The Story of Tấm and Cám
Published: 04/04/2010 by ptg
Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful girl named Tấm. She was very young when her mother died. But despite her mother’s absence, Tấm was a very happy girl since her father, who loved her dearly, devoted his days raising her and looking after her. But things changed when Tấm’s father fell in-love with a wicked lady, whom he married and later gave birth to a daughter named Cám.
Jealous towards the father’s attention to her, Tấm’s stepmother and stepsister treated her badly. She was made to wear rags then forced to cook, scrub the floors, work around the house and fetch water every day and night. But day by day, no matter how hard Tấm worked, she remained beautiful. With her hair as gentle as the wind, skin as fair as the clouds and her voice as sweet as that of the nightingale’s, their jealousy towards Tấm grew even worse as the days passed. Attempting to get rid of her, her stepmother started sending her out to dangerous errands for hopes that harm might befall her. But everytime Tấm comes home safe, it angers her even more.
One day, the stepmother sent both Tấm and Cám to fish in the river, promising to reward the girl who brings home the most fish with a pretty red Áo yếm silk. Hoping to wear something beautiful for the first time, Tấm worked hard to catch all the fish she could and at the end of the day, she gathered enough to fill her basket with. Since Cám spent the whole afternoon wandering along the riverbank, she realized that her basket was still empty. She tricked Tấm to wash in the river before heading home, to which Tấm agreed. While in the river, her cunning sister Cám switched their baskets and hurried home.
When Tấm discovered that her basket was empty, her heart sank and broke into tears knowing she could never get to wear the red silk. Suddenly, a soothing wind blew against her skin, and when Tấm looked up, the Goddess of Mercy appeared before her. Having seen her sufferings, the Goddess promised to look after her and asked the girl to look in the basket to find a small golden fish. She instructed Tấm to bring the fish home, care for it and feed it well.
Obeying what the Goddess had told her, Tấm took the fish to the well behind their house and fed it constantly with what she could save from her food. Day by day, the fish would eagerly wait for Tấm as she comes to bring its food. It would swim gracefully as Tấm sings, and soon, the fish became Tấm’s only friend. But the jealous stepmother could not bear to see Tấm happy. She sent her to an errand and while Tấm was away, she took the fish from the well and cooked it for dinner.
When Tấm could no longer find her fish, it broke her heart so much and wept. Again, the Goddess of Mercy appeared to her and advised her to bury the bones of the fish in four separate jars underneath each corner of her bed, of which Tấm obeyed.
Time passed, and news have spread around about the grand celebration the King will hold. As, everyone in the kingdom is invited, Tấm looked forward to attending the ball. The day finally came and everyone was excited. To prevent Tấm from coming to the celebration, her stepmother mixed two big baskets of black and green beans together then told her to sort them out before she is allowed to go. Dressed in lovely gowns, her stepmother and Cám left poor Tấm alone in the house.
Tấm tearfully sorted the beans, knowing she could never finish them on time to catch up with the ball. But suddenly, the Goddess of Mercy came before her, turned the flies into sparrows and sorted the beans in no time. Tấm was then told to dig up the four jars she buried underneath the corners of her bed. To her surprise, each jar contained extravagant treasures of a beautiful silk dress, jewelries, golden slippers and a lovely chariot. Tấm quickly dressed herself and the chariot swiftly rode to the palace doors. Unknowingly, she dropped a single slipper into the river.
The slipper flowed along the river and made its way to the palace. One of the servants found it and took it to the king. Instantly taken by its marvel and beauty, the king proclaimed that any maiden in the celebration who can slip her foot perfectly into the slipper will be made his bride. All of the ladies hoped they would fit into the slippers, including Cám, but none of them succeeded. Then a woman in a beautiful silk dress appeared before the king, wearing a single slipper matching to that of the one in the king’s hand. When the king placed the other slipper in her foot, it perfectly matched her. The king knew he just found his queen. On that very night, the king married Tấm and a celebration was held for her honour.
Now a queen, Tấm lives in a nice palace with her beloved king while her jealous stepmother and stepsister stayed in their old house. On the day of her father’s anniversary, Tấm had to come home to do her filial duty. Her cunning stepmother asked Tấm to climb an areca tree to gather betel nuts and offer to her father’s altar. Tấm obeyed and as she climbed the tree, the wicked stepmother chopped the tree with an axe. Tấm had fallen off and died. Eager to be queen, Cám put on her sister’s royal garb and entered the palace to take her sister’s place.
Tấm, longing for her beloved, reincarnated into a beautiful nightingale and dwelt into the king’s garden. While the king, disheartened over the loss of her beautiful queen, constantly yearned for Tấm. He became quiet and wants to be left alone. One day, as he was wandering in his garden, the nightingale sang into the sweetest melody that captured the king’s heart. Reminded of how lovely Tấm sings, the king called out to the nightingale to land in the wide sleeves of his robe if she is the spirit of his late queen. When the nightingale did exactly as the king said, he was so delighted and he ordered for a golden cage to be placed beside his bed. There, he spent his days beside the nightingale as it sang beautiful melodies to him. Cám, whom the king never became fond of, grew increasingly jealous of the bird. When the king was away one day, she took it from the cage, killed it and buried it in the woods.
Time had passed, a magnificent tree grew from the very spot where the nightingale was buried. It bore nothing but a single golden fruit of purely sweet scent. A poor old woman walked by one day and admired the fruit so greatly. She begged it to fall to her promising not to eat it, but only to adore it. And indeed it fell to her, of which she kept her promise. She placed the golden fruit on the table not to eat it, but only to enjoy its sweet smell.
When the old woman came home the next day, she was surprised to find the house tidy and a delicious hot meal waiting on the table for her. Curious to know who the kind-hearted person is doing such good things, she pretended to leave the next day, stayed behind the door and waited. To her amazement, the beautiful Tấm came out of the golden fruit and started tidying the house. Quickly, the old woman tore up the fruit peel so she could no longer go back in it. She then kept Tấm like her own daughter and they both lived in her house in the woods.
One day, when the king was hunting, he noticed a very special smell of betel which reminded him of the very same manner his late queen prepares it. He followed the smell which eventually led him to the old woman’s hut. Delighted to see the king, the old woman welcomed him and offered him some tea and betel. The king was amazed to find the betel prepared in the very peculiar way Tấm had always prepared it and he asked the old woman who had made them. When told that it was her daughter, the king ordered for her to be brought to him.
Tấm came and bowed to him, and it did not take long for the king to recognize her. Overjoyed, both of them wept and Tấm was immediately brought back to the palace and took her former place as the real queen.
Cám, who was completely neglected by the king, saw how Tấm was still beautiful as ever with her hair still as gentle as the wind and her skin still as fair as the clouds. In hopes she could win the king’s heart if she could be as beautiful as her sister, she begged Tấm to reveal her secret for having such lovely fair skin. Tấm told her sister to jump in a basin of boiling water. Cám believed her and did exactly as she said. She died a horrible death. When her stepmother learned about what happened, she wept until she became blind. With no one left to wish her harm, Tấm and the king finally lived happily ever after.
Illustration from AmChamVietnam
A truly Vietnamese cinderella story!
Marjorie Rivas from Lafayette, LA - 04/09/2010 01:21:21
I had always loved the cinderella story, it’s a classic, and I could hear it over and over again. Tam and Cam is very much a cinderella tale indeed, but very elaborate and full of symbolism. The Vietnamese touch indeed breathed more life and color to the story!