Vietnamese Legend: The Sand Crab carts his sand into the East Sea

Every morning from early dawn, Dã Tràng the hunter would leave his straw-thatched hut, and plunge into the forest with his bow and arrows.

He would return late at night, bringing the game that he had killed during the day.

One day he happened to pass a shrine where two black serpents with white spots were lying in the sun.

At first he was afraid of them, but since they did him no harm, he soon became accustomed to their presence.

On investigation he learned that they were serpent-genies, and from that time on he began to leave some game for them at the base of the altar.

Once when Dã Tràng drew near the serpents, he heard a great noise.

He went closer and observed that the spotted serpents were being attacked by a larger serpent.

Dã Tràng took up his bow and fired at the latter, wounding it in the head, so that it took flight.

One serpent set out in pursuit; but the other had been fatally bitten and died.

Dã Tràng buried the dead serpent behind the shrine.

That night a genie appeared to Dã Tràng and said:

“You saved my life, and you gave my wife an honourable burial.

Here is evidence of my gratitude.”

With that, Dã Tràng saw the genie change himself into a serpent.

The serpent opened his mouth and let fall a beautiful pearl.

Dã Tràng had often heard it said that possession of the pearl of a serpent-genie would permit one to understand the language of the animals.

He intended to test this for himself, and next morning, on leaving for the hunt, he placed the pearl in his mouth.

He had hardly entered the forest when he heard a voice which seemed to come from a tree.

“To the right two hundred paces, who sees a deer?

To the right two hundred paces, who sees a deer?”

It was the voice of a crow.

Dã Tràng followed the crow’s advice, and when he had brought down his prey, the voice continued:

“Do not forget my reward! Do not forget!”

Da Trang asked the crow, “What do you wish?”

“The entrails! Only the entrails!” replied the crow.

Dã Tràng was careful to pay his account.

The next day the crow again informed him where he could find a deer, and in this way a close association was formed.

Dã Tràng was always careful to deposit his companion’s portion of the game in a convenient place.

One day the crow’s portion was stolen, and the crow thought that Dã Tràng had failed to leave his share, and went to his house to complain.

The man protested and an argument took place.

The crow began to insult Dã Tràng, who became angered, and fired a poisoned shaft at him.

The crow dodged the arrow and flew off to the place where it had fallen.

He picked up the arrow in his beak and cried:

“Revenge! Revenge!”

Several days later Dã Tràng was arrested.

A poisoned arrow bearing his name had been discovered in the body of a drowned man.

In spite of his protests of innocence, he was cast into prison.

One day the jailer was astonished to hear him laugh and speak while alone.

When he heard Dã Tràng chatting with insects of his cell, he thought him mad.

Dã Tràng would beg the mosquitoes and bugs not to bite him, and would reply to their comments on the quality of the skin of the prisoners who had preceded him.

On a certain occasion Dã Tràng overheard a conversation between two sparrows who were relating how they emptied several of the royal granaries, which had been poorly guarded.

Dã Tràng immediately asked to see the warden of the prison.

Sceptical at first, he investigated and found Dã Tràng had told the truth.

On another occasion Dã Tràngg questioned some ants who were hastily carrying their eggs and provisions to higher ground.

They told him that a great flood was imminent.

Dã Tràng reported this to the warden who hastened to inform the king.

The king ordered that the necessary measures be taken.

Three days later the waters of the great river mounted rapidly and overflowed, flooding immense regions.

The king then had Dã Tràng brought to the palace.

From his mouth he learned the entire story of the crow’s vengeance and the serpent’s friendship and Dã Tràng showed him his miraculous pearl.

Struck with admiration, the king immediately saw that through the pearl, much could be gained for the general good.

He also hoped to discover for himself the secrets of nature and the miracles of the universe of which men were ignorant.

He did not deprive Dã Tràngof his pearl but kept him near for consultation, and made him repeat all that he heard.

The king was very enthusiastic to hear about the animals’ conversation and spent a great deal of time listening to them.

He soon perceived that beasts were not as simple as he had believed, and men were wrong to despise them.

They resemble each other, and each species forms an entire world with its own absurdities, cruelties, and miseries, quite comparable to those which are found in human societies.

In the hope of making other discoveries, the king took Dã Tràng with him for long walks along the seashore, where they questioned various kinds of fish.

The king was not long in learning that animals of the earth and inhabitants of the sea often spoke for the sake of speaking, or to foment evil.

One beautiful spring morning the king and Dã Tràng went sailing.

WhileDã Tràng reclined in the shade of the sail, the king followed the antics of a school of dolphins.

Suddenly Dã Tràng heard a strange sound in the water, and he bent over the side, and saw a cuttlefish swimming alongside the royal barge, singing a joyous air:

“Cloud, white cloud,

Which floats, slowly floats

In the blue water of the sky…”

It was so funny to see the cuttlefish singing and rolling in cadence through the waves, that Dã Tràngburst out laughing.

As he did so, the pearl slipped from his mouth and fell into the water.

Dã Tràng’s despair was great, but the king took control of the situation.

The location was marked, and the best divers of the kingdom were sent for, but their efforts to find the pearl were in vain.

The king turned to other occupations and seemed to have forgotten the magic pearl, but Dã Tràng was inconsolable and thought about the lost pearl night and day. He took no interest in life and in spite of the favors of the monarch, wept endlessly over the irretrievable loss.

Always dreaming of finding the lost pearl, Da Trang’s weakened brain conceived the idea of filling up the sea.

He assembled and army of workmen who brought hundreds of carloads of sand to the seashore.

The king was at first indulgent, but he finally had to put a stop to these insane efforts.

Dã Tràng wasted away and died, without recovering his reason.

Before death, he had asked to be buried at the very place where he had supervised filling up the sea – the sea that had robbed him of his treasure.

When you are at the seashore, go to the beach early in the morning at ebb tide.

You will notice innumerable little balls of sand strewn about the beach.

They are the work of Dã Tràng’s crabs, which swarm under your feet, and at the least disturbance disappear into their holes.

Using their claws, they rapidly roll the sand into a ball; but a single wave is sufficient to destroy all their work.

They are indefatigable however, and are soon at work again amassing another ball, which will only last until the next wave.

It is said that the inconsolable soul of Dã Tràng has passed to these minute crabs and never ceases to think of the magic pearl and his attempt to fill up the sea.

There is a Vietnamese proverb which is cited whenever a man seems to throw himself into an impossible enterprise, forgetting the limitation of his forces, and the fact that he is only a poor human.

It reads:

Dã Tràng carts his sand into the East Sea

He grieves and devotes all his energy to no result

Source: Vietmanitoba


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