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Vietnam Myth and Legends


The tree angel


The tree angel had 36 sons, each of whom helped in the family business, designing trees. Every three years the old man organized a meeting in which he judged the new tree designs thought up by his many sons.

The tree angel's youngest son, Tieu Ly, had recently married and had his own son. Tieu Ly was so thrilled with his infant son that he could spend the whole day just watching him. One day, while playing with his baby, Tieu Ly was inspired to design a new tree.

This tree, he decided, would have a plump trunk and large leaves, as smooth as his baby's skin. The tree would bear delicious fruit, tasting of milk and molasses and shaped like a baby's fingers. Furthermore, when ripe the fruit would be easy for small hands to pick.

Tieu Ly got to work, creating a tree with huge leaves. When his son was older, thought Tieu Ly, these leaves could shield him from rain or sun. He finished the tree and planted it in his garden, very pleased with his handiwork.

Unfortunately, Tieu Ly was not the only one attracted by this new tree. A giant bird, seeing this odd tree, came to investigate. Then, when Tieu Ly turned his back, the bird stole all of the tree's seeds.

Tieu Ly went back to the drawing board. He decided that, to protect the tree from this ferocious bird, the tree would reproduce from its roots. The seeds would remain in the fruit, but they would never bud.

The bird watched Tieu Ly's work with interest. That night, it flew into the garden and ate most of the fruit. Tieu Ly spent many sleepless nights trying to guard his tree. But the moment he shut his eyes the bird would swoop down and steel the precious fruit.

One night, Tieu Ly woke with a start to see the bird tugging at the tree's fruit. Tieu Ly lunged at the bird but it was too quick, leaving him with nothing but a handful of feathers. The bird, however, was alarmed by its close call and, from then on, kept a careful eye on Tieu Ly's hands. This gave Tieu Ly an idea: He would arrange the fruit in clusters that were shaped like a human hand.

The bird saw what looked like hands sprouting from the tree and was too afraid to come closer. The fruit, therefore, ripened and the tree grew strong and straight.

Finally it came time for the tree angel to review his sons' trees. Tieu Ly was the last to appear, placing his little tree beside his brothers' creations. There were some amazing trees, some big, some small, and in many different colours.

The tree angel stopped beside each tree and listened to his sons' explanations. The more he saw the more impressed he was by his children's creativity. Finally he stood before Tieu Ly's tree. When Tieu Ly explained that his tree was designed to please babies, the old man was delighted. With a joyful laugh he announced that Tieu Ly's tree was the winning design.

Everyone spoke of Tieu Ly's entry as the "last" tree. The Vietnamese word for "last" is "cuoi", and this word was eventually mispronounced as "chuoi", or banana.

Today, the "hands" on a banana tree have more than five fingers. Since children love to eat bananas, Tieu Ly's helpful tree has adapted to give them more fruit. In this way the banana tree continues to serve the purpose of its creator Tieu Ly, the child-loving son of the tree angel



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