The Cult of The Deities of the Kitchen – Section 1

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   “Ông đầu rauVietnamese name for a cooking-stove made of three pieces of baked clay serving as a cooking-stove – as we’ve seen in the sketch “cleaning the kitchen” – People in Central Vietnam call it ông Núc” (Mr. Núc – Núc means Kitchen). As for people in the North, they have distinctive names for each one of the three pieces of baked clay: the one in the middle is called đầu râu cái” (the female one) while the other two are called đầu râu đực” (the male ones). Besides, at the middle of the 3 pieces of baked clay, there still exists a piece of stone – symbolizing the servant. This servant exists in the Sơn Tây folk legend relating to the story of the Kitchen God.

Two men married to one woman

   For the Vietnamese, one has to clean not only oneself but also Mister Kitchen. H. Oger gives us the image of a magician “cleaning the Kitchen”. This cleaning also takes place in the cult-house.   

Kitchen -
Fig.1: The kitchen

 Speaking of the kitchen (Fig.1) one thinks of a familial ceremony: that of sending off the “Genius of the kitchen” to Heaven in the afternoon of the twenty-third of the twelfth month (Lunar Calendar)2.

    The Genius of the kitchen has several names: King of the kitchen, king of the tripod.

    The drawing shows him with mandarin’s hat and boots, his robe is too long to let us know whether he has pants on or not. The fact that he knows everything in the house is due to his having held the pot of rice on his head all year round, abundance or poverty being gauged by the quantity of rice in it. He will report to the Emperor of Jade about the family’s doings and ask for good luck for the new year.

    The altar dedicated to the Genius of the kitchen has two men’s hats and one woman’s hat as H. OGER sees the picture. On one side of it is a scroll: “The Genius of the kitchen helps” and on the other: “The house-owner is secure”. There is a legend about these two men and this woman.3

    Once upon a time a poor couple had to part with each other. After that the wife got a rich husband. One day, when she was burning paper offerings she was approached by a beggar, her former husband. She then gave him a little rice.

   As her later husband suspected her, she jumped into a fire with the former husband following suit, and the later husband also did so out of repentance. All being good, the Emperor of Jade made them King of the kitchen. Another account is that the wife hid the former husband in a strawstack as the later husband returned from the field. When the later husband burned the stack to get ashes as manure, the sleeping former husband died. The moved wife threw herself into the fire and the suffering husband did the same. (According to Phan Kế Bính: Vietnam’s customs).

     Is the cult of the Genius of the kitchen a symbol of one’s ancestors, of the genius of the fire or of the belief of purity by fire? Is the number 3 of the husbands and wife related to the number 3 of the tripod (Fig.1)? Here the tripod is made of iron and not of earth.

   Commonly speaking, the main function of the Kitchen God can be specifically determined on a type of tablet bearing the definition: “Định phúc Táo Quân” (Kitchen God who determines the amount of blessings for each family). At some places, people can give the Kitchen God a few supplementary functions such as at Hà Tiên where the Kitchen God has the supplementary function of “Preserving the life of the householder’s baby”. This is a type of custom entrusting entirely the baby to the Kitchen God who will see to it that the child will overcome all illnesses and diseases at the age of 3, 5, or 7 (the term used in Japan is shichigosan). However, one has to wait until the child is 10 years old when he is an entirely healthy little boy to celebrate a ceremony to redeem the child and to thank the Kitchen God.

     We shall have the opportunity to look at a strange custom H.Oger has left behind in the sub-section entitled “Động ông Công” (1.9.6.)

    The Pháp Á (France-Asie 1952) review published a long story of “ông đầu rau” (the cooking-stove) that is ended by various forms of suicide. The story begins with the situation in which a poor couple cannot feed each other. The husband had to go to a foreign land to earn his bread and promised to come back after three years. At home, the wife worked for a householder who happens to be a widower, so they married, thinking that the former husband had died or got a new wife. Later on, the former husband returned, and being too sad he committed suicide by hanging himself on the banyan-tree at the village gate. His death leads to the former wife’s death – she committed suicide by jumping in the pond beside her house and her death leads to the death of the householder, who took a poison to kill himself.

    Being deeply touched by those three staunch deaths, the King of Hades allows these three persons to become the three pieces of baked clay so that their love shall be constantly heated by the fire.

    A Sơn Tây folk tale ends the story with the additional presence of the servant. This folk tale begins with a poor couple, the husband sells joss sticks, his wife works in the fields. The husband went far away to sell joss sticks and disappeared, so at home, his wife married another man. The new husband, besides being a farmer, is also a hunter and has a servant named Lốc.

    After being held as prisoner by the rebels for a long period, one day the former husband was released and returned. To conceal him from her new husband, the wife let him hide himself inside the stack of straw. When the new husband and his servant returned from hunting, he told his wife to go to the market to buy some spices to kill a civet – a product of his hunting – and while the wife was away, the servant had burned the stack of straw to singe the civet and had unintentionally singed the former husband. Upon returning from the market, the wife, being too regretful, had jumped into the fire, taking also her new husband with her, to commit suicide. Finally, the servant also threw himself into the fire to join his master. The King of Hades has passed a verdict allowing those 3 husbands and wife to become the three pieces of baked clay, as for the servant, he is allowed to become a thing to block the smouldering rice husks – i.e. the piece of baked clay shaped like a weight and used to press upon the batch of rice husks beside the stove. This is because at that time, people in the countryside did not have enough matches to make a fire so they kept a batch of smouldering rice husks from the evening until the morning of the following day to blow on it to get a fire whenever necessary. That piece of clay has been referred to as “the guy named Lốc”. In a series of folksketches on the God of the Kitchen, the guy named Lốc has been drawn standing beside the 3 above-mentioned characters. However, on the H.Oger’s sketch entitled “The God of the Kitchen” (Fig.2), we do not see any fourth character besides the few domestic animals: buffalo, rooster, dog, a rice-hulling mill…

Kitchen Genius -
Fig.2: Kitchen Genius

– On the magazine “Dân Việt Nam” (The Vietnamese People) published in 1948, we have found another story of another type that gives a situation that leads to the separation between husband and wife. According to this story, the husband suffers from leprosy. He advises his wife to leave him but she refuses to do so. One day, while his wife was giving a beggar some rice and money, he pretended to be jealous and suspicious to such an extend that his wife jumped into the river to commit suicide and was saved by the beggar. She then followed and married him. The storyteller invented an additional situation in which the former husband also met with difficulties to earn his living and had to go around begging, then, one day he again met with his former wife. This story ends by the fact that the former husband ran away and threw himself into a fire to commit suicide. Then came the turns of the wife and her new husband to choose a similar death. All three of them become Kitchen Gods.

– We all know that the Chinese also worship the God of the Kitchen and render homage to that God on the 23rd of the last lunar month. However, there are many variants in the contents of the story of the Kitchen God. Among the cantonese legends, there is a story that has an end which resembles very much to the one of the vietnamese story.

    Trương Lăng, a businessman, went far away to work and did not send any news back home. During his absence, Đinh Hương, his wife, remained at home and nurtured her husband’s parents until they passed away. When Trương Lăng returned with much wealth, he abandoned and dismissed his wife, permitting her to bring along only a carriage and an ox. The ox took her to the house of an old woman whose son she married. Trương Lăng also had another wife, but one day, he was victim of a fire and lost everything; he then became blind and was reduced to go around begging. Finally, he met with his former wife and, due to being too ashamed, he fell down and died on the 23rd of the last lunar month. He was made Táo Vương (God of the Kitchen) by the Emperor of Jade.

   As they have much respect for the Emperor of Jade, people agree to worship the Kitchen God on that day, but, they only offer him a bowl of vermicelli; the reason is that people believe that Trương Lăng dies because he ate the bowl of vermicelli given to him by Đinh Hương4

   The contents of the above-mentioned story do not show us 3 characters (Two men and one woman) who all commit suicide as in the vietnamese stories.

… continue in section 2…

1 Associate Professor HUNG NGUYEN MANH, Doctor of Phylosophy in History.
2  “Chạp” is a ceremony held at the year’s end in the last month – i.e the 12th lunar month.
Note by HENRI OGER – The divine nature of the kitchen – one woman for two men – allusion to the tripod.

01 /2020

◊  Source: Vietnamese Lunar New Year – Major Festival – Asso. Prof. HUNG NGUYEN MANH, Doctor of Phylosophy in History.
◊  Bold text and sepia images has been set by Ban Tu Thu –

◊  From Sketches in early 20th century to traditional rituals and festival.
◊  Signification of the term “Tết”
◊  Lunar New Year Festival
◊  Concerns of PROVIDENT PEOPLE – Concerns for KITCHEN and CAKES
◊  Concerns of PROVIDENT PEOPLE – Concerns for MARKETING – Section 1
◊  Concerns of PROVIDENT PEOPLE – Concerns for MARKETING – Section 2
◊  Concerns of PROVIDENT PEOPLE – Concerns for Dept payment
◊  The tray of Five fruits
◊  The Arrival of New Year
◊  SPRING SCROLLS – Section 1
◊  The Cult of The Deities of the Kitchen – Section 2
◊  Vietnam Lunar New Year – vi-VersiGoo
◊  etc.

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