DAVID LAN PHAM, F.A.B.I.
MAI AN TIEM AND THE
Mai An Tiem was tied to the appearance of
the watermelon in the Vietnamese people’s minds.
According to the oral tale, Mai An Tiem was from a Southern
country. He was sold to King Hung Vuong III as a slave. At that time Champa
wasn’t born yet. Mai An Tiem could be a Cham, a Khmer, a Malaysian or an
Malaysia and Indonesia got in touch with the Hindu traders in
the 2nd century AD. They were Brahmans before converting to Islam in the 13th
century AD. So were the Cham.
Mai An Tiem was intelligent, active and sociable. He learned
to speak fluent Vietnamese in a short time. He was trusted by King Hung Vuong
III, who gave him and his wife a lot of favor. Mai An Tiem enjoyed princely
life. Some officials were jealous of him. They tried to discredit him and to
separate him from the King.
One day, a courtier told the King that Mai An Tiem was
insolent and unthankful to the King when saying all the comforts he has belonged
to him in his past life. The King was very angry. He asked his courtiers how to
punish Mai An Tiem.
Life in prison?
King Hung Vuong agreed to banish Mai An Tiem and his wife to
an unpopulated island in Nga Son district, Thanh Hoa province. Mai An Tiem and
his wife lived a miserable life on the island.
Suddenly a bird spread some seeds which grew into vines
bearing big fruits. Those were vines of watermelon. Mai An Tiem enlarged the
plantation of watermelons. He sold them to the Chinese traders in exchange for
rice, fresh water, salted fish, Chinese silk etc. He got richer and richer. The
Chinese liked watermelons very much. They ate them and said: “Hau! Hau!”
(edible; good). From ‘Hau’ in Cantonese the Vietnamese called them Dua Hau (dua:
melon) or Tay Qua based on Xigua in Mandarin (melon from the West).
At present Mai An Tiem Festival is celebrated annually on the
11th day of the Third Month of the Lunar Calendar in Nga Phu village, Nga Son
district, Thanh Hoa province.
The Hong Bang Dynasty (2879- 258 BC) consisted of 18 Kings
Hung Vuong. In this period of time Vietnam wasn’t under Chinese rule yet.
According to the oral tale, Mai An Tiem sold watermelons to the Chinese traders.
It was written in history the Chinese knew watermelons in the
10th century AD. They were right to call the watermelon Xigua (Tay Qua) which
means the melon from the West.
The watermelons (scientific name: Citrulus vulgaris Family:
Cucurbitaceae) were originated from the Kalahari Desert, Botswana, Africa.
Watermelon seeds were found in the Tomb of Tutankhamon in Egypt (14th century
To China and Vietnam Africa is in the West. For that reason
the Chinese call watermelons Xigua. The Vietnamese call them Tay Qua
phoneticized from Xigua.
Do you believe Mai An Tiem sold watermelons to the Chinese
traders tens of centuries before the latter knew watermelons in the 10th
century? The Hindus grew watermelons in the 7th century AD.
The strange thing was that Mai An Tiem sold watermelons to
the Chinese traders without knowing the name of the items he sold. The seller
named them DUA HAU or TAY QUA phoneticized from Cantonese HAU or from Mandarin
XIGUA used by the Chinese traders!
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