February 24 once again saw the beginning of Vietnam’s controversial and bloody ‘Pig Slaughter Festival’. Traditionalists have defended the history of the event, while animal rights activists and PR conscious government officials have demanded its end. Pictures of the event tend to be shocking, but the festival still draws large crowds, including children, who gather excitedly around the pigs and cheer on their deaths.
The Pig Slaughter Festival is said to honor the memory of 13th century anti-imperial general, Doan Thuong, who was forced to hide in northern Vietnam while fighting against invading forces. It was during the time that the general was in hiding that he was forced to kill wild hogs in order to feed his troops. The general is now the deity of Nem Thuong, the village in the northern province of Bac Ninh where the event is held.
The festival occurs on the sixth day of the Lunar New Year. During the festival itself, the usual program of events is to parade two or more pigs through the village before slaughtering them outside of a temple. The blood is then collected and smeared on money which is used in alters at people’s homes as they pray for a good harvest and health for their families.
Casting pearls before swine?
In many cases, the pigs do not simply have their throats cut, but instead are chopped in half or have their heads cut off by ceremonial machetes. Given the large size of the pigs, it generally takes repeated hacks with the machete before the pig is sliced completely through. During its death, four men hold the pig’s legs with rope spread-eagle style, while a fifth wields the killing implement.
This correspondent can attest from previous experience at slaughterhouses that pigs know when their death is imminent and that they fight mightily for survival. In fact, pigs have a scream eerily similar to a human child. Thus, it does not seem improper to suggest that the pigs’ death should be meted out quickly and with the minimum amount of suffering possible.
Officials in Bac Ninh, and older residents of Nem Thuong, have reacted strongly to calls for the cancellation of the festival, saying that the event is an ancient tradition that should be respected. However, in what appears to be a bid to garner more positive PR for the event, there have been rumors that future festivals will be called “Pig Parade” rather than “Pig Slaughter”. But it seems the underlying events will remain much the same.
As can be expected, the event has brought strong criticism from animal rights groups all over the world, many of whom have called the festival brutal. One animal rights group, Occupy for Animals, has a started a petition to stop the festival – it currently has over 50,000 signatures. Interestingly, even many Vietnamese view the festival negatively, in a recent survey by a Vietnamese newspaper it was found that 79 percent of those polled were against the festival. If accurate, this is an interesting finding since animal rights in Vietnam, like elsewhere in Asia, is still not a major issue to many people (although there currently is a growing number of local activists).
In recent years, the Vietnamese government has been making efforts to stamp out violent events such as the Pig Slaughter Festival, especially those celebrations connected with superstitious beliefs – the nominally atheistic communist government being keen to suppress such feelings. Officials have stated that the country only wants to preserve festivals with “good traditions and practices”, although it has not yet made clear how this will be determined.
It seems that the Pig Slaughter Festival will continue to be a part of Vietnamese society for the foreseeable future.
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