Every year on Vietnamese New Year (also known as Tet Holiday or Tet), on the ancestors’ altars of Vietnamese people, besides peach blossoms, square glutinous rice cakes and round glutinous rice cakes (bánh chưng, bánh giày) in North Vietnam or apricot blossoms, cylindric glutinous rice cakes (bánh tét) in South Vietnam, always have watermelons. Vietnamese people have a very interesting and meaningful legend of watermelons.
The legend of Watermelons explains the origin of the watermelons and upholds the virtue of independence, not relying on others. It is a necessary and precious virtue for every human being. That virtue is still respected in modern society.
Legend of Watermelons
In the old days, during the 18th King Hung time, there was a man named Mai An Tiem. Mai An Tiem was agile, resourceful and hard-working so he was loved by the king and given lots of good and strange things.
Usually, when receiving the king’s things, everybody cherished and praised, only An Tiem said,
– What we make is precious, what someone gives is debt.
He was always hard-working, had no intention of looking forward to the king’s help.
The bad officials brought the words of Mai An Tiem to say to the king. The king was extremely angry and thought that Mai An Tiem was a proud, ungrateful person. He said, “Let me see, if he only depends on his strength, will he survive?”. He told soldiers to arrest Mai An Tiem, then chased his whole family to the deserted island.
Mai An Tiem’s whole family floated in the sea the day after day. Finally, they stopped by on a strange island. Mai An Tiem’s wife cried and shouted,
– Why am I so miserable? Knowing so, we should not make the king angry!
– God gave birth to us, living and dying because of God and us. With just these hands, we will not be afraid of starvation, Mai An Tiem comforted his wife.
Incidentally, Mai An Tiem discovered a flock of birds coming from the West, they landed on the shore and were eating some kind of black seed. Mai An Tiem thought, “If birds can eat these seeds, human beings can also eat them, too!”.
Thinking so, Mai An Tiem immediately gathered all the seeds and put them in the soil. Day by day, Mai An Tiem tried to fertilize her garden. Soon, his garden became lush. The plants bloomed, fruited well. By the harvest time, Mai An Tiem and her wife and children brought all the ripe fruits home. All fruits were dark green and when being split, the inside them was bright red, juicy and had black seeds as well. An Tiem tried eating, feeling they were mellowy and cool.
One day, a boat met a storm and went to the island to avoid the storm. Everybody went to the sand, saw a lot of strange and delicious fruits. They scrambled to exchange food for An Tiem’s family. From there, rumors spread that there was a very delicious fruit on that island. Merchant ships stopped by busily to exchange food for the An Tiem family to taste the kind of delicious fruit. Thanks to that, An Tiem’s small family became more and more affluent.
One day, someone offered a strange melon to the king. The king ate feeling delicious, inquired about its origin, and knew that it was grown by An Tiem on the deserted island. The King thought and found that he himself was wrong, immediately sent a boat to welcome An Tiem’s family. An Tiem and his wife rejoiced, gathering all the ripe melons and seeds to bring home, then distributed to the neighbors and taught how to plant. That is the origin of the watermelon we eat today.