Legend – Vietnamese

In 15th century ancient Vietnam emperor Le Loi was credited for driving the Chinese invaders out of Vietnam. The legend holds that Le Loi was given a magic sword from the gods that enabled him to drive out the invaders. After his victory Le Loi was at a lake, known as the Green Water Lake. While he was there a giant turtle emerged from the lake and told him to return the sword to the Dragon God. Suddenly, the sword shot out of its sheath into the mouth of the turtle and the turtle disappeared.

Kevin learned this story from his parents when he was growing up. Kevin and his family lived in Vietnam for most of his childhood. He said it was common for parents to pass down stories to the children about the history of the country and its rulers. Kevin said that he has never visited the lake but knows that locals hold it in much esteem.

Kevin believes this story is told to keep the ancient traditions and mythology alive in future generations despite the growing industrialization and globalization of the developing country. Also, because the story has close ties to history and ancient Vietnamese it is considered part of the Vietnamese mythology. The Vietnamese people also consider the lake where the legend took place sacred. Today, according to Kevin if the turtle reappears at the lake an extraordinary event will take place.

Interestingly a news story related to this legend recently made headlines. In Vietnam researchers recently identified a rare giant soft shell turtle in Northern Vietnam previously believed to be extinct. The turtle was measured at about 3.5 feet long and close to 400 pounds. These turtles are also able to live more than 100 years, but the age of this particular turtle is unknown. This turtle has great cultural significance to the Vietnamese people because it personifies the description of the turtle in the legend.

Reporters also said that the recent discovery of this turtle will help revive the legend among Vietnamese people. Doug Hendrie, the Vietnamese coordinator of the US zoo’s Asian Turtle Program said: “This species has legendary status among the people of Vietnam, so this is perhaps an opportunity for the legend to live on.” This scientific evidence gives credibility to the legend, that indeed a giant turtle may have appeared, however the probability that the turtle actually spoke is still very legendary.

I interpret that this story’s central message is humility. The emperor would not have been able to conquer the invaders without the god’s sword and from what Kevin told me it does not seem like Le Loi was willing to return the sword or be grateful for their help. Because of this the turtle had to forcibly take the sword from him. Because the emperor was not humble enough Mother Nature, wisdom, and strength, all personified by the turtle had to discipline him.

For the article about the turtle see annotation:

Turtle Holds on in Center of Vietnam’s Capital. NPR. Hanoi. 28 Mar. 2006. 30 Apr. 2008 <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89750339>.