Once Upon a Time Vietnam
Published: 06/03/2011 by Pat
Vietnam has always been known for its rich culture and history. But what most people probably don’t know is how it earned this global distinction. Vietnam is a complex mixture of races, languages and cultures that ethnologists, linguists and archaeologists up to today are still studying and trying to figure out. Like most regions in the Southeast Asia, Vietnam became a crossroads for migrants from different parts of the world, including Austronesian. Mon-Khmer and Tai, which made up a big part of the Vietnamese language later on.
The Vietnamese language in itself is an important clue for understanding and deciphering the fusion of culture of the Vietnamese people. Although the Vietnamese language is a separate and distinct language, most of its components were borrowed from several sources: basic vocabulary from Mon-Khmer, tonality from the Tai languages, and some grammatical features from both Mon-Khmer and Tai. The Austronesian language is also a big influence on the Vietnamese language, as well as a combination of Chinese literary, political and philosophical terminology, although this came at a later time.
Vietnam has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Era. Certain archaeological sites in the Thanh Hoa Province showed evidence of civilization in the area dating even several thousands of years earlier, in the late Neolithic, early Bronze Age, of the Phung-Nguyen culture from about 2000-1400 B.C. The development of the wet-rice cultivation and bronze casting in the Ma River and Red River led to the rise of the Dong Son culture in 1200 B.C., known for making grand designs of bronze drums, weapons and tools. This inclination for the bronze-casting technology is part of the Southeast Asian influence. The Dong Son and Southeast Asian cultures showed certain similarities, including boat-shaped coffins, burial jars, stilt dwellings, and some evidence of betel-nut chewing and teeth-blackening in their digging sites.
In Vietnam’s history, Hung Vuong, the first ruler of the semi-legendary Hung Dynasty of the kingdom Van Lang (2879-258 B.C.), was the founder of the Vietnamese nation. According to myth, a local cultural hero named Lac Long Quan was responsible for teaching the Vietnamese people how to cultivate rice. The Hung Dynasty is associated with the Dong Sonian culture, playing a greatly important role in the history of Vietnam for developing a tidal irrigation of rice fields through an elaborate system of canals and dikes. The rice fields were called Lac Fields, and Lac was said to be the earliest recorded name for the Vietnamese people. The Hung Dynasty imposed the feudal system with the help of the Lac Lords, controlling the communal settlements around each irrigated area, organized construction and maintenance of the dikes, and regulated the supply of water. Aside from rice cultivation, the Van Lang people were also known for growing other grains and beans; raising livestock and different crafts.
In the third century B.C., the last Hung king was overthrown by An Duong Vuong, ruler of the neighboring upland kingdom of Thuc. An Duong merged Van Lang and Thuc and formed Au Lac, building his capital and citadel at Co Loa, 35 kilometers north of present-day Hanoi. His reign was short-lived however, conquered by Trieu Da in 208 B.C. Trieu Da used terrorists under his control and established the kingdom of Nam Viet, which means Southern Viet. Viet or Yue was the term used by the Chinese to the people on the southside of the Han Empire, including the people of the Red River Delta. Trieu Da divided his kingdom into nine military districts, the southern three (Giao, Chi, Chan, and Nhat Nam) and included the northern part of present-day Vietnam. The Lac Lords continued to reign the Red River Delta, but only as vassals of Nam Viet.