Vietnam: Death of iconic giant turtle seen as bad omen for Communist Party conclave

Vietnam: Death of iconic giant turtle seen as bad omen for Communist Party conclave
Cu Rua lounges in his Hanoi home in 2011. (Image: EPA via NYT)

A giant turtle, a mythic symbol of Vietnamese independence and longevity that had quietly paddled around Hanoi’s central lake for decades — some say centuries — is dead, official state news media has reported.

The turtle, known as Cu Rua, or Great-Grandfather Turtle, weighed an estimated 360 pounds and was believed to have died of natural causes. Its precise age was unknown.

It would be difficult to overstate Cu Rua’s spiritual and cultural significance in this deeply superstitious and Confucian country, where the news of the turtle’s demise prompted an outpouring of sadness and hand-wringing.

And its timing, as a Communist Party congress opened to choose Vietnam’s top leaders for the next five years, was widely interpreted as a bad omen for both the party and the nation.

“People say the turtle’s death is bad luck, and a way for the gods to show that something’s about to happen,” said Nguyen Thien Hung, the caretaker of the Vu Thach Buddhist temple, which lies a few steps from the lake.

“If I were to discuss the political implications of this, the government would think I was trying to destabilize it,” he said. “But everyone thinks this is bad luck for the government.”

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