The Pigs of God is an extremely controversial festival that’s celebrated by the Hakka people of Taiwan. It takes place in Sanxia (at the Zushi temple) every year, around Chinese New Year. In the Roman calender this falls around end Jan / beginning Feb.
Here’s what happens.
Farmers from all over Taiwan spend about 2 years fattening up pigs to enter this competition. The pigs are sequestered, force-fed and ballooned up to 10 times their normal weight. During the last few days before the competition, the pigs are fed sand and metal (reportedly lead) in order to increase their weight. At this point, the pigs cannot even stand – they just lay around. Because of their excessive weight, they may have massive internal injuries – basically, they are slowly and painfully dying.
On the day of the festival, the pigs are dragged to the temple, weighed and sacrificed to the local deity, finally putting them out of their misery. The animals, at this point are almost mad with fear and pain. They weigh anywhere from 700 – 900 kgs (1540 – 1980 lbs).
The farmer with the fattest animal is declared the winner. He recieves a gold medal, and presumably the blessings of the God for the next year. Although, I find it hard to understand why any God would look favourably on this sort of carnival.
This festival, despite it’s seeming cruelty, draws crowds of thousands. It should be noted that force feeding animals and sacrificing them in public are ILLEGAL in Taiwan, but the authorities turn a blind eye because they don’t want to interfere with local traditions and customs.
After the pig has been slaughtered, it’s spread on a sort of float, painted and paraded around the city.
Here are a few pictures to really drive home the massive sizes these animals are forced to reach. Be aware, some of these pics may be disturbing:
This festival is obviously under fire from a lot of animal rights groups and activists. It’s being said that in recent times, it has lost it’s religious importance and is now just a competition to see who is wealthier and has more face. There is talk of substituting live pigs with artificial ones.
Regardless, as it stands now, this festival continues to be popular, and even though illegal, continues to be looked over by the law.
After my initial reaction of shock, I forced myself to try and view this as a religious/cultural thing that I had no right to judge. I’m a foreigner, and it’s not for me to say what values are right or wrong, but this still didn’t make it any easier to swallow. I kept thinking about some of the pictures I’d seen, and just couldn’t imagine how any person, regardless of religion or tradition would condone such obvious torture of animals.
I mentioned this festival at my school, and everyone was quite nonchalant about it. Then I mentioned the damage force-feeding causes and the sand and metal diet. At this point I got a reaction. While they were aware of the festival itself, my Taiwanese co-teachers were not aware of the specifics of how the pigs got so big.
I also mentioned this to some of my friends and gf. Both parties were unaware of the actual details of what went on, and were naturally saddened when I told them what happens. Whew, it was nice to get that reaction. I wonder how many other Taiwanese are unaware of what actually goes on to make this festival happen.
This whole thing got me thinking about ways that animals are abused in the west, and while not so overt, something very similar popped to mind. Ducks are overfed in order to create the delicassy of “foie gras”. While not paraded around like these dead pigs, the torture ( I assume) would be the same. Like everyone else, I’ve heard the stories of how KFC chickens are raised – similar, horrible conditions.
So while more awareness among Taiwanese people might be what’s needed to stop, or at least change aspects of this festival, it’s not up to me or any other foreigner to judge or decide that. The decision has to come from Taiwanese.