelon season, nostalgia for his native country urged An Tiem to write his name on hundreds of these fruits before throwing them into the sea. Soldiers on patrol gathered them up and carried them to the King who sent messengers to the island.
When the King heard the story of the exiles he admitted his mistake, and as he was a just King, he recalled An Tiem and gave him back rank and office.
The story is told that the bird which carried the seeds was a white pheasant coming from the north and that on flying over the island it uttered three cries and let fall six seeds giving the name tay qua (western melon) to the plant. Meanwhile the inhabitants of the region continue to call it dua hau (watermelon) or dua do (red melon).

Why Ducks Sleep Standing On One Leg

Filed under: Vietnam — Edvan @ 3:14 pm
Many people must have wondered why ducks are accustomed to sleep in the funny way that they do – with one leg lifted. The Vietnamese have an interesting explanation for this.
After Heaven had completed the creation of the world, there were four ducks who found that they only had one leg each. it was difficult for them to walk, and sometimes they were unable to find enough food. They became very morose when they saw how easily other fowls and animals moved about on two legs.
One day the four unfortunate ducks held a meeting and discussed their ignoble condition. They had arrived at a point where life on one leg could no longer be endured, so they decided to lodge a complaint to Heaven. But they were entirely ignorant of Heaven’s location, and they did not even know how to draft a petition.
One of them suggested that they should turn to the rooster for help. The others protested that his penmanship was so bad that no one in Heaven would be able to read the petition. But there was no one else to whom they could turn, so after having quacked and grumbled for some time, the four of them went to find the rooster, who was only too eager to help and readily scratched out the desired petition.
The ducks read the petition and then held another meeting to decide which one of them should carry it. The way to Heaven was long and tedious and beset with many pitfalls, so that none of the one-legged ducks was enthusiastic about undertaking the journey.
The rooster, who was standing some distance away, overheard the lively discussion. He coughed discreetly, and approaching the group, delicately asked whether he might be of further service. They were very pleased and accepted his offer to help.
“Not far from here there is a temple,” he suggested, looking wisely down his beak “and it happens that I am acquainted with the god of the place. He could convey your petition to Heaven, and I can give you a letter of introduction to him.”
The ducks were loudly grateful whereupon the rooster put on his spectacles and wrote out a suitably worded letter for them.
The ducks then proceeded to the temple, and as they entered its precincts, they suddenly heard a loud, imperious voice wanting to know why the temple’s incense burner had eight legs instead of four. The voice continued by demanding that the four extra legs be removed immediately.
As the ducks heard this, their hope rose. They did not know what an incense burner was, but they understood that four of its legs were to be removed immediately. They hurried into the temple. The god was still frowning at the incense burner when they entered, and he looked at them unsmilingly.
“Your lordship,” said one duck, who had become the spokesman for the group, “here is a letter for you from our friend and neighbor, the rooster and also our petition. It’s about our need of four legs; as you see we have only one leg each.”
The god replied that what had been given them at creation was final, and that their petition would serve no purpose. At these words the four duck fell silent. But then one, younger than the others and more desperate, spoke up and said what was on the minds of all four.
“Your lordship,” he stammered, “you spoke just now of removing four legs from the incense burner….”
The god looked at him wide-eyed for an instant and then burst into uncontrollable laughter. In the end he agreed to give the ducks the four extra legs.
“But mind you,” he said, handing them over to the ducks and winking at the incense burner, “these legs are made of pure gold and are very precious; guard them carefully.”
The ducks were ready to promise anything. They took their legs with indescribable joy. They bowed and thanked the god. They attached the extra legs to their bodies and soon they were able to move about like their fellow creatures. But at night when they went to sleep, they would pull up the leg given them by the temple god so that no one could steal it. Other ducks, seeing this, assumed it was the proper way to sleep and in imitation began to lift one leg before retiring for the night. And so the custom has remained to this day.

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