Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Betel Leaves And Areca Nuts


From “The Treasury of Vietnamese Folk Tales”
Illustrated by Do Khai

There were once two brothers, Tan and Lang, who looked so similar that even their relatives often mistook them. The boys were in their teens when their parents died. Tan, the elder of the pair, was sent to live with a hermit named Luu. Lang insisted on joined his brother.

MH 01 hai anh em giong nha

The hermit Luu had a daughter the same age as the brothers who fell in love with Tan. Eventually, the pair were married. After the wedding, Tan stopped paying attention to Lang, who grew more and more dejected.

One day, the brothers worked in the fields until late at night. Lang went home first and was met by Tan’s wife, who, mistaking him for her husband, greeted him with a warm embrace. Seeing this, Tan was overcome by jealousy.

MH 02 anh lay vo em le loi

Faced with his brother’s anger, Lang ran away. After several days, he reached a wide river. Determined to never go home, he knelt by the river and sobbed. Such was his despair that he was turned to stone.

When Lang didn’t return, Tan felt terrible and set out looking for him. When he reached the river, he found his brother turned to rock. Now Tan stood and cried until he too was transformed into a tree growing near the rock.

Tan’s wife waited anxiously for her husband’s return, then set out looking for him. Upon reaching the river she realized what had happened and began to sob. She was transformed into a vine, which twisted all around the tree that grew near the rock.

MH 04 ba nguoi hoa than

The hermit and his wife went looking for the missing trio. Eventually they discovered the rock, the tree and the vine by the river. They built a shrine for the three young people and called it the “harmonious brothers and filial husband and wife shrine”. One year there was a brutal drought, but the tree and vine outside the shrine remained green. People pondered this strange omen.

Passing by, King Hung asked about the shrine, the rock and the plants. Hearing the story of the brothers and the young wife, he ordered his men to collect the fruit from the tree. It tasted mild unless eaten together with the vines’ leaves, when the taste turned spicy and sweet. 

Suddenly an officer uttered: “My God! Blood!”

When the residue of the fruit and leaves were spit onto the rock, they turned a bloody red color. The king ordered the three elements to be combined and chewed the mixture: these ingredients turned his lips bright red and brightened his spirits. 

“It’s miraculous!” said the king. “This is the legacy of the brothers and the young wife! Their affections are so passionate and profound!”

MH 05 Tuc an trau cau nguoi Viet

The king ordered betel palms and areca vines to be planted all over the land. Areca nuts, betel leaves and limestone became essential offerings for weddings, reminding guests of the love shared by Lang, Tan and his wife. Even today, betel and areca are important symbols of communication, good relationships and wedlock.


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