Residence: Hanoi, Vietnam
Date of Performance/Collection: April
Primary Language: Vietnamese
Other Language(s): English, Finnish
Although she is from Vietnam, my informant attends college in Finland. When I interviewed her, she was at USC for a semester abroad. Even though she has been living in Finland for the past few years, the folklore she is familiar with is very strongly influenced by her Vietnamese upbringing.
The following is a legend she recounted to me over dinner.
“A long time ago, there was an old married couple living in a small village. They were married for a long time but still did not have any children. The woman did not have pregnancies. One day the wife got up and went to the rice fields to work and then she saw a huge footprint on the ground. She was curious, and she tried to put her feet on the footprint to see how many times it was bigger than her foot, and then after that she came back home and she got pregnant the day after. Then 9 months were over, and nothing happened. After 12 months she gave birth to a boy. He was strong and grew quickly, but did not speak, laugh or cry. The parents did not know what to do, so the neighbors usually let their children come play with him, but he did not laugh or speak any words. When the boy was 3 years old, there was an invasion happening in the country, and they destroyed all the villages. The king sent someone, a messenger, to the village to call for help to go to the army. When the messenger came to the village and declared the king’s words, the little boy sat up and told his mother that he wanted to serve the country. The mother was surprised to hear her son’s first words. She invited the messenger to come to her house, and the little boy told him, “Come back to the king, and tell him to give me an iron horse, iron stick, and iron armor, and I’ll push the An invaders back to their homeland.” The messenger left for the capitol hurriedly, told the king about the little boy’s orders, and they prepared everything he wanted. So, since the messenger left the village, the boy ate too much, so that his parents didn’t have enough food for him. He grew so quickly that clothes that had just been worn for a short while became too tight. His neighbors, and all the people living nearby, brought rice and clothes to him. He grew with the help of the people around, and after some days he looked like a 20 year old man. So when the messenger came back to the village, the little boy had become a strong man. He wore the armor, took the stick and bowed his head to his parents and all of the people as a goodbye before riding the horse to go out to battle. He rushed into the aggressor, used the iron stick to beat them. His horse breathed fire to kill enemies. Suddenly, the iron stick was broken. He pulled out a clump of bamboo trees, and used it as a weapon to continue fighting. So the enemy was too scared and had to run away. After pushing the enemy back to their homeland as he had promised, the hero and his horse went to the top of a mountain named Soc. He bowed his head to say goodbye to his parents and village and all people again. After that he rode his horse to fly up to heaven, and nobody saw him again. The bamboo used in the battle now has special yellow stripes on its body as a mark of the fire which the horse blew when fighting against the enemy. Many ponds were left as marks of the horse feet. They use the name of the village he was born to call him Saint Giong.”
This legend has spurred the creation of a festival, which is held annually in the village of Giong, on the outskirts of Hanoi. My informant has never been to this festival, but she has read about it in the news. Although a lot of tourists attend the Giong Festival, it still remains primarily for locals, in which they reenact the story of Saint Giong.
The primary message of this legend is one of self-sacrifice for the country. For a country that has been attacked by invaders multiple times in its history, this message is particularly poignant. The legend of Saint Giong is now taught in schools, and is an integral part of the Vietnamese identity. I think the Vietnamese government is using this legend to instill a sense of national pride in a shared hero, and thus and create national unity.