Vietnamese Culture - A 1970's Perspective
                     copyright 1996, Vn-families

Issue #3. The origin of Tao Quan, the three kitchen gods, by            
George F. Schultz, Vietnam Bulleting, January 18, 1971.

This is a set of reprints from the Vietnam Bulletin, a weekly 
publication by the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, DC, during the 
period from 1967 to 1975. The original articles were not copyrighted. 

We will run this column weekly until we run out of interesting cultural 
articles. 
Please direct all questions to trant@teleport.com
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Here is the proposed schedule of this column.

Issue #1:  Tet 1971 in Vietnam! by Phu Si, VB710118 - Jan 17, 1996
Issue #2:  The Unicorn dance at Tet, by Minh Tam, VB710118 -
           Jan 24, 1996.
Issue #3:  The origin of Tao Quan, the three kitchen gods, by
           George F. Schultz, VB710118 - Jan 31, 1996.
Issue #4:  1971 - The year of the Pig, by Van Ngan, VB710118 -
           Feb 7, 1996.
Issue #5   The Joy of "first writing of the new year", by Thuy Ngoc,
           VB710208- Feb 14, 1996

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             THE ORIGIN OF TAO QUAN, THE THREE KITCHEN GODS
                    Adapted by George F. Schultz

There is a popular belief in Viet Nam that Tao Quan, the Three Kitchen 
Gods, are present in the kitchen of every home. These gods observe 
everything that takes place there. At the end of the lunar year, on the 
twenty-third day of the twelfth month, they depart to make their report 
to Ngoc Hoang, the Jade Emperor, supreme divinity of the Taoist Heaven. 
On that day Tao Ouan are offered the best of food and spices and are 
presented with gifts of money and clothing.

The idea of a threesome is unique to this story. More often the kitchen 
god or genie is described as a single person and may be called Ong Tao, 
Ong Lo or Ong Vua Bep.

Long, long ago, when Earth and Sky met in the Valley of Whispers, in the 
dense, green forest there lived a woodcutter and his wife. They were 
very poor and oftentimes the man was unable to earn enough to buy their 
food. Frustration and worry drove him to drink, and he would come 
staggering home at night in a vile mood. Since there was only his wife 
to listen to him in their ramshackle cottage, he poured out all manner 
of abuse on the poor woman. Because she was his wife, she had to accept 
it. Sometimes he would try to appease his rage by smashing the 
furniture; but when he took to beating her she could endure it no 
longer. One night, she fled the cottage and was never seen there again.

For days and weeks, the woman wandered in the forest. She was hungry and 
her feet were torn and bleeding. Finally, she came to a hunter's cabin. 
The owner was an honest man, who gave her food and permitted her to rest 
in his home. She kept house for him then, and after some time they were 
married. They lived together in great happiness, and it seemed that the 
woman had forgotten the terrors of her previous marriage.

One day, when Tet (Vietnamese New Year) was approaching and the hunter 
was out in the forest looking for game, a beggar knocked at the door of 
the cottage and asked for alms. He was clad in rags and his hair was 
matted and unkempt. The compassionate woman prepared a meal for the man; 
while he was eating, she suddenly recognized him as her former husband.

The beggar was still eating when the woman heard the steps of her 
returning husband. In her mind's eye she saw rapid end of her newfound 
happiness and became panic-stricken. Quickly she hid the beggar under a 
haycock .

The hunter had been very successful that day and was returning home with 
some excellent game. As soon as he entered the cottage, he prepared to 
roast it in the haycock quite unaware of the beggar's presence there.

When the beggar found himself ablaze, his first impulse was to cry out; 
then, fearing that the hunter might kill the woman on discovering him 
there, he remained silent.

As tongues of flame consumed the haycock, the poor woman was torn with 
grief. She realized of course that her former husband was meeting death 
for her sake and that she did not want. Hesitating for no longer than a 
moment, she threw herself into the fire in order to die with him.

The hunter cried out in dismay when he saw what his wife had done. He 
tried to pull her back but was unable to do so. Thinking that some act 
of his had driven her to such desperation, he too jumped into fire, 
preferring to die with her rather than to continue to live without her.

When the people learned of this touching story, they bowed their heads 
out of respect for the noble motives that had brought on the deaths of 
the woman and the two men. They were later acclaimed as Tao Quan, the 
Three Kitchen Gods.
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TT: I guess quite a few of you may not realize the significance of the
number "3" above and its association with the Vietnamese kitchen. I
believe the reason for having 3 Kitchen Gods is because the Vietnamese
traditional clay stove (lo`) provides three support posts for the pots
and pans. Thus we have 3 posts that are bound together at the base - a
tri-deity? We don't know which started first, the legend or the oven, but
the association is definitely interesting.