Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The Story of Tam and Cam - Vietnamese fairy tale


The Story of Tấm and Cám (Vietnamese: Tấm Cám) is a Vietnamese fairy tale collected by L. T. Bach-Lan in Vietnamese Legends.
Once upon a time there was a young girl named Tấm, whose mother died early and so her father remarried. Soon after, her stepmother gave birth to a daughter named Cám. When Tấm's father died, stepmother began to abuse Tấm and forced her to do all the housework, while Cám lived luxuriously. Stepmother's hatred of Tam was intensified by the fact that Tam was much more beautiful and fair than her own daughter Cám, even though Tấm was forced to do all the laboring under the sun.
One day, stepmother sent Tấm and Cám to fish, promising to reward the girl who caught the most fish with a new, red silk Áo yếm. Cám knew her mother would never punish her and so played carelessly while Tấm worked hard fishing. When Cám noticed all the fish Tấm had caught, Cám advised Tấm to wash the mud out of her hair or else she would be scolded by mother. As Tấm washed her hair, Cám poured all the fish Tấm had caught into her own basket and ran home.

Upon discovering she had been tricked, Tấm sobbed until the Goddess of Mercy (or in some versions, the Buddha) appeared to her and comforted her. She told Tám to look into her basket to discover the one remaining little carp. She told Tam to take the carp home and put it into the well at the back of the house, reciting a special poem/greeting whenever she came to feed it.
Everyday, Tấm would come out to the well a few times to feed the carp, always reciting the greeting beforehand so that the carp would come up from the water. The carp grew fatter everyday that Tấm fed it, and stepmother began to suspect Tấm's behavior. One day, stepmother sneaked out close to where Tấm was feeding the fish. She waited until Tấm was gone, and went over to the well, finding nothing. Stepmother repeated the greeting she had heard Tam reciting and to her delight, saw the carp come up from the water. Stepmother caught and killed it to put in her rice porridge.

When Tấm discovered this, she broke into sobs. The Goddess of Mercy again appeared to Tấm and consoled her, and instructed her to salvage the bones of the carp and bury them in four separate jars underneath each corner of her bed.
A short while later, the king hosted a large celebration. Tấm pleaded to go along with Cám and stepmother, but stepmother schemed to keep Tấm at home. Stepmother mixed together countless black and green beans and ordered Tấm to sort them out before she was allowed to go (adding that Tấm did not have any decent clothes to attend the event anyway).

Tấm waited until Cám and stepmother had gone for a while and called out to the Goddess of Mercy, who appeared and turned the nearby flies into sparrows that sorted the beans for Tấm. Tấm was then told to dig up the four jars from the corners of her bed, and found extravagant treasures in each, including a beautiful silk dress, jewelry, golden slippers and even a horse! Tấm dressed herself splendidly and made her way to the celebration, but in her excitement she dropped a single slipper into the river.

The slipper flowed along the river until it was picked up by one of the king's attendants. The king marveled at the beautiful slipper and proclaimed that any maiden at the celebration whose foot fit the slipper would be made into his first wife. Every eligible lady at the celebration tried on the slipper, including Cám, but all to no avail. Suddenly, a beautiful young girl dressed in a magnificent silk gown appeared whose foot fit perfectly into the slipper (not to mention on her other foot was adorned the corresponding slipper of the same make). Stepmother and Cám were shocked to discover the mysterious lady was no other than Tấm! Tấm was immediately brought on the royal palanquin into the imperial palace for a grand wedding celebration, right in front of her seething stepmother and stepsister.
On Tấm's father's death anniversary, Tấm proved her filial duty and made a short visit home to honor the anniversary with her family, despite the abuse she had suffered at the hands of stepmother.

Stepmother asked Tấm to climb an areca tree and gather its betel nuts for her late father's altar. Tấm obeyed and as she climbed to the top of the tree, stepmother took an axe and chopped the tree down, so that Tấm fell to her death. Cám put on her sister's royal garb and entered the palace in her place. Tấm had reincarnated into a nightingale and followed her sister into the palace.
The king remained despondent and dearly missed his late wife, while Cám tried hard to please him. One day, a palace maid hung out the king's dragon robe to the sun, when the nightingale appeared to sing a song to remind the maid to be careful with her husband's gown. The bird's song captivated everyone who listened to it, and even drew the attention of the king. The king called out to the nightingale to land in the wide sleeves of his robe if it really was the spirit of his late wife. The nightingale did exactly as the king had asked and ever since then, it was put into a golden cage where the king spent most of his days as it sang songs to him. Cám became increasingly incensed and asked her mother what she should do. Her mother instructed her to catch the bird and eat it. Cám did as she was told and after skinning it, threw the feathers over the gate of the palace.

From the feathers rose a tree bearing a single, magnificent fruit. A poor old woman who worked as a water vendor walked by one day and saw it, begging it to fall to her, and promising that she would not to eat it, only admire it. Indeed it fell to her, and she did not eat it. The next day, the old woman found that when she came home from her errands, the housework was done while she was gone and there was a hot meal waiting for her. The next day she pretended to leave but stayed back to spy, when she saw Tấm emerge from the fruit and begin to do the household chores. The old woman emerged and tore up the peel so Tấm could no longer turn back.
One day, the king, lost while hunting, stopped by the hut. The old woman offered him betel, and when the king saw how the betel had been prepared, in the peculiar special way his late queen had always prepared it; he inquired as to whom had prepared the betel. The old woman told him her daughter had done it, and the king made her produce the daughter, and saw it was Tấm. He was overjoyed and Tấm was brought back into the palace as the king's first wife.

Cám was distressed and saw that Tam was as beautiful and pale as ever. She begged Tấm to reveal her secret of how she was so beautiful and fair-skinned, and that she would do anything to be as fair. Tấm told her it was simple and that she would just have to jump into a basin of boiling water. Cám did and died a horrible death.

2 comments:

BL said...

Wow, thanks for the translation. The ending is rather harsh though!

Anonymous said...

Later Tam and the king cut Cam in half and put Cam in a porridge. They gave the porridge to the stepmother and while the stepmother was eating it, a crow shouted out.
"Delicious! The mother is eating her own daughter's flesh! Is there any left? Give me some."
When the stepmother was finished she looked at the bottom of the jar and there was Cam's skull. The stepmother then died from shock.