The Story of Tam and Cam

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The Story of Tấm and Cám (Vietnamese: Tấm Cám) is an ancient Vietnamese fairy tale. The first part of the tale's plot is very similar to the European folk tale Cinderella.


Tấm's life before she marries the king[edit]

There are two half-sisters; the elder is named Tấm (literally broken rice) and the younger is named Cám (literally rice bran).[1] Tấm's mother dies early, and so does her father soon after. Tấm lives with her stepmother, who is Cám's mother. The stepmother is very sadistic and makes Tấm do all the housework, whereas Cám doesn't have to do anything.[1]

One day, the stepmother tells Tấm and Cám to go to the field to catch "tép" (caridina, a tropical genus of shrimp) and promises to give them a new red yếm (a Vietnamese traditional bodice).[1] Tấm soon fills up her basket, while Cám is playing around and get nothing. Realising that, Cám tells Tấm to wash her hair, as the stepmother will scold her if her hair is so muddy. While Tấm is washing her hair, Cám transfers all the shrimps from Tấm's basket to hers and go home.[1]

When she realises that all the shrimps she has caught is gone, Tấm can do nothing but sob. A Bụt (a wise old man who helps pitiful people in Vietnamese folklore) appears and asks why she cries, and she tells him what happened. He tells her to stop crying and see what is left in the basket, which is merely a goby. Then he tells her to raise the fish in a well with her rice and teach her the words to call the fish up:

O goby, o goby

Go up and eat my golden and silver rice

Don't eat those spoiled rice and porridge of theirs.


Bống bống bang bang

Lên ăn cơm vàng cơm bạc nhà ta

Chớ ăn cơm hẩm cháo hoa nhà người.)[1]

Without the exact recitement, the goby won't rise, according what the old man has said before he vanishes. Tấm follows his counsel, and the goby grows noticeably. Prying in her behaviour, the stepmother and the half-sister discover the fish as well as the poem by which Tấm summons it. The stepmother plans to distance Tấm in order to kill the fish:

"My daughter, the village has prohibited using the field; tomorrow you should graze our buffaloes far away, or they shall seize them."

Tấm obeys her stepmother, which allows them to butcher the goby.

After coming back home, Tấm calls the goby up as usual, but nothing goes up but blood. She sobs again, and appears the old man again. He asks why she cries, and she explains. He replies: "Your goby they have eaten. Cry no more! Collect its bones, put them in four jars and bury them under your bed legs.", and she does so.

Soon after, the king hosts a festival lasting days, which attracts people from everywhere, and these three are not exceptions. Noticing that Tấm also want to join, the stepmother mixes up rice and bran that she has to separate them before joining the festival, and threatens to punish her if she does not have it done by the time they back from the festival. Again she cries, the old man appears and she explains what happens. He calls sparrows down to help her and teach her a recitement to prevent them from eating bran and rice:

O sparrows, go down and separate these for me

Eat a grain, and I will beat you to dead


Rặt rặt xuống nhặt cho tao

Ăn mất hạt nào thì tao đánh chết)

The old man then tells her to dig up those jars that she has buried previously, and in the first two jars appear silk clothes, a scarf, and a red yếm. The third jar contains a tiny horse which enlarges into a normal horse; the fourth has a set of saddle for the horse.

Happily, Tấm washes up and wears the clothing before rushing to the festival in the capital. Crossing a stone bridge, she drops a slipper and cannot get it back.[2] When the king crosses the same bridge, the elephant on which the king rides suddenly growls and rushes its ivory down to the earth. Curiously, the king commands his mans to looking underwater, and they find the slipper. He observes the slipper for a while and comments that the shoe must belong to a gracious woman. Saying so, he tells all the women in the festival to try the slipper to find out the owner, whom he shall wed. No one fits the shoe. Seeing Tấm trying the shoe, Cám and her mother mock her. Of course the slipper fits her, and she draws the other one to wear. The king commands his people to lead her to his palace to wed her. Tấm goes with the king in front of Cám's and her mother's envious eyes.

Tấm's reincarnations[edit]

Not forgetting her father's death day despite the fulfilling life in king's palace, she comes back home to help her stepmother preparing for the anniversary. All the hatred for Tấm now rises again. The stepmother tells Tấm to climb on an areca tree to gather its fruit for the ceremony. While Tấm doing so, the stepmother chops down the tree, leaving her fall down and die. The stepmother takes Tấm's clothes for Cám to wear. Cám goes to the king's palace and lies to him that Tấm was unfortunately drowned a pond and died by accident, so she goes here to replace her.[2] The king is saddened to hear so, yet nothing he can do.

Tấm reincarnates into an oriole. She flies straight away to the king. On her way, she scolds Cám while she is washing the king's clothes. Seeing the king, she sings to the king. Missing his wife, the king says: "O oriole, if you are my wife, enter my sleeve", and she does so. And the king only spends his time with the bird, ignoring Cám.

Following her mother's counsel, Cám butchers the oriole and eat it, buries its feather in the royal garden. She lies to the king that she was not aware and the oriole fled away when she fed it.

From where the feathers were buried grow two peach trees. The trees bend itself to shade for the king. The king tells his people to bring a cot so he can nap there every day. Cám chops the trees down and tells the king she did so to weave new clothes for him.[2] While weaving clothes, she hears Tấm accusing her for stealing her husband, cursing her and threatening to "hack her eyes". She then burns the loom and throw the ash far away from the palace. From the ash grows a golden apple tree.

A crone crosses by the tree and is enticed by the scent of its only fruit. The old woman says:

O golden apple, fall to my sack

Your scent I'll smell, eat you I'll not

(Original: "Thị ơi thị à, rụng vào bị bà, bà để bà ngửi chứ bà không ăn."[2] or "Thị ơi thị rơi bị bà, bà để bà ngửi chứ bà không ăn").

The crone notices that the housework is done when she gets home. The next day she pretends to leave, but then tore of the peel of the fruit when Tấm goes out, and she makes her her adopted daughter.

One day, the king comes across the crone house. She offers the king betel leaf. It was prepared the same style Tấm did, so the king suspects and asks who made it. The old woman tells him that her daughter did. The king wants to see her, and she appears to be Tấm. The king gladly brings her back to the palace.


Later when Tấm has returned to the palace, Cám asks Tấm about her beauty secret, Tấm does not answer but asking back: "Do you want to be beautiful? I'll help you!"

Cám immediately agrees. Tấm tells her to jump down a hole and she does so. Tấm then commands the royal soldiers to pour boiling water onto her and then taking her corpse to make sauce (in the same way fish sauce is made).[2] She sends the sauce to her stepmother, saying it is Cám's gift.

The stepmother believes so and eat it every day. One day, a crow flies by the stepmother's house and rests on her roof and cries out:

"Delicious! The mother is eating her own daughter's flesh! Is there any left? Give me some."

(Original: "Ngon ngỏn ngòn ngon ! Mẹ ăn thịt con, có còn xin miếng."[2])

The stepmother angers, but when she finally reaches the bottom of the jar, she discovers Cám's skull inside and immediately dies of shock.


In some variations, the stepmother and Cám died out of anger when Tấm comes back.


The story's plot is very similar to some other culture's folklore. For example, the story up until Tấm marries the king coincide Cinderella's plot, in which both of them are mistreated by stepmothers, prohibited from going to a festival with their stepmothers forcing them to separate grains, and are recognised by the king/prince by their lost shoe.

In popular culture[edit]

The story inspired the newly made movie Tam Cam: the Untold Story. The movie's soundtrack Bống bống bang bang also went viral when the movies was released.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Truyện cổ tích Tấm Cám bản gốc". / (in Vietnamese). Retrieved 2017-09-08. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Truyện cổ tích Tấm Cám bản gốc". (in Vietnamese). Retrieved 2017-09-08.  External link in |work= (help)

External links[edit]