The slaughter continues

Despite accusations of barbarism, the Pig Slaughter Festival went ahead in Bac Ninh province’s Nem Thuong village, Van Nguyen writes.

The Pig Slaughter Festival, which is held on the sixth day of the Lunar New Year, is a tradition of the Nem Thuong village. On the day, villagers gather together in its central temple’s front yard to observe the pig-chopping ritual and to hope for good luck for the coming year.

On January 27 this year, Animals Asia Foundation, a government-registered charity based in Hong Kong devoted to the needs of wild, domesticated and endangered species throughout the Asian continent, launched an online petition asking people to sign against the festival.

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During the festival, the live pigs are bound in tiny cages and paraded around the village with a stress-inducing accompanies of horns and drums. When they’ve reached their destination, ropes are used to tie the pigs’ hoofs to a ceremonial cart holding the animals prone on their backs while their heads hang over the edge. A frenzied climax ends with the terrified animals having their throats cut and their heads hacked off in front of the crowd. Following the decapitation, bank notes are dipped into the animals’ blood in the hope of procuring good fortune for the New Year.

The festival commemorates Ly Doan Thuong, a general who fought Chinese invaders nearly a thousand years ago. His troops took refuge in the village, which was still amid wild jungle at that time. They ran out of food and he decided to hunt some wild hogs to feed his soldiers.

A barbaric activity

Responding to the petition, the Ministry of Culture Sports, and Tourism’s spokesman, Phan Dinh Tan, said that the Ministry will never support barbaric festivals because Vietnam upholds humanity.

Tan told VnExpress that he cannot bear watching this bloody scene, which can scare kids and cause elderly people to have a heart attack. “Following people’s comments on online newspapers, I realize that a majority support banning this festival. However, some people and researchers suggest preserving this barbaric tradition. I think they are conservative. We have many other ways to amuse ourselves rather than taking away lives,” Tan says.

As a mother, Hanoi resident Nguyen Thanh Hang shares with Timeout her deep concern about the impacts of the Pig Slaughter Festival, which is now in the headlines of many online newspapers. “My son cried when he accidentally saw pictures of this festival on the Internet. I want to teach my son love and forgiveness and that’s why I don’t support this bad tradition.”

A VnExpress online poll asked if readers are for or against the Pig Slaughter Festival and 79% over 33,000 people- voted against.

Understanding tradition

Speaking to Danviet newspaper, professor Tran Ngoc Them, Director of a Cultural Studies Centre under the Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City branch, suggested people should not judge a tradition when they do not fully understand it.

“If we put ourselves in Nem Thuong residents’s shoes, we would treasure this tradition, which has stood there for decades,” he said. “The festival is to commemorate a general of the Ly Empire who hunted hogs to feed his troops. That’s why pigs are treated respectfully I the festival.”

Them explains that pigs are bound in pink cages and paraded around the village to the sound of horns and drums. Villagers prepare a table of food and donations to welcome the pigs passing their doors.

Before the festival, the pigs are raised by chosen families. The executioners must be in their fifties, healthy, and living in happy families. Them adds that the pigs have to be chopped quickly and neatly in front of the cheering crowd. Their meat and blood are believed to bring good fortune, children, and abundant crops.

“As a result, locals want to touch the meat or dip their money in the blood. The meat will be then be distributed to all local families so that everyone can have a lucky year,” he says.

The professor underscores that the Pig Slaughter Festival is Nem Thuong’s tradition and it is not against moral principles inside the village. However, he is concerned that outsiders, who lack knowledge about the festival, are coming to Nem Thuong, taking pictures and sharing them with the outside world without complete information.

“I don’t think we have the right to judge their internal tradition, which does not violate the low or affect neighboring villages,” Them states. “If the festival is photographed and posted on the Internet, it might affect others but is that Nem Thuong villages’ fault? Do they promote their festival to attract visitors? No. Do they sell tickets? No. My point is if you want to attend their distinctive festival, you should first understand it. If you don’t find it suitable for you, don’t go there.”

Pressing ahead  

Despite being harshly criticized, the Pig Slaughter Festival was still organized on the sixth day of this lunar New Year, with thousands of the attendants. For Nem Thuong villages, especially elderly people, this festival is a tradition that they wish to preserve.

Waiting for the parade to come, 86-year-old resident Nguyen Thi Oanh shared she was very happy that the village decided to continue this tradition this year. Oanh has attended the Pig Slaughter Festival since she was six. Having been told about the general’s story, she feels proud to be part of it. “In the war against the French, our temple was destroyed and the festival died along with it. In recent years, this festival was resumed much to the pleasure of all villagers. We only hope this tradition can be preserved,” Oanh added.

74-year-old resident, Vu Van Tu, shared: “when the drums roll, both young and old residents feel excited. This festival is very meaningful to our lives. Some people say that this festival is barbaric. I don’t agree because pigs are raised to serve people. In big cities, tons of pig and dog meat is consumed everyday. They have to be killed first. Is that barbaric?”

Time Out