As a child I lived in Hemp Street in the heart of old Ha Noi. I can remember how I was frightened each time I went upstairs, especially in the evening. I would then have to walk pass a small altar dedicated to Mr. Thirty.
He was there, awesome in a big picture, with his terrible green eyes, his tail stiff like a sword, his claw menacing. In front of him was a tray of fresh flowers and a bowl of water offered by my mother every morning in exchange for his protection.
We dared not call him by his own name "Ho” for fear that it would conjure him to appear there and then. Instead, we called him “Hum,” “Cọp,” “Kenh," “Khai” or “Ong Ba Muoi” (Old Thirty).
The cult of the King of Jungle is quite widespread in Viet Nam. People worship "Bach Ho"(White Tiger) or “Ngu Ho" (Five Tigers) painted each in a different colour. The altar is usually set up in the court yard or, in the case of mountain dwellers, housed in a small shrine erected on a slope. On the first and the fifteen of each lunar month, the King of Jungle will be offered betel, alcohol and flowers and, on major occasions, even eggs and raw meat.
Tigers have become rare in Viet Nam as a consequence of two successive wars and particularly because of the use of toxic chemicals by the Americans. Usually they live in shady places where food and water are available. They prey on deer, wild boar, civet, water buffalo, wild ox and even turtle, rat and frog. A big tiger can measure two metres in length and one metre in height and weight up to 200 kg. The female litters her young in spring and summer, each time giving four or five cubs. But not all the young ones will survive because they may be devoured by other beasts.
To defend themselves, villagers often resort to traps. In certain regions, a simple but very effective method is employed by luring a tiger to a prey set on top of a heap of straw plastered with resin.
The tiger is intimately connected with Vietnamese folklore. Very well known is the fable of Water Buffalo, Tiger and Man (See Hark at Buffalo). Curious about human intelligence, Tiger allows himself to be bound up and burned by Man, which is why his brown robe is marked with black stripes.
Temples are often decorated with pictures of tiger, which is regarded at a hieratic animal.
The tiger is also referred to in many popular expressions: khoe như ho (strong as a tiger), an như ho (having the appetite of a tiger), hang hum noc ran (tiger den and snake venom), which means a place full of danger.
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