In Vietnam, the first day of the Lunar New Year is called Tet. On the
days before Tet, people plant an extremely tall bamboo tree in front
of their homes. Bows, arrows, bells and gongs are hung on the
treetop with the hope that all the bad luck of the past year will be
chased away and everyone will have a happy New Year. The tree is
and the story is legend.
Once upon a time, the devil
ruled the earth. Everybody worked for him from early morning until
midnight. A very greedy creature, the devil seized everything made
by men for himself. People worked hard all year round but had almost
nothing to eat. All the fruits of their labor went into the devil's
One year, there was a very
big crop. Rice fields stretched out like golden carpets and the
devil was so dazzled, he aimed to take everything and imposed a new
rule "the root of the rice plant belongs to the farmers, the rest
belongs to the devil." At the end of the harvest, the rice went to
the devil. The people had nothing left except clusters of roots.
The suffering of the people
came to Buddha's notice. He descended to earth and told them to grow
sweet potatoes for the next crop. Following Buddha's advice, the
farmers grew sweet potatoes with full hopes of an abundant crop.
When harvest came, following the rule, the peasants took the potato
root and left the rest for the devil.
Knowing that he had been
fooled, the devil gave a new order: " From the next crop onward,
both roots and grown plants will belong to the devil, and the rest
to the farmers." This time, the devil believed he would get the
upper hand. In the next crop cycle, the people grew corn instead
where maize cobs grow in the center of the plant. Once again when
harvest came, the farmers took all the cobs and left the rest behind
for the devil. Again the devil was outsmarted. This time, he made up
his mind to take all of the land and the farmers had no more land to
Because of the people's
misfortune, Buddha appeared again and they began to complain: "How
can we live like this?" "Don't worry" answered Buddha. "Go tell the
devil that you want to rent his land for gold. Just rent a small
plot of land enough for a single bamboo tree. Make sure that the
devil will vow that all land under the bamboo's shadow will belong
to you." The people then collected all the gold they had and went to
negotiate with the devil. Stunned with the gold and believing that
they would certainly be defeated, the devil agreed with the plan at
Bamboo trees were planted
and they grew straight and luxuriant. Their shadow spread far and
wide with every passing year. The longer they lived, the more
immense their shadow became. Finally, one day there was no more land
for the devil who was driven out to sea. Since then the people have
been free to plant any kind of crop they want without giving a
portion to the devil.
Being deprived of his land,
the devil wanted vengeance at any cost and swore to retrieve his
former land. With the support of wild and ferocious beasts, he let
his subjects go to the village to plunder and loot the crops. Armed
with spears and sticks, the people fought against the hostile forces
to guard the rice fields they had gained at the expense of their own
lives. At the same time, Buddha appeared and advised them to "Go to
the forest and make bows and arrows to kill them and make use of
water mingled with garlic and lime to splash on their faces."
Following Buddha's advice, they made the weapons and waited for the
enemy. When the devil came with his gang, they met tough resistance
from the farmers. Leaving their enemies behind, the living survivors
ran in every direction.
After that enormous defeat,
the devil was put back out to sea and gave up his ambitions to
regain the land. His only wish was that every year he be allowed to
return to his former native village for a visit to his ancestors'
This is the reason why
every year when Tet comes, farmers plant a neu tree in front
of their house. The shadow of neu symbolizes the land
acquired by the men in the legend. The sounds of small bells and
gongs on neu
remind us of man's right to own the land and the bows and arrows tell
us that they were once the weapons used to fight off the devil.