Revered Hanoi Turtle ‘Cu Rua’ Dies, Vietnam Goes Into Mourning Over Legendary Turtle

A sacred and revered turtle who lived in the Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi, Vietnam, has died, and the entire country is mourning the death.

“Cu Rua” — which means great-grandfather, even though the turtle was female — was believed to be one of only four living Swinhoe turtles, also known as the Yangtze giant softshell turtle, in existence, and her presence in the fabled Hoan Kiem lake in Vietnam’s capital has become a sort of good luck charm to locals and tourists alike.

The revered turtle’s death is now being viewed as a bad omen for Vietnam’s ruling communist party, reports the Telegraph, whose annual congress is set to begin today, with a change of leadership expected to happen. The turtle’s appearances at some of the country’s biggest events, such as Hanoi’s 1,000-year anniversary, says BBC News, “were seen as auspicious,” whereas any ailments Cu Rua was faced with were viewed as bad omens. Her death is being “viewed as a big concern,” says Douglas Hendrie, a Hanoi-based wildlife expert, especially in the wake of party members meeting amid an ongoing power struggle between communist and more modern, reformist factions.

Cu Rua’s death was of such a sensitive matter with the looming congress that, initially, the state attempted to ban the media from reporting on the news of the turtle’s death, according to instructions from the communist party’s propaganda department.

“To cheerfully welcome the party congress, newspapers and media please do not report on the turtle’s death for now.”

Ultimately, the state relented, and newspapers were given the go ahead to report on the revered turtle’s demise “as scientifically and objectively as possible.”

The reason behind the turtle’s sacred status comes from an ancient legend, reports BBC News, in which it is believed that the turtle is the incarnation of a mythical creature that lived in the lake in the 15th century.

The legend states that Le Loi — a real-life hero from Vietnamese history who would eventually become the emperor of Vietnam — borrowed a magical sword from the Dragon King to fight against the Chinese, who were looking to take over the country. Once Le Loi claimed his victory against the Chinese, he went back to the lake to return the sword to its rightful owner but was met by a disciple of the Dragon King instead — a giant turtle that took the sword from his hands and disappeared back into the lake. The lake where Cu Rua lived, and the one in the legend, would come to be known as Hoan Kiem, meaning the Lake of the Returned Sword.

The beloved turtle was found lifelessly floating in the lake on Tuesday evening. The cause of her death is as of yet unclear, although pollution, climate change, and simple old age have been tossed around as guesses. The turtle will soon be examined by experts to determine the exact cause of death, but officials have already announced that her body will be embalmed and preserved, much like another of the country’s famous heroes, Ho Chi Minh. For the time being, however, Cu Rua’s body is laying in a temple on a small island in the middle of the lake she called home.

Although there are some Vietnamese who believe the turtle to be as much as seven centuries old, it is more likely that she was around 120-years-old at the time of her death. The giant turtle weighed in at a whopping 440 pounds.

Social media in Vietnam is being bombarded with posts grieving the loss of the revered turtle as the entire country mourns her death, proving that the Cu Rua was more than just a turtle in a lake. In fact, she was a sacred being to a country who are predominantly and officially atheist but who are also incredibly spiritual and superstitious.

[Photo by Na Son Nguyen/AP]