13

Jan
2023

People lived on the Vietnamese land a very long time ago. Page 8

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From the family to the village, we now emerge into something vaster and more encompassing: the nation as headed by a sovereign who presided over all the villages because in him resided the power not only to assign protecting deities to each individual village, but also to rank those deities according to their respective merits on a predetermined hierarchy. In the  past,  the  edicts- certificates, carefully and proudly pre served in the dinh, had to be delivered by the supreme authority on earth, the grand priest of the cult, the Son of Heaven, the sovereign of Vietnam.

 

People lived on the Vietnamese land a very long time ago. Stone imple ments are found everywhere, principally in the north and northern part of central Vietnam. They date from the times of the Paleolithic with sites at Mount Do,

 

Cave Hum of the Son Vi culture, the Mesolithic with the Hoa Binh, and Neolithic with the Bac Son and Quynh Van cultures.

Then came the bronze age which, according to Vietnamese archaeologists, began already four thousand years ago through four stages: Phung Nguyen, Dong Dau, Go Mun and Dong Son. The last one, universally known as the Dongsonian age of bronze culture, saw its extension cover the many regions of southern China and mainland Southeast Asia. Its center is believed to have been located in the village of Dong Son, in the province of Thanh Hoa, approximately one hundred kilometers south of Hanoi.

The Dongsonian civilization is characterized by the well-known “kettle- drum”, the top face of which are elaborately decorated with silhouettes of dancers, birds, boats, all surrounding a well shaped multi-corner star.

On some of those drums, the four cardinal points of the round face are decorated with sculptures of toads or frogs, singly or one on top of the other. Vietnameserchaeologists believe those must be rain drums, which the Dongsonian people used to beat every time they wished for rain.

 

This would be a vivid illustration of a Vietnamese legend that makes the toad an uncle of Heaven. According to that legend, following a long drought, a toad recruited a number of other animals from earth to go to Heaven to ask for rain. After an extended and arduous journey, the animals were not welcomed at all by the heavenly court. Residents and uninvited guests resorted to the use of force. In the ensuing fight, every endowed weapon of the animals: the spur of the rooster, the trump of the elephant, the slithery body of the snake, the paws of the cat, the speed of the horse, the needle of the bee were put to an advantage against

the dei ties protecting the Emperor of Heaven. The combat resulted in a cove nant passed between Heaven and the animals. The only clause of the con tract stipulates that each time the animals wished for rain, they simply asked the toad to grind its teeth. Two ancient one-line adages say it plainly: The toad is Heaven’s uncle. Heaven will strike whoever strikes it.

When the toad grinds its teeth, the four corners of heaven are shaken. Nguyen Van Ngoc, Tuc Ngu Phong Dao, Hanoi, 1953, p. 55

With the bronze civilization, the Vietnamese placed the beginning of their history. If they have no story that explains the creation of the world, the Vietnamese tell many legends about the dawn of their history. One of them relates the genealogy of the rulers of Van Lang, , the first name of the Vietnamese territory, which covered, in addi tion to the entire delta of the Red River, the northern portion of the Indochi nese panhandle. That land which was divided into fifteen districts remains in the eyes of all Vietnamese the cradle of their  civilization.

Eighteen legendary kings with the name of Hung successively ruled the

 

country for a period longer than two thousand years (2879-258 B.C.E.). The first of the Hung Kings, who altogether were considered the founding fathers of Vietnam, descended from Lac the Dragon Lord, Lac Long Quan, and Au Co, the immortal. After a long time of living together, Au Co gave birth to a pouch containing one hundred eggs. From these eggs, came out one hundred children. For some reason that remains unsaid, the parents decided one day to split up and continue their lives in different dwelling places. As Lac Long Quan partakes the nature of dragons, so he went with fifty children to reside on the coastal plains, while Au Co, being a descendant of the race of immortals, withdrew with the rest of the  family to  the forested  mountains. To  this day, the  Vietnamese still believe firmly that they are children of dragons and grand children of immortals (con rong, chau tien).

Many conclusions can be drawn from this legend.

 

First of all, the division of one people, issuing from one same couple into two different groups whose respective habitat places one on the coasts and the other on the mountains accounts for the fact that the ethnic and kinh people of Vietnam should be considered two strands of the same fi ber, as the following saying states it affectionately: O gourd, love me tenderly! beseeches the pumpkin, Even though we do not belong to the same species, We still share the same trellis.

The number of children who hatched from the pouch of one hun dred eggs was

equally divided into half male and half female. Again, when the parents divided the children, the husband received exactly half the number of children while the other half followed their mother.

This story must have  originated some time  before the coming  of Confu

cianism to Vietnam. With the obsession of male heirs ever present in Confucianist environment, the myth would never have given an equal number of males and females to Au Co’s hatched eggs. On the contrary, I am certain that it would have assigned at least seventy-five boys to merely twenty-five girls. Again, thoroughly educated in the Confucian tradition, emperor Tu Duc’s reaction is easy to predict. When he came across this story in a book on Vietnamese history, the comment he wrote down in the book’s margin is quite revealing: he dismissed it out rightly, considering it as pure superstition, unfounded historical fact; he even suggested that it skirts the realm of animal behavior. Finally, we may not know the reason why the parents suddenly decided upon their separation, but a closer reading of the story yields the feeling that they simply wanted to give way to their respective needs or predilections

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