A village in northern Vietnam is standing its ground in protecting a centuries-old pig slaughter festival, amid mounting pressure from animal rights activists and local officials.
More than 100 elders of Nem Thuong Village recently organized a meeting, opposing a recent proposal by Bac Ninh Province’s culture officials that they should transform the festival into a less gory parade.
Nguyen Dinh Loi, head of the village, said they refused to change the festival's name from “Pig Slaughter” to “Pig Parade” as requested, and they will not try to hide the killing from public eyes either, local media reported.
“We all wish to observe the festival with all the original rituals, especially the killing of the pigs at the front yard of the main temple," he said.
“We don’t want to move the killing to the back of the temple.”
People in Nem Thuong celebrate the festival every sixth day of the first lunar month – February 24 this year – to commemorate a general who took refuge in the area while fighting invaders a thousand years ago. He killed wild hogs to feed this soldiers, hence the tradition.
The villagers parade two pigs around the village before cutting their necks for blood.
They then wet money notes with the fresh blood and put them on the altars in their houses to pray for good crops and health.
Bac Ninh officials made the suggestion in late January after Hong Kong-based Animals Asia Foundation launched a petition asking the public to reject the festival and Vietnam's government to end it.
The group called the festival “extremely cruel.”
Loi said villagers have been angry when their celebration of a heroic tradition and for good crops is condemned as something brutal.
He said the festival has a clear history and the villagers are “determined to protect it.”
Nguyen Van Anh, deputy director of Bac Ninh’s culture department, told Tuoi Tre newspaper on Monday that they will keep persuading the village to change their mind.
Phan Dinh Tan, spokesperson of Vietnam’s culture ministry, has criticized the festival and anyone trying to preserve it.
Tan said the ministry has not received an official plea from Animals Asia, but officials do not encourage any violent tradition, including this pig slaughter festival.
Some Vietnamese scholars said that the village’s decision over their cultural life should be respected, and that they should be left to change the festival whenever they want.
But Tan said a community’s set of values needs to be reviewed when the bigger community outside that community has spoken out.
“I’ve been following public opinion over the festival and most are against it.”
He also dismissed some scholars’ concern about cultural imperialism.
“There are cultural standards we should learn from,” he said.
“Anyone who support the preservation of such rituals are too conservative.”