This story was adapted from “The Treasury of Vietnamese Folk Tales”
Illustrator: Pham Hung Anh
There were once two boys whose parents had passed away. Thanks to their hard work, the brothers’ lives were smooth. However, after getting married, the older brother grew lazy and left the difficult jobs to his younger brother and his wife. This pair worked hard to grow rice. Unwilling to share the profits, the older brother demanded that their households live apart.
The younger brother was given a desolate hut with a star fruit tree out front. The older brother took all the rice fields. Without complaint, the younger brother and his wife went to work for other farmers. The older brother hired help to manage his fields and lived a life of ease. Hearing no complaints from his younger sibling, he dismissed him as an imbecile and stopped visiting him.
Each year, the younger brother and his wife waited for the star fruit to ripen. All year long they watered the tree and rid it of worms and ants. The tree cast its shadow over their little garden. Its fruits hung so low that even a small child could pick them.
One morning the couple took a bamboo pole and baskets to the star fruit tree, intending to collect some fruits to sell in the market. All of a sudden, the tree began to shake. Looking up, they saw a huge bird eating the ripe fruit. They stood still and waited for the bird to fly away, then climbed to collect some fruit. Every morning from then on, the couple saw the giant bird. For a full month it ate at their tree, greatly reducing the amount of fruit.
The bird craned its neck, blinked its eyes and replied: “I will trade each fruit for a lump of gold. Bring a bag that measures three arm-spans!” The bird repeated these words three times before flying away.
Amazed that the bird could talk, the couple decided to follow its command. The wife sewed a large bag that measured exactly three arm-spans.
The next morning, no sooner had the couple finished their breakfast than a roaring wind arose. The bird landed in the tree and tilted its head towards its hosts. The husband brought the three-span bag, and the bird spread its wings and tilted its neck to invite him to climb onto its back.
He took a seat and hung on. The bird raised its neck and soared into the sky. It flew through silver clouds and over vast fields and mountains. It flew over the sea, where huge waves slammed into small islands, tossing up white bubbles. The bird landed on an island sprinkled with colorful jewels that shimmered in the sun. The man saw no other living creatures.
The bird pointed to a cave and told the man to enter. “You may take whatever you like,” it said. At the cave’s mouth the man saw brightly colored jewels. He did not dare venture far inside, but collected some gold and gems and placed them in his cloth bag. He then returned to the bird and climbed onto its back to go home.
The sun was at its zenith when the bird circled back over the man’s garden. The wife was overjoyed to see her husband home safely. She gratefully stroked the bird and invited it to eat some fruit. The bird had a snack, then bid the couple farewell. After that, it rarely returned to eat their fruit.
Hearing of his younger brother’s good luck, the older brother rushed over. “Let’s trade houses,” he said, eager to take possession of the lucky star fruit tree.
Much to the older brother’s surprise, his younger brother agreed. The greedy brother and his wife moved into the small shack and spent their days watching the star fruit tree.
The bird replied: “I will trade one fruit for a lump of gold. Prepare a bag of three arm-spans.”
The older brother and his wife were elated. But they soon began to argue about how to make the bag. They wanted to make many bags but feared the bird would not agree. Finally, they made a single bag that was three times as big as the younger brother’s bag.
When the bird landed on the island, the older brother was dazzled by the gleaming diamonds and pearls. Inside the cave, he was stupefied. Unaware of his hunger and thirst, he collected as much gold and gems as possible, even knotting the bottoms of his pants and sleeves and stuffing them with gold. He could barely walk out of the cave.
The waiting bird grew anxious. It was not until late afternoon that the greedy brother managed to carry his load out of the cave. It took all his strength to heave it up onto the bird’s back and tie it to his body with a rope.
The bird took off. But the load was so heavy it could barely fly above the sea. As the man dreamt of his unlimited wealth, the bird struggled to stay aloft. The wind rose higher. As the bird banked to avoid a huge wave, the bag of gold on its back shifted, then fell. The brother and his huge bag vanished into the sea. The bird shook off its wet wings and flew back to its mountain home.