VietNamNet Bridge – Many people from Nem Thuong Village, the home to the pig-chopping festival, say the pig-chopping rite aims to educate children about the heroic, indomitable tradition and the spirit of solidarity felt against the enemy of the army, led by the village tutelary. The custom of raising pigs to offer sacrifice also encourages people to breed pigs.
Sitting at Thuong Village’s communal house in Khac Niem Ward, Bac Ninh City, where the annual pig chopping festival is held, Mr. Tran Van Han, 67, said the pig chopping festival in the village of Nem Thuong has had a 100-year history. It is associated with the legend about General Ly Doan Thuong who chopped wild boars to feed his army on Nghe Mount and broke the enemy’s blockade. This general was the village’s tutelary god.
To commemorate the general, local people set up a temple and annually held the pig chopping festival to remind each other of the ancient traditions. During the war against France, the village was devastated by bombing, so the festival was not held.
In 1999, Mr. Han was then the village chief, and villagers rebuilt the temple and restored the traditional festival in 2000. "The villagers were very happy to restore the traditional festival. People throughout the country returned to attend to the festival. So far we have organized 14 pig-chopping festivals," Han said.
Han said the villagers who are chosen to raise “Mr. Pig” for the festival are very proud of their task. On the festival days (5th and 6th of the first lunar month every year), the pig breeders wear a long red dress, and prepare a feast to take “Mr. Pig” to the communal house. "Mr. Pig" is carried around the village in a procession and then to the yard of the communal house for the chopping rite to offer sacrifice to the tutelary god. The rite is witnessed by thousands of villagers and visitors.
Mr. Han said his niece had asked him why the pig-chopping rite was not held for the last two years. He said he did not understand why since 2012 Bac Ninh authorities had not allowed the village to hold the rite at the yard of the communal house. Instead of chopping “Mr. Pig”, villagers could only slaughter the pig in the backyard and offer the pig neck as sacrifice.
Han said: "The elderly in my village are upset when we are asked to change the tradition. Our desire is to preserve the tradition of our ancestors. This is an opportunity for our descendants everywhere to gather to refer the old stories, to educate them in the the heroic, indomitable tradition and the spirit of solidarity against the enemy of the army of the village’s tutelary god. The custom of raising pigs to offer sacrifice to the tutelary god also encourages people to raise good “Mr. Pigs”.
The former deputy organizer of the pig chopping festival for many years, Nguyen Dinh Loi, 61, said that the ritual takes place within 10 minutes.
"The audience is very crowded; my friends from other villages attended the festival for six to seven years but they never saw the pig-chopping rite," he said.
To organize the pig chopping rite, the villagers prepare carefully. The pig raisers must be happy and prestigious families. The two "Mr. Pigs" must be white ones raised well and bathed very often. The two sharp 2m swords to chop pigs are well preserved and respectfully placed inside the communal house for use at the festival only.
According to Loi, the pig chopping rite is a traditional one showing the beauty and the magnanimous atmosphere of the village tutelary god, so the villagers want to preserve it. Loi feels that it is unreasonable to hold the rite in the early year, especially in the presence of many people, including children. He supported the change of chopping the pigs in the backyard but the festival must be preserved, he said.
Ms. Nguyen Thi Dinh, 84, Ms. Tran Thi Lu, 76, the pig chopper Nguyen Tien Xue, 55 and others want to keep the tradition.
"It is better to keep the festival. Since the pig chopping rite was not held in the front yard of the communal house, the number of visitors has dropped," said Ms. Dinh. These people vehemently opposed the proposed termination of their village’s traditional festival.
In response to the Animals Asia Foundation’s opinion that the pig chopping festival negatively affects young people, Mr. Nguyen Van Cuong, 24, said his friends saw the rite many times but "it is no problem". Cuong said that, compared with some other festivals such as bullfighting (Hai Phong), buffalo stabbing (Central Highland) and especially what Cuong and his friends can find on the Internet, the pig chopping rite of his village is "no problem".
Through this festival, Cuong and young people in the village are educated about good traditions of their homeland. "I look at the festival in the direction of traditional beauty, encouraging breeding, evoking pride and solidarity of the nation. I think the rite should be kept and still be held at the communal house. If the rite is quietly held in the backyard, the younger generations will not understand the customs of the village and perhaps it will be lost at a later time," Cuong said.
The Director of the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism of Bac Ninh, Nguyen Van Phong, said, after receiving a letter from Animals Asia in 2012 and previously a letter from an organization from Belgium, the Department sent a written response in October 2013.
Accordingly, after considering and realizing that for most people, especially those who are not local residents, that the pig chopping rite is offensive, it was then seen as inappropriate for promoting awareness and understanding of social progress.
Since 2013, the local authorities have urged local people to change perceptions and the pig chopping rite. Khac Niem people changed the organization of the custom by holding the rite in a restricted area, where only several people are allowed to enter.