Ancient Myths about Lakes in Vietnam (P.1)
“And everywhere at all hills and lakes
Bears our ancestors’ shapes and dreams
Throughout 4000 years anywhere we feel
The land and the lives altogether fuse”
The lines above are excerpted from the poem “Country” by Nguyen Khoa Diem poet. They imply a new definition of “country”, whose natural beauty is formed by the lives of its people. You may wonder “Why is that?”
There is no denying that Vietnam has the reputation for breath-taking natural landscapes, which were created by Mother Nature thousands or millions of years ago. However, for Vietnamese people, the landscapes’ significance does not only lie in their natural beauty, but also their cultural spirit – “the land and the lives altogether fuse”. Besides its panoramic vista, what makes a lake, a cave, a mountain, etc. last for so long in Vietnamese people’s subconscious mind is the stories being told about it, the tales behind every shape of nature. In other words, the natural beauty is strongly attached to the lives of Vietnamese people, who devote all they have to the country. Nature creates the shape of the landscapes, but People put into it the soul.
Now, let’s discover the ancient myths or legends about 5 famous lakes in Vietnam, so your internship in Vietnam can benefit you with both natural and cultural values.
Ba Be Lake
Ba Be Lake is located in Bac Kan province, less than 200 kilometers from Hanoi, reaches depths of 35 meters and measures 500 hectares in total – the same area of 4,000 Olympic swimming pools combined! The lake is as old as time and believed to be created 200 million years ago. In addition to its age, the quality of being forevermore full of water adds up to its uniqueness, not to mention its out-of-this-world landscapes.
Legend has it that Ba Be Lake was created out of spite by a Maleficent-like vengeful fairy. It resulted from a torrential downpour of floods and storms summoned by the fairy. The incident was a punishment for all the villagers, except a mother and her child, who mistreated the fairy when she disguised herself in the look of an old beggar. Only the two were saved for their kindness in helping the fairy that touched her heart. In the storms, despite all the dangers, the mother and her kid still tried their best to save as many villagers as possible.
The tale has such simple plots that it is one of the children’s favorite bedtime stories, and it also teaches kids a lesson about the law of causation and guides them to be respectful and kind towards other people regardless of their looks or social status.
Hoan Kiem Lake
In the center of Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake or Sword Lake is truly the symbol of the city, originally named Ta Vong Lake. Being situated amid the 1000-year-old capital itself signifies the lake, but what truly brings life to the lake is the legend about the golden turtle and King Le Loi.
In the 15th century, there was an uprising of Vietnamese people to fight against Minh invaders from the North, led by Le Loi, who later became the first King of Le dynasty. In his army, one soldier named Le Than was originally a fisherman who had accidentally caught a sword blade carved on it “God’s will”. When Le Loi came to Le Than’s house, the blade suddenly sparkled, which impressed the general. Then, in an attempt to escape from the enemies, Le Loi came across a gem sword handle that reminded him of the other blade. 3 days later, he met Le Than and it turned out that the two parts magically matched perfectly with each other.
Believing in God’s will, Le Loi took the complete sword as his weapon, bringing it together with him everywhere. Since then, the spirit of the army had raised significantly that later contributed to the victory. When Le Loi became the King, on his boat ride on Ta Vong Lake, a golden turtle asked for the return of the sword, which he explained was a treasure of the Dragon King in the lake. And the name Sword Lake was born.
What can we conclude about Vietnamese cultural and spiritual traditions through this story? It is the firm belief that the God (or the Sky in the Vietnamese mindset) always supports whoever proves to be a righteous one, whoever fights for justice, and whoever shows great love for the nation.
Each piece of folklore conveys some meaning with it, most of which presents Vietnamese people’s values, set of beliefs and lifestyles. The folklore or legends are usually simple, easy to understand and told to every kid in their childhood. Along the time when they grow up, the traditional spirit is also nurtured, gradually shaping them into righteous people just like their ancestors.
During your internship in Vietnam, you will have a local buddy who supports you all the time. Therefore, besides issues involved in how to adapt to the new environment, don’t forget to insist on them telling you all the mysterious legends and folklore of Vietnamese people.
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