13

Jan
2023

the genie of the Mountain, Son Tinh, and that of the Water, Thuy Tinh – Page 9

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Dragons must reside near the water and fairies or immortals are faithful compa nions of trees and rocks. But, how can we explain the fact that the people of the mountain and the people of the water, or by proxy the mountain and the sea, have not lived peacefully all that time next to one another.

From time immemorial, almost as frequently as once a year, the sea would surge out of its bed; it would rise and rise against the mountain as if it wanted to overtake its peak. Naturally, death and devastation follow its path. The people of Vietnam could not explain that phenomenon, until one day, the water spoke and here is what it said.

One of the eighteen Hung kings had an astonishingly beautiful daugh ter. One day, by a weird coincidence, the genie of the Mountain, Son Tinh, and that of the Water, Thuy Tinh, came exactly at the same time asking for her hand. The king ordered them to go home and come back the next day with  presents gathered from their respective realms. The first to arrive at the gate of the palace will obtain the hand of the prin cess.

The Mountain came first. He swiftly carried the princess to his pa lace perched on top of the mountain. The Water, however, refused to con cede defeat. How could he? The Mountain had cheated: ignoring the rules of the game, he had come to claim the princess before the rising of the sun, before the start of the day. Therefore,, the Water hurled itself against the mountain hoping to reconquer the princess. The mountain, however, stood fast extending its peak higher and higher so as to domi nate the water at all times. Later people consign that rivalry in a short poem: The mountain stretches higher and higher

The river longer and longer

Year after year, the river nurtures its revenge Day after day, it languishes in jealousy.

Vu Ngoc Phan, Tuc Ngu, Ca Dao, Dan Ca Viet Nam, Hanoi, 1978, p. 26 Another legend testifies to the need for Van Lang to fight for its sur vival,

already in the very early phase of its history. That is the story of Genie Dong,

who until he reached the age of three, had not uttered a word, whiling away his time lying in a hammock. But upon hearing of an invasion against his country, he stood up and grew to become a giant. He requested from the king an iron whip and an iron horse. In the heat of the fight, his iron rod broke, and so he simply uprooted a clump of bamboo to continue his battle. After the invader was chased away and peace res tored, Genie Dong was seen riding his iron horse into the horizon. In his native village, people claim that they still can notice the gaps made by the genie in their bamboo hedges. Every year, the villagers of Phu Dong organize lavish ceremonies celebrating his exploits on the 8th day of the fourth lunar month. He is venerated under the title of Genie Dong, Thanh Dong, or Celestial King of Phu Dong, Phu Dong Thien Vuong.

King Hung the 18th was the last of the dynasty.

An invasion in 258 B.C.E. fomented by a neighboring chieftain, Thuc Phan, put an end to an already declining Hong Bang dynasty to inaugurate a new one, the Thuc. This dynasty is remembered by two interrelated occurrences: the building of a capital city at Co Loa and the patient  and  effective  resis tance against repeated attacks waged by the many military expedi tions sent South by the Qin Emperor in order to place the  whole region under China’s rule.

Thuc Phan declared himself king under the reign name of An Duong and endowed his country with a new name, Au Lac,         . An interesting story

pertains to the building of Au Lac’s capital city, Co Loa, some remains of which can still be seen now, on the old road between the Noi Bai airport and Hanoi. It was without a doubt a very impor tant undertaking. The city had the shape of a conch shell with nine circumvolutions, each one of them isolated from the others by a wide moat. Those moats combined with the rivers and streams flowing around the site provided the people of Co Loa with a significant network of transportation. The city was so impressive that no one at the time could believe that any one people were capable of building such a marvel without the interven tion of a supernatural power. Therefore, even if no miracle had taken place, people still had to invent one in order to affirm the presence of the occult in the midst of their daily life.

They convincingly asserted that King Thuc did obtain the help of a lo cal deity, under the form of a golden turtle who came to him in wondrous circumstances. When the king started building his city, for a long period, whatever the workers constructed in the day was totally demolished at night. It was as if darkness brought with it earthquakes that unfailingly ravaged the entire construction site. Quickly enough, the king set up sacrifi cial ceremonies. That very night, a golden turtle recommended the king in his dream not to locate his city directly on top of its carapace. The king followed the advice to the letter and in no time, Co Loa was built. To express its gratefulness to the king, the turtle- deity gave King Thuc one of its claws which, when used as the trigger on a bow, would multiply by the thousands the one single arrow it sent out.

Many Qin envoys, thus, failed to subjugate Au Lac. The last one, Zhao Tuo (Trieu Da 207-137), taking advantage of the decline of the Qin dynasty, carved out an independent kingdom called Nan Yue, Nam Viet , situated directly north of Au Lac. He was, however, repeatedly thwarted in his efforts to annex the Thuc kingdom. What he could not do by the force of arms, Zhao Tuo set out to do by other means: he sent his son, Trong Thuy, to wed My Chau, a daughter of the Thuc king. A ves tige of the matrilocal organization of Vietnamese society demanded that the husband came to live in the residence of

his wife’s family which was in the Co Loa royal residence. Soon enough, he discovered the miracul ous claw, stole it and brought it back to his father. Right away, Zhao Tuo launched his army against the Thuc’s territory. He easily conquered Au Lac, added it to his realm and kept the old name Nan Yue to designate the newly aggrandized kingdom. All that was accomplished in  179 B.C.E.

History records that, in his defeat, the Thuc King jumped into the ocean to

commit suicide. A legend, however, discloses that a golden tur tle emerged from the water, sat the king on his carapace and together they disappeared into the sea. Another legend adds a rather tragic detail to this episode. King Thuc had sat My Chau behind him on his horse to escape from the enemy. Upon seeing the turtle, the king yelled in re proach :” O, Deity Turtle, why have you forsaken me? Why did you be tray me?” The turtle replied :” I did not betray you. The traitor is sitting right behind you.” The king looked back, and he understood. Drawing his sword, he loped off his daughter’s head. On the back of the turtle, he entered the ocean.

When Trong Thuy found the princess decapitated body, –in her escape, the princess had strewn her route with feathers plucked from her cape (would it be the forerunner of the feather cape of the Hawaiians?) — he chose not to survive his wife: holding her body in his arms, he threw himself into the palace well. The local people believe that the blood of the princess has nurtured the oysters of that region which give the most brilliant pearls in the world. These pearls acquire a much more radiant orient if they were washed in the water of the Co Loa’s well.

Today, at Co Loa, in addition to a complex of temples honoring the Thuc King and the Golden Turtle, there is a smaller sanctuary dedicated to the cult of the Prin cess, represented by a boulder which worshipers dressed up into a head less female deity. This legend saved Vietnamese national pride: Zhao Tuo did conquer Au Lac and did annex it to his kingdom all right, though he had done it not under his own power, but through cheating and treason. Sure, the Vietnamese

had lost their country, but they did it …with honor.

What was the situation of the Au Lac country at the moment of annexa tion? Although we give the royal title to the Hung and to An Duong, neither Van Lang nor Au Lac was obviously a unified kingdom. Under the best conditions, these kings must have been the chiefs of the most powerful tribes to whom the heads of many others paid obeisance or pledged loyalty. Indeed archaeological excavations show plainly that about this time, in northern Vietnam, there were a number of graves which were more elaborate in their designs and much richer in their decora tions and funerary objects.

Indeed, later chronicles mentioned fifteen different “principalities” whose officials bore distinctive ranks and titles. Some of the common people earned their living through fishing: the name Van Lang (   ) would then mean: domain of the tattooed, –and not as previously believed, the Land of the Literati– for in tattooing their body, the divers aimed at blending themselves with the surrounding aquatic fauna. The rest of the population derived their subsistence from agriculture, for they already knew well how to use the tides in order to cultivate their land. What they had no idea about, according to the Chi nese chronicles, is the famous Confucian ritual, li, which informed hu man beings about an appropriate behavior in social context and about ceremonies to be held for important and memorable events which take place in the course of their lives.

They did not have a writing system and they used knots in strings in order to count the passing of time. The only technology they have mastered was the casting of bronze objects of which several centers have been unearthed within the boundaries of their territory.

As  with  many  other  peoples  on  this  earth,  the  Vietnamese  believed  in

supernatural powers invested in natural phenomena or in special personali ties. Animism constitutes the sum total of their religious beliefs. Thunders, lightning, wind, sun, mountain, trees, animals all have their religious justifications and their impact on human lives varies with each occurrence. There was not much people could do, for example, to change the flood that ravages parts of their land

every year owing to the hostility of the Water for the Mountain. And king Thuc, on the other hand, was handsomely rewarded for obeying the turtle’s request.

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