The (his)story of Việt Nam is so often told through the war and refugee experience that it may seem like the country has only existed for a few decades. But lest we forget, dig deeper and recall that Vietnamese people has a legendary origin: that of a dragon father and an immortal mother.
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Ba Mươi Tháng Tư (April 30th) is an important day in Vietnamese history. It marked the end of a long and bitter sibling feud and has since served as a sorrowful reminder of the parting of brothers and sisters who came from the same womb. Half of the country looked down from the mountaintops as the other half went out to sea, not knowing if they would ever speak to each other again.
But since the very beginning, this has been the story of the Vietnamese people. Our parents, Lạc Long Quân the dragon (rồng) and Âu Cơ the immortal (tiên) also could not stay together because of their disparate natures and had to go their separate ways. Father, being of the sea, took his half of the children to live near the ocean and Mother, being of the mountains, led hers closer to the sky. Maybe this is why we ended up like this today, torn from each other.
And I wonder…Did Father cry seeing his children drown at sea? How long did Mother mourn her babies who perished on the mountains.
Even with the origin story of our people being so wistful, how is it that every time I hear the story I am full of hope and every time I tell the story to little kids, their eyes light up with excitement and wonder? There is more to this story of separation. No, it is a story of beginnings and what is shared though we come from different hearths, though we come afar from different lands.
Today I will read this story, and I will share it with others (especially little ones) to remind us all not of the rift between our people but of the proud heritage that we carry within our draconic and immortal blood. I hope you will too.
CON RỒNG CHÁU TIÊN
Disclaimer: There is no single official telling of this story. Like other legends and folk tales, it is very much alive, changing with every generation, with every utterance. Stories like these are passed on orally and this is merely one version. It was written to be easily read aloud, so please do! For more information on this story, please visit Julie’s blog, where she has done incredible research on the origin of our origin.
Long long ago there lived a dragon prince known as Lạc Long Quân. All of his life he had spent in the underwater realm of his mother near the coast of Việt Nam. He grew tired of it, having seen all there was to see, so he asked his mother’s permission to explore beyond the ocean and learn new things. His mother agreed but reminded the prince that he would eventually have to return to the undersea realm that was his home and responsibility.
So Lạc Long Quân set out toward the nearby land. During this time, there was a giant fish that terrorized the coastal waters of Việt Nam and it would eat anything that came into its territory. The fish had a body of a shark and a head of a dog and it was soooo big it could swallow a ship whole.
Now Lạc Long Quân, being a dragon prince, was very powerful and very kind. He knew he had to get rid of the monster to make the ocean safe. The sea boiled and raged for several days as they fought. Finally, Lạc Long Quân, wielding a flaming tree, lodged it into the monster’s mouth and cut off its head. The head landed among rocks and to this day, there is a mountain in Việt Nam called Dog Mountain, and it has the shape of a dog’s head.
The prince continued his journey onto land only to find that there was still much evil about. It was not long before he came upon a demon fox roaming the country. This demon had grown nine tails, each one an embodiment of its cunning and ferocity. It would go up and down the country, destroying anything at a whim. Lạc Long Quân tried to challenge the demon fox, but it was a wise creature and hid in its den, knowing that a dragon would be at a disadvantage under the earth. But Lạc Long Quân was also very smart and he called upon the river to rush into the fox’s den. Flushed out, the demon fox was furious but Lạc Long Quân was able to defeat the demon by cutting off its nine tails. These became nine major rivers in Việt Nam.
The coast and the plains were now safe places so Lạc Long Quân thought to climb up the mountains. He stood up there gazing down upon the beautiful land when he saw a white bird flying in circles, seemingly lost and exhausted. It soon fell from the sky. Lạc Long Quân chased it down but when he came to the place where the bird would have fallen, he found there a young woman and realized that she must be a tiên from the mountain. She was Âu Cơ, and she had been flying to see all the beautiful mountains and rivers and beaches only to find herself lost.
The dragon prince by then was quite familiar with the land and its ways. He helped Âu Cơ in any way he could and it wasn’t long before they fell in love and Âu Cơ gave birth to a sac of 100 eggs. From those eggs hatched 100 little boys and girls. Lạc Long Quân and Âu Cơ gave them all different names.
Together, Lạc Long Quân and Âu Cơ raised their children, teaching them how to build boats and catch fish, teaching them how to grow rice and build tall houses from wood.
But Lạc Long Quân was a dragon prince and Âu Cơ was a tiên from the mountains. Lạc Long Quân was soon summoned by his mother to return to the ocean. He knew that Âu Cơ and the children would not be able to live with him underwater, so the father and mother decided to part ways. Lạc Long Quân would take 50 of the children to live on the coasts where he could watch over them, and Âu Cơ would take 50 of the children to live in her native mountains. And with Âu Cơ went their oldest son, Hùng Lân, who would become the first king of the land.
It is thus that the Vietnamese people are đồng bào (same sac), anh chị em of one đất nước, countrymen, brother and sisters of one land, whose home stretches from the Mountains and down to the Sea.
~Bảo Nguyễn, Julie Nguyễn, and featuring art from Greenlinh
Julie is making her line-art available for your non-commercial creative use. That means go crazy with the creativity, share it as you like, but don’t you dare put a price tag on it without her permission.
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