Vietnamese Folktale – The Legend of Watermelon

There are many kinds of fruits currently being grown in Vietnam, which have been imported into the country many different ways. Each of these fruit varieties has its own story, and one of the most remarkable among them  is the story of the Watermelon, which has transcended to legend. Read the legend of the Watermelon told by Khue, Wild Tussah’s Vietnam expert.

The Legend of Watermelon

Long long ago, during the Hung King dynasty, Vietnam was a very small kingdom which didn’t have many types of fruit. A young boy from the faraway south coast was sold into slavery by some sailors, and ended up being bought by Hung King. The King named the boy Mai An Tiêm  and the kid grew to be an intelligent, talented and skillful young man. The King loved him as his own son, so he decided that his daughter would marry An Tiêm. They were given a house and many servants as a present, and they also received a lot of delicacies from the King. An Tiêm and his wife lived happily in wealth and gave birth to three children.

Since An Tiêm received great favors from the King, some of the King’s courtiers started getting jealous. During a banquet at his house, An Tiêm unintentionally said all of the good luck and the possessions he got, he acquired on his own, since according to his homeland’s religion, all of the blessings that people receive in this life are given to them as a reward for any good things they did in the previous one. The jealous courtiers told the King what An Tiem said showed his immodesty, ungratefulness and disrespect for him. Believing the gossip, the King got terribly angry and thought An Tiêm’s family wanted to betray him. He banished them to a desolate island to prove that without his favors, An Tiêm could not live as comfortable a life as he had been living up until then.

With only one blunt knife for a tool, An Tiêm and his family had to resort to living in a cave, drinking stream water and gathering wild fruits to survive. When the dry season came, the isolated island, covered with sand, started getting battered with unbreathable hot and dry wind. Trees and grass withered under the scorching sun and fresh water evaporated. Their lives were in danger, as food was extremely hard to find.

One day, while walking along the beach, An Tiêm saw a strange yellow sea bird on top of the shore cliff. He came to have a closer look and saw that the bird was pecking at some juicy fruit which was as red as blood, and some of its seeds had been dropped into the sand. He thought that if the bird could eat the fruit, it must be also good for humans. Then he ploughed a small piece of land and planted those seeds.

Even though the island was full of sand, which means hardly anything could grow, An Tiem and his wife never felt hopeless. They worked hard everyday together to take care of the plants. They quickly saw tender shoots sprouting from the earth and green vines sprawling on the sand. To their amazement, the melons, covered by smooth dark green skin, grew bigger and bigger until they were as large as a head. When An Tiem sliced a fruit half open, he saw the bright red pulp with a delightful fragrance. He tried a small bite and was overjoyed that the taste was cool, fresh and sweet. His wife and his children also came to relieve their hunger and quench their thirst with the marvelous melons. An Tiem named the fruit “Tây qua” (coming from the West) because it was brought by the bird from the West Coast; later the Vietnamese people called it “dưa hấu” (watermelon). And from that time, they would never grow hungry again.

 

As watermelons had been cultivated and harvested season by season, An Tiem’s family gathered a large amount of fruit, which  exceeded their needs. Then An Tiem  decided it was time he tried reaching out to other people by carving his name on the watermelon’s skin and letting it float into the sea. No response was ever received but he kept on hoping that somebody would catch the watermelons someday.

Thanks to his hard work and his patience, one day, the sailors on a merchant ship that was sailing near the island saw a large number of green round melons floating on the sea. They caught them and tasted the fruit; everybody was astonished by the succulent sweet melons. Therefore, the merchant brought them to the mainland and sold out of all the melons in only an hour. The merchant came back to the island and started exchanging more fruits for rice, salt and meat.

 

The more melons An Tiêm set adrift, the more ships came in and bought fruits. As a result, the family had so much work to do that they had to employ more servants to live in the island and help them with field work. With the money An Tiem got from selling the fruits, he built a big, magnificent house and bought many beautiful, luxurious clothes for his family. They didn’t have to work any longer because all of their daily chores were completely done by servants. Life in the desert island had become as easy and comfortable as the one they had had before.

Mai An Tiêm and his delicious fruits soon became very popular in the kingdom. Finally, his growing reputation spread to the King. He didn’t believe the news until he saw the melon with An Tiêm’s name on it. He then realized that not his favors but An Tiêm’s resourcefulness, indeed, brought him wealth and happiness. Besides, during the time their family were being punished, he missed his daughter and grandchildren dreadfully. At last, the King sent for An Tiêm’s family and gave them back their house, jewelry and possessions, as well as their wealthy lives, just like before.

People in the island continued planting the melons and eating them during the New Year Holiday as a symbol of luck. Their seeds are roasted and dyed in red to serve as a snack. To remember An Tiem’s conduct, the people built a memorial house where he used to live, which is now a part of mainland Vietnam. And forever afterward all of the people in Vietnam would tell the story about Mai An Tiêm’s remarkable resilience and his sweetest gift – the watermelon.

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