The Ca Lo River which has been witness to the deep affection between Trau Lo and Kim Thuong villages since 1593
Nguyen Van Tuan from Trau Lo Village in the northern province of Bac Giang’s Hiep Hoa District doesn’t feel bitter when he recalls his ill-fated love affair with a young local woman from Kim Thuong Village in Hanoi’s Soc Son District.
“I did love her a lot, but as soon as I knew that she was from Kim Thuong, I decided to grow apart from her,” said the young villager, whose hometown and his ex’s stand opposite each other along the Ca Lo River.
“Instead, we now address each other purely as brother and sister.”
For the last 420 years, the two villages, 50 kilometers west of downtown Hanoi, have prohibited intermarriage with each other.
Meanwhile, Thuat’s daughter was lucky enough to not fall in love with a young man from Kim Thuong. Her man is from neighboring Lu Ha Village, but because his family was originally from Kim Thuong, the two families had to delay the wedding last year to ask permission from village elders. The couple finally got approval, but in return they were prohibited from getting involved in any village business and are only allowed to visit their parents during Tet and for holidays.
Are Kim Thuong and Trau Lo a Vietnamese version of the feuding Montagues and Capulets of Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet?
Not at all. The villagers have actually been practicing these separation rules in order to bring the communities closer together.
Since the 16th century, the villagers have forgone inter-village love between villagers for what they call the “better, greater mutual love” between the two villages as wholes.
It all began with a white buffalo...
White Buffalo incident
On September 11, 1593, Kim Thuong Village, also called Kim Lu, selected a white buffalo to offer to their gods as a sacrifice for the peaceful time after years in civil war between local lords. The animal was about to be slain at the village’s temple, but managed to escape after breaking the rope. After crossing the Ca Lo River, the buffalo stopped at the Trau Lo Village temple and took a rest on its green lawn.
Locals who were busy with worship at the temple tried to drive away the beast, but it didn’t move. Nobody knew where it came from.
Back in Kim Thuong, villagers worried that Trau Lo people would not return their sacrifice. The next day, Kim Thuong sent a group of men with money and gifts to redeem the buffalo.
According to Ngo Van Xuyen, the eldest villager in Trau Lo, the Trau Lo elders at that time did not only welcome the messengers, but also refused the present and the money and returned the animal free of charge.
Moved by the good deed of the Trau Lo people, Kim Thuong men claimed the animal back, but could not move it a single inch until they prepared offerings to the Trau Lo temple.
The mutual sympathy was reinforced when the two’s adult men were forced to work at Lang Son to build a fortress for the Mac Dynasty two years later. The men recognized each other and stood together during their hard time there.
Thanks to the White Buffalo incident and the Lang Son encounter, the two villages held a ceremony on September 12, 1594, to claim each other as their twin brothers, proclaiming five village laws to be followed strictly by all village members to maintain brotherly love.
Firstly, only men of 15 years old and above are allowed to attend meetings and discussion between the two villages. Secondly, the meetings entail only discussions of public affairs, people are not allowed to talk about personal issues.
Thirdly, villagers must help and support each other with money, materials and labor whenever asked, without accepting payment, interest or weighing the pros and cons.
The fourth rule is the prohibition of relationships between men and women from the two villages. The last rule is that only the fourth generation of immigrants are allowed to involve themselves in village affairs.
Those who violate the rules are sent into exile.
“Nobody has dared to violate the rules,” said Ha Minh Canh, deputy chairman of Trau Lo Commune.
In order not to violate the proclamations, people from one village avoid speaking with those from the other whenever possible and anyone who wants to visit the other village regarding an issue of mutual concern must be accompanied by at least one other person or a group.
Xuyen, 97, said the laws are extremely strict, but “it is because we don’t want to have any conflict or misunderstanding between us. For example, we are all aware of the conflict between mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws, while we consider each other our brothers, it is so wrong to see a mother-in-law from Trau Lo fighting against her daughter-in-law in Kim Thuong, which is no other than a brother fighting his siblings.”
What’s yours is mine
Though the villagers try to avoid intimate moments as much as possible, they don’t waste a second thinking when it comes time to help one another.
During the war against French colonization, there was a time when Kim Thuong was controlled by the French but Trau Lo was not. Despite danger, freedom fighters from Trau Lo crossed the river to help Kim Thuong.
In return, in 1957 when Trau Lo, which is known for it carpentry, restored its temple, Kim Thuong sent its best masons and materials to help.
Two decades ago, knowing that Mai Dinh Commune was going to build its biggest irrigational dam in Trau Lo Village in Chau Lo Hamlet, Kim Thuong people arrived in their twin village one by one, house after house, to lend a hand. They ignored a ban on doing so issued by the commune’s party committee secretary who was afraid that productivity in Kim Thuong would be affected during the harvest season. Due to the ban, after working on rice fields during the day, Kim Thuong villagers crossed the river at night to bring rice and other foods to help their brothers until the work was done.
Recently, when Trau Lo built a concrete road within their village, Kim Thuong unexpectedly donated VND100 million to Trau Lo to help with the project.
In return, when Kim Thuong is in difficult time, thousands of people of Trau Lo doesn’t hesitate to help, including donating rice seeds during bad crops, or supporting Kim Thuong with VND300 million to repair its temple.
There was also a time when both villages had bad crops and they pooled together borrowed money to buy food and then carried it on boats to each other. The two could not help but hug each other in tears of happiness when they saw each other on the river.
“The villagers may hesitate when it comes to other business, but never if they know it is for their twin. It is now part of our custom to show our love toward one another,” said Xuyen, whose village’s population is over 2,000 people in comparison with the 2,600 in Kim Thuong.
Though it is not a written rule, all members of the two villages respectfully address each other as their elders. There were some cases in which Trau Lo men had conflicts with Kim Thuong people outside the villages, but once their hometowns were discovered everything was reconciled and both sides prepared presents and offerings to the opposite village temple as “punishment” for the quarrel.
Everyone in both villages, young and old, female and male, can recite an epic poem of 244 verses about the White Buffalo story.
“Since it was practiced by our ancestors and us today, we by our means together with the young generations will keep this custom, as the royal order yields to the local law, even today, those who violate the rule will be punished by the village,” said Xuyen.
Every six years on September 12, Trau Lo Village holds a ceremony with the participation of members of the two villages to review their history as well as to commemorate the White Buffalo day. The two villages bustle with excitement at this time of year.
Twin villages are not new or rare, but only Kim Thuong and Trau Lo have this kind of bond.
“It’s only us,” said Xuyen.