Family Trees: A Nation’s Heritage
Published: 06/05/2012 by ptg
The Le Van family in Nghi Thinh Commune, Nghi Loc District, Nghi An Province owns 5 old trees in their backyard. But when they were offered more than US $300,000 for such trees and their garden, the family refused. Why? Because the 670 year-old trees are historically significant, in fact, considered a national heritage.
The Le Van family has been taking care of the trees for many generations. The Vietnam Nature and Environment Protection Association declared the five trees a national heritage late December 2011. Experts from the association as well as scientists from the Forest Science Institute conducted several tests to scientifically check and confirm the age of the trees before they could achieve the prestigious title of “heritage.”
This is not the first time in the country that old trees are given the heritage title. In fact just this year, eight other old trees between the ages of 250 – 1,000 years old located in Hanoi and the south central region were also conferred the high title. But it is the first time that only one person owns so many of them. Le Van Thuong, 71 years old and the head of the Le Van family, is now the owner of not one, not two, not even three, but five national heritages.
Thuong’s garden has been a popular tourist destination in their place for quite a while. The fruit of the tree, called the “gold apple fruit,” or scientifically known as Diospyros decandra Luor, is known for its fragrance. The fruits on the trees were so plenty that he said he used to bury them in holes but there were still so many left on the trees. Children from the neighborhood used to go to his garden to play and eat the fruits but they eventually grew tired because they couldn’t keep up with the vast number of fruits all around the garden. And the fruits are so cheap that they are not worth selling or going into business for.
Thuong’s 7,200 square meter garden is famous not only in their place, but in the whole country as well. In 2005, the trees were featured on the show “Strange Things in Vietnam” on national television. Reporters and experts from the University of Forestry and the Forest Science institute visited the popular garden. Soon, even tourists vacationing from the nearby province Cua Lo Beach stop by to see the famous old trees.
Many people and organizations have offered to buy the garden and trees at generous prices. Three people from Hai Phong (near Hanoi) once offered to pay $30,000 for each tree. In 2009, some people from the south region made a very huge offer for the whole property to turn it into an eco-tourism area. But the Le Van family refused all offers, considering the old trees their treasures especially since they have been passed on from their ancestors.
According to the family legend, the trees came to the family when one of their ancestors, General Le Van Hoan, in the 14th century, while leading a troop from the northern to the central regions to fight the Champas, saw five healthy-growing trees right in the middle of the desert and asked his men to set up tent there. After the mission, he brought his family and settled there. It was even said that the trees saved a lot of people during the infamous Vietnam Famine of 1945 wherein between 400,000 - 2 million people were estimated to have suffered and died during the Japanese occupation of Indochina from October 1944 to May 1945, historically known as the World War II.
But sad to say, in as much as the trees are a historical significance and symbol, the Le Van family doesn’t get any support from the government at all. Thuong said he has been passed on from one government office and agency to another, but all of them said the same thing, that they don’t know what to do about it since the issue is a new one and they don’t have a specific regulation about it.
The trees are so old that the trunks now have huge hollows in them. But as they have been doing since they first had the trees, Thuong and the rest of the Le Van family are as determined as ever to take care of the trees as they have always been doing. Meanwhile, the trees are a mute witness to several centuries of history, and for as long as they still can, they stand in stoic silence.