Instead of scrapping a brutal public pig-hacking rite as urged by many people and an animal rights organization, locals in a northern Vietnamese province went ahead with a swine slaughter ritual as part of their traditional Tet (Lunar New Year) festival on Saturday, but away from the spotlight. The Nem Thuong Pig Slaughter Festival is organized annually on the sixth day of the first month of the lunar year, as per tradition, by natives of Nem Thuong Village, Khac Niem Commune, Tien Du District in the northern province of Bac Ninh.
The ruthless pig-hacking ritual, the festival’s core activity, has met with strong public reactions, cultural authorities’ warnings, and an appeal to drop it from Animals Asia, a Hong Kong-based animal protection organization.
The highly controversial rite was carried out away from the public on Saturday, the sixth day of Tet, which began on February 8 and may linger until early next week.
“The festival organizers could not reach a consensus on moving the pig slaughter ritual venue from the center of a temple’s yard as usual to the privacy of a sacred feast-preparing area until 10:00 pm on Friday,” Nguyen Dang Thuc, a member of the organizing board, said.
“The decision, which had been mulled for months, has dismayed many villagers,” he noted, adding that he cannot foretell where to conduct the rite next year.
At 8:00 am sharp, villagers flocked to a temple’s yard in Nem Thuong Village, with two over 150-kilogram pigs to be hacked placed on two pushcarts.
A procession formed, carrying the two sacrificial animals around the village so that villagers could take a good look at them, which is traditionally believed to bring them good luck in the new year.
At 11:00 am, the procession returned to the yard where the butchering ceremony was conducted.
Following a signal given by the organizing board, the two pushcarts with two swine on them were moved to the sacred feast-preparing area, which was enclosed and strictly guarded by police officers.
Access to the slaughter area was limited to members of the organizing board only.
After around 15 minutes, two machetes used to slash the two defenseless pigs were brought out and solemnly placed on an altar at the heart of the temple yard.
Legend has it that the Nem Thuong Pig Slaughter Festival, which dates back more than 800 years, was first organized to pay homage to a marshal during the civil war in the old times.
During a pursuit by his enemy, the marshal and his troops took refuge in Nem Thuong.
Short of food for himself and his soldiers, he ordered that wild boars, which abounded in forests, be slashed to provide meat.
Tran Van Han, one of the village elders, divulged that the festival was brought back to life in 1998, with the pig slaughter rite being first re-enacted in 2000.
Until last year’s Tet holiday, the rite would attract thousands of mercilessly delighted locals and visitors, including children, as pigs were slashed and slaughtered in front of the cheering spectators as a sacrifice to God after they were carried around the village.
Despite warnings from the organizers and elders, many people still daubed sheets of money with the pigs’ blood in the hope of getting luck in the new year.
In January 2015, Animals Asia released a message to call for an end to the Nem Thuong Pig Slaughter Festival for a number of reasons, including its sheer brutality.
Vu Xuan Thanh, chief inspector of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, stressed at a meeting to review festivals organized in late December 2015 that disturbing fests, including the pig slaughter rite, be eliminated in 2016.
He added that numerous cultural experts and associations had backed the ministry’s intention to do away with the lawful but inappropriate, barbarous festival.
Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Hoang Tuan Anh noted at the meeting that he had met with authorities in Bac Ninh to demand an end to the pig slaughter festival.
Many cultural researchers have agreed that unsound, outdated customs such as the pig slaughter rite should be abandoned.