In Taiwan, the annual festival of the “sacred pig”, where huge pigs are slaughtered for display, mobilizes less and less crowds, this tradition being criticized by defenders of the animal cause.
This founding rite of the culture of the Hakka, who represent around 15% of the island’s population, is now controversial.
The goal is to present the biggest animal and the winner comes away with a trophy.
On Monday, to the sound of gongs and horns, 18 slaughtered pigs were taken to the Hsinpu Yimin temple in the north of the island for display.
This year, the heaviest weighed 860 kilograms, three times the average weight of an adult pig.
The carcasses, whose hairs have been shaved and on which decorations have been pinned, are suspended, a pineapple stuffed in the mouth. The heads of animals appear tiny compared to their enormous bodies.
At the end of this festival, the carcasses are brought back to the homes of their owners who distribute the meat to their families, relatives and neighbors.
Tseng Jia-yun’s family fattened a pig which, when it was killed last week, weighed 400 kilograms.
This sacrifice was made to satisfy the wishes of her 86-year-old grandmother.
“As a Hakka, I am proud of this culture of the divine pig, it must be preserved,” he told AFP, deeming “absurd” the controversy sparked by animal rights associations.
“There is no cruelty to animals contrary to the rumors that circulate,” said Mr. Tseng.
A point of view opposite to that of animal rights activists who denounce the fact that pigs are force-fed, often in very small enclosures.
“The pigs are so heavy that they can’t even stand,” said Lin Tai-ching, director of the Taiwanese Association for the Environment and Animals (EAST).
For 15 years that Ms. Lin has been interested in this holiday, she claims that mentalities have started to change.
The crowd is smaller and smaller and the number of animals sacrificed has dropped considerably.
“More than fifteen years ago, there were more than a hundred pigs participating in this competition against 37 this year,” she said.
The number of animals weighing over 600 kilograms is also falling sharply, Ms. Lin said.
This year, two families have chosen to present packets of rice in the shape of pigs instead of animals, a sign that some families reject animal sacrifices.
According to researchers and locals, if this festival is ancestral, the fact of fattening pigs is a more recent phenomenon.
The Hakka are one of the ethnic minorities who, over the centuries, came from mainland China to settle in Taiwan.
Each year, a commemoration ceremony is organized at the Hsinpu Yimin temple, to pay homage to the Haka killed while defending their villages at the end of the 18th century.
It was during the occupation of Taiwan by Japan at the start of the 20th century that the sacrifice of fattened pigs became a tradition.
This custom gained momentum in the 80s and 90s with pigs getting bigger and bigger.
“The Yimin party is intended to honor our ancestors who lost their lives defending our homeland but also to prove our brotherhood and our loyalty,” said Mr. Tseng.
Ms. Lin and animal rights activists say their goal is not to end Hakka customs, but that they simply want less cruelty to animals.
“We are not against the sacrifice of pigs,” says Ms. Lin, “but we are against competitions based on the weight of an animal.”