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"The Story of Cam and Tam"
Transcript of "The Story of Cam and Tam"
the Vietnamese Cinderella.
"The Story of Tam and Cam"
Brief History of Vietnamese Literature
Prior to the 11th century, Vietnam was dominated by China. As a result ancient Vietnamese literature was written in Chinese.
The vast majority of documents found from this period are official government documents, or declarations of independence.
Traditional Vietnamese poetry was written in Chinese and had to later be translated. The meaning of many works was lost in the process .
Around the 10th century, Chu Nom was created but it was regarded as inferior to Chinese .
However, Chu Nom flourished in the 18th century and was the official written script for a brief period of time.
In the 17th century Quoc Ngu was invented. This is the Vietnamese script that is used today.
Quoc Ngu was heavily used in the French Colonial administration, and as a result all works of Vietnamese literature are since written in Quoc Ngu.
Importance of Folklore
Folk stories served
entertaining and didactic purposes.
They both amuse and taught the younger members of the community moral lessons about family and virtue.
These tales were also used as
They strengthened communities by providing
a shared identity.
guaranteed the preservation of traditional culture
in a country that was constantly under foreign rule.
Background for the Story
It is a popular folk story dating back to the tenth century which was transmitted orally until the 19th century.
In 1886 by A. Landes, an administrator of native affairs working for the colonial French government in Vietnam (then called Indochina) wrote which included "The Story of Tam and Cam" along with other traditional folk tales.
He employed native translators to collect the oral tales told by the locals.
The story borrows elements from the Chinese story "Yeh-hsien" which was told in a town near Vietnam over a thousand years earlier.
The tale was also influenced by the Egyptian story "Rhodopis". In both stories a bird is responsible for the prince finding the shoe and consequently marrying the protagonist.
A magical journey...
Cam and Tam, half sisters who are almost the same age.
Parents send them to catch fish.
Cam collects the most fish but Tam steals them.
Cam has only a bong-mu fish left,it becomes her friend.
Tam eats it. A spirit comes and tells Cam to bury the fish's bones for 40 days to get
"her heart's desire".
After the 3 months and 10 days she opens it and finds a beautiful dress and golden shoes.
A crow flies off with the shoe and drops it in the palace courtyard.
Prince sees it and says he would only marry the girl whose foot would fit it.
Cam wants to go to palace to try on the slipper
But the stepmother gives her a difficult task: to separate sesame seeds from lentils. Spirits sends pigeons to help her.
She goes to the palace, tries on the slipper.
Cam visits her father who is sick.
Stepmother tells Cam to pick the fruit from the very tall tree in the garden.
She tells him this could save him.
Tam chops off the tree to kill Cam.
Cam falls but does not die. She is transformed into a quanh quach bird.
Tam takes Cam's place at court.
Cam appears as a bird,Prince realizes the bird is his beloved wife and he cares for it. Tam eats it.
From Cam's feathers a bamboo tree springs . The prince again cares for it.Tam cuts it and eats it.
Cam reincarnates into a durian tree.
No one could grab the Dorian tree's fruit.
A poor woman begs tree to drop off some fruit for her.
Fruit falls into her basket, she takes it to her little house.
Cam cooks and cleans for her during the day, at night she hides inside the fruit.
Old woman sees her and is very grateful.
Cam asks her to invite prince for dinner.
"... which one deserved the privileges of the elder?"
This need to establish who is the eldest illustrates the hierarchical nature of traditional Vietnamese families. The elder siblings were addressed with titles which showed respect and obedience.First sons hold the greatest influence over the family.
As accustomed in Asian culture,
respect for parents and elders play a fundamental role in Vietnamese society. Cam demonstrates this virtue visiting and trying to safe her father,despite the danger, and helping the poor old woman.
The supernatural is a fundamental element of Vietnamese folklore.
Traditionally, many natives practiced animism (worship of natural forces,
animals and spirits). There are several examples of supernatural
appearances in the tale: the kind spirit who guides Cam, the talking rooster
and crow, the helpful pigeons, the fish bones that transform into the dress
and slippers and Cam's multiple transformations.
The animals depicted in the story represent
the native fauna of Vietnam. Landes was determined to properly
describe the nation he so deeply admired and so he made sure to
acquire the correct name of these autochthonous animals.
Cam vs. Cinderella
The Vietnamese story emphasizes the importance of the relationship between Cam and her sister, the central issue that advances the plot."Cinderella and the Glass Slipper" focuses on the protagonist and the romantic aspect of the story.
The Vietnamese story is simple and gruesome. There are cannibalistic elements in this version and the supernatural presence is a lot stronger. "Cinderella..." was written by Charles Perrault, a courtier under the service of Louis XIV,therefore, this version is highly romanticized to please his sophisticated and delicate audience. The beautiful clothes and royal aspects are discussed in detail.
The Prince laughs at the old woman's proposal and tells her that if she places a silver carpet from her house to the palace for him to walk on, he would go.
The spirit helps Cam wove a carpet which extends from the house to the palace.
Prince recognizes Cam's food, they reunite.
Tam returns to the palace.
Tam asks her how she could become as beautiful as her.Tam throws herself into a pot of burning water, she dies.
Cam gets Tam's flesh salted, she sends it to the stepmother, pretending it was a present from Tam.
Stepmother eats her. Crow tells her she is eating her own daughter:
"... at the bottom of the barrel,she found Tam's head, and knew that she was dead".
Cam vs Cinderella
"Cinderella ..." ends with her marriage to the prince.The Vietnamese story addresses Cam's life after marriage and the difficulties of achieving a happy life.
Cam has a more active role than Cinderella. She finds ways to reunite with her husband. She is finally successful through her perseverance and kindness. She does not hesitate in getting rid of her enemies to protect herself and her relationship with the prince.
Cam is constantly helped by a celestial spirit not a fairy godmother. In other Asian versions the heroine always receives aid from a male: a stranger, a heavenly man or the Buddha.
Cam vs Cinderella
Cam has several near-death experiences. Her father is almost dying.
Her sister suffers a violent death. No one dies in the French story and the evil characters are forgiven in the end.
This is why Disney adapted this version!
Cinderella shows her christian virtue by forgiving her step-sisters but Cam takes revenge on those who abused her. This defies the typical "happy ending" western fairy-tales have accustomed us to and provides a bloody but more realistic resolution.
Showing care and compassion for those below us is important and brings rewards (fish and spirit).
Respecting elders should be a priority (old woman).
Selflessness and good deeds are compensated. Evil is met with destruction and humiliation.
Vanity and beauty is a dangerous . (Tam)
There is always hope for the oppressed (Cam).
1. Sierra, Judy. Cinderella. Phoenix: The Oryx Press, 1984. Print.
2. Doan, Oanh, and Sarah Gruen. "Vietnamese Cultural Profile." EthoMED. N.p., Dec. 2010. Web. Nov. 22nd. 2013.http://ethnomed.org/culture/vietnamese/vietnamese-cultural-profile
3. "Vietnam A Historical Introduction." Vietnam A Historical Introduction. Asia Society, 2013. Web. Nov. 22nd. 2013. <http://asiasociety.org/countries/vietnam>.
4. Michele, Jan. "History of Vietnam and Its French Connection." The French Connection in the History of Vietnam. Learn-french-help.com, 2013. Web. 22nd Nov. 2013. <http://www.learn-french-help.com/history-of-vietnam.html>.