The Betel And The Areca Tree legend explains why the betel nut is chewed by newly-wed couples and at ceremonies and anniversaries. During the reign of Hung Vuong III, there was a mandarin by the name of Cao. He had two good-looking sons who resembled each other so much that many people thought they were twins. The two boys, Tan and Lang, were most fond of each other.
Tan and Lang’s father and mother died, leaving them without any money. After a series of misfortunes, the boys decided they would try to find work. Guided by fate, the first place they went to was the home of a good friend of their father, Magistrate Luu. Luu welcomed the boys cordially and offered them a place in his stately mansion.
Luu accepted the boys as his own sons for he had never had a son, and this is considered to be a terrible fate in Vietnam. He did have a beautiful daughter, however, who was “as fair as a white lotus and as fresh as a spring rose.” The magistrate wanted to tighten the bonds of affection and friendship between the boys and his family, so he decided to give his daughter in marriage to one of the boys.
Both of the boys were naturally attracted by the pretty maiden with her beautiful appearance and graceful manners and each of them loved her secretly. However, each of the boys had a generous heart and each one insisted that his beloved brother have the honour of marrying the Magistrate’s lovely daughter.
The father knew the boys could never come to an agreement and because they looked like twins, he never had a really known which brother was the eldest. He prepared a little trick to find out who was the elder brother because he would offer his daughter to him. The eldest son in a family receives priority over the others, according to custom.
Luu ordered that a fine dinner is served to the brothers but told the servants that they were to put only one pair of chopsticks on the tables. The boys were seated and without hesitation, Lang picked up the chopsticks and respectfully handed them to Tan. Tan took them in a most natural manner as any elder brother would do. Therefore, Magistrate Luu chose Tan as the bridegroom.
Tan was now the happiest man in all of Vietnam. He loved his bride so passionately that he spent most of his time making up love poems to describe his feelings. He completely neglected his brother Lang, who seemed to have disappeared from his thoughts.
After the wedding of his brother to the fair maiden, Lang overcame his secret love for her and accepted his lot, for he wanted only joy and happiness for his beloved older brother.
After awhile, however, Lang realized that his brother was very cold and indifferent to him. Lang sat alone in his room waiting for some sign of care of friendship from his brother, but nothing happened.
Poor Lang! To him, this was the worst possible fate. His beloved brother no longer cared for him and he had also lost the love of his dreams. In wild sorrow, he ran away from his home, for he could stand the sadness no longer. He ran and ran, passing leafy forests, until he reached the dark blue sea. Night came and Lang fell exhausted on the ground, hungry and thirsty. His head was as hot as fire. He cried and cried until he died and was turned immediately into a white chalky rock.
Tan discovered that Lang had stolen away and he felt extremely sorry and ashamed for his selfishness toward the brother he loved. Full of regrets and worries, he set out to look for Lang.
He went along the same way that his brother had gone and arrived at the same dark blue sea. Tan, too, was exhausted and sat down on the white rock and began to weep. He wept and wept until he died and then he was turned into a tree with a straight stem and green palms. It was the areca tree.
The lovely maiden missed her husband, Tan, so much that she set off one day to look for him. She went along the same way as the brothers and reached the sea and lay down exhausted at the foot of the tall areca tree. Tears of despair rolled down her cheeks, and she cried sorrowfully until she died. She was turned into a creeping plant–the betel– which twined round the lofty column of the areca tree.
The peasants who lived near this place all had a dream about the three people and built a temple in commemoration of the fraternal and conjugal love of the three.
Years later, King Hung Vuong III, happened to be in that place and he was puzzled by the rock, the tree, and the plant, all of which he had never seen before.
When he heard the whole story, he said, “If these are such devoted brothers and faithful husband and wife, let us mix up the three things together to see the result.”
They burned the rock which became soft and white, and they wrapped a little of it in a betel leaf, cut a piece of areca nut and squeezed them all together. A sort of red liquid, like blood, ran out of the mixture.
The king thought a few minutes and said, “This is the true symbol of conjugal and fraternal love. Let the tree and the plant be grown everywhere in commemoration of this beautiful but sad story.”
Brothers and sisters, and especially newly-weds, began to chew betel in order to maintain conjugal love. The habit spread very quickly and now a great number of people chew betel at all meetings to ” maintain mutual affection.”
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