The CULT of the DEITIES of the KITCHEN – Section 3

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… be continued for section 2:

     Why three hats, two for men and one for a woman?

   According to an old tale, the story of the Kitchen God involves three persons, two men and a woman. There was, in the old days, a couple who were husband and wife; the husband suffered from an illness as serious as leprosy, but his wife was a gentle and virtuous woman who worked hard to nurse her sick husband. Loving his wife passionately, the husband advised her to get away from him, but she of course refused to listen to him. The husband feigned to scold and chase her away, but she still refused to leave. One day a beggar happened to come to ask for some alms; being a virtuous woman, the wife gave him some money and rice. Seeing that, the husband immediately thought of a stratagem to chase his wife away. He made a false accusation against his wife, charging her of having some infatuation for the beggar to whom she gave money and rice. Choked with indignation and victim of a great degrading injustice, the wife went to the riverside to commit suicide. The beggar came across right at the moment she jumped into the river, so he hastened to follow and save her. The wife knew that her utter injustice could hardly be proven, she resigned herself to follow her saviour.

     Remaining all alone and deprived of all assistance, the husband had to go around begging. One day, while wandering around, he came to a house to beg and met with his former wife who gave him money and rice. As soon as he saw his wife, he hastily ran away. A short moment later, he met with a great burning fire on the roadside, and in desperation, he jumped into that fire to commit suicide. The wife knew at once the man was her former husband, she then tried unsuccessfully to retain him, and then, upon failing to do so, she also jumped into that same fire to kill herself. Upon finding her dead in the fire, the new husband also jumped into the fire to die with her.

    Nowadays, in the countryside, some families still observe the custom of modelling the gadget called “Mr. Stove”, i.e. once a year, they model an earthen stove with three feet for cooking purposes. Toward the end of each year, they used to replace the old “Mr. Stove” as, throughout a year of cooking, the feet of the old stoves used to turn chipped. They threw the old stoves into lakes or ponds that are clean places to avoid what they called “kitchen disturbances”, as they believe that, if some people in their families suffer from sore eyes and cannot be healed, then, there must be something unclean or filthy in their kitchens. Upon suffering from “kitchen disturbances”, people used to sweep clean their kitchens, and at times, they build their kitchens heading toward some other directions, and finally, make offerings to “Mr. Stove”. In the countryside, many families use iron stoves, while in the cities, people usually use earthen stoves or braziers. However, the custom of worshipping the Kitchen God on the 23rd of the 12th lunar month still prevails, in the countryside, as well as in the cities.

    Looking at the sketch No. 105, we can see that the Thổ Công’s altar – though a simpler altar but the size is not small at all and looks quite imposing. This sketch gives us only a very small angle, insufficient to let us see a small tray on the altar holding three lidded ritual stemmed receptacles. However, in the sketch The Kitchen God (Fig.2) we have seen that there are three small trays on the altar.

    On the right of the altar are three jars of alcohol, and on the left is a pair of curvedtipped boots (?). In the middle of the altar is a bigger and higher tray, we wonder if it was used to display a carp (?). Let’s get back to reality, at some places, people even place on the Thổ Công’s altar, along with the tablet, a set of three hats with intended positions and colours in compliance with the five elements. The yellow lady’s hat is placed at the middle and the two black coloured men’s hats are placed on its two sides. At other places, people just put a single male’s hat decked with wings on both sides along with a pair of curved-tipped boots.

    There exist also places in which people put the set of hats on a paper platform and each one of the hats is accompanied by a tunic and a pair of curved-tipped boots, also displayed on a paper platform. Getting a little further, people also put under each hat 100 gold ingots all of them are paper joss things.

    According to the oriental concept, the colours also depend on the five elements, and the colours of the hats and tunics must also be changed accordingly to each year. In a year pertaining to the Kim (metal) element, the hat must be yellow. In a Mộc (wood) year, the hat must be white. In a Thủy (water) year, the hat must be blue. In a Hoả (fire) year, the hat must be red and in a Thổ (earth) year, the hat must be black.

    From H.Oger’s sketch, we realize there are two ways of setting up the altar. With the sketch “the Kitchen God” (Fig.2) the altar is rectangular and is hung on the wall, while with the sketch “the Genius of the earth” (Fig.4) it’s placed solemnly on a long rectangular altar having four legs touching the ground. However, what are the positions of these types of altars in the house? Ordinarily, where the kitchen is, the altar is set there – i.e. within the scope of the upper part of the kitchen. But, at some places, they are placed next to the ancestors’ altars.

Earth Genius -
Fig.4: Earth Genius

    As a special feature, sometimes one can find on an altar, a sketch showing a Kitchen God with a black face, wearing correctly tunic and hat, and looking just like a Court mandarin on the kitchen’s wall.

    The inhabitants of Hà Tiên (South Vietnam) choose the hind part of the dividing wall in the middle partition to set up an altar for the Kitchen God and this altar used to be a rectangular one (of 1 or 2 meters in length and 50cm or 1 meter in width).

    Besides the official day for worshipping the Thổ Công (the 23rd of the 12th lunar month), people in many places choose two additional times in that same month, on the “sóc vọng” occasion, i.e. on the 1st and the 15th of the lunar month, just like at Thiện Trung Village, Đông Sơn District, at Thanh Hoá. At other places, whenever people worship their ancestors, they also make offering to the Kitchen God. The offerings may be simple ones such as joss sticks, flowers, fruits, betel and alcohol; when wishing to be more solemnly one can offer a feast with meat dishes such as sticky rice, a chicken, a pig’s trotter or a piece of pork.

     Is it true that the custom of Kitchen God constitutes a symbol relating to ancestors and to the Fire God, or to a belief purified by fire? And is it correct that the number three of the wife and two husbands is related to the number three of the “threelegged brazier”? Here, this kind of brazier is made of iron and is used in common people’s houses.

    While awaiting for the answer of ethnologists with regard to the age in which appeared the type  of iron tripod for cooking pot as a replacement for the three pebbles which ten thousand years ago the owners of the Hòa Bình culture had used as the three pieces of earth or earthen tripod.5

  However, in spite of the transformation that has happened, for convenience’s sake, the Mường still place a stone beside the tripod seeming to show the presence of the ancestral Mr. Núc.

   Ancestors’ symbol whether they are totemistic ancestors, mythical ancestors, or ancestors accordingly to the family ties so close to our time, they still do not go beyond that trilogy of genii (one bears the female nature and two other bear male nature) existing throughout the South of Asia. The Khơ Mú call that trilogy “at home”- term meaning ancestors or forefathers. The stone that has been worshipped since days of yore upon turning into the Kitchen God has actually been activated by the miraculous hand of Religion6.

1 Associate Professor HUNG NGUYEN MANH, Doctor in Phylosophy of History.
6  The vestiges from the beginning of the Iron Age in Vietnam-2300 years ago – found at Đường Mây (Hanoi), Nội Cẩm (Hà Bắc) are also earthen tripod made of baked earth quite similar to the ones we now have at the present time, so we can base ourselves on the above-mentioned H.Oger’s sketches and use them as historical data.
7  According to Springtime and Vietnamese customs – TRẦN QUỐC VƯỢNG’s group of authors pp. 59-60 Cultural Publishing House, Hanoi, 1976.

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 1
◊  The Cult of The Deities of the Kitchen – Section 2
◊  Vietnam Lunar New Year – vi-VersiGoo
◊  etc.

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