More than 100 Hakka academics, writers, musicians and social activists yesterday launched a campaign calling for the abolishment of the “divine pig” contest, saying the process of raising pigs to more than 1,000 jin (600kg) for religious sacrifice was cruel and inhuman.
Pigs have traditionally been a popular offering for gods and immortals on important religious occasions, such as the Yimin Festival (義民祭) celebrated by Hakka in the country, because pork and other types of meat were rare treats in the past.
The Yimin Festival is a religious festival unique to Taiwan.
Some temples, such as the Yimin Temple in Sinpu Township (新埔), Hsinchu County, started holding divine pig contests in recent decades, encouraging believers to offer whole pigs that are as fat as possible for the festival and providing cash awards to those who offered the heaviest pigs.
“The idea behind offering whole pigs to the deities is to offer them the best in society as a show of respect,” said Lin Pen-hsuan (林本炫), an associate professor at National United University’s Hakka Institute of Economics and Social Studies and one of the initiators of the campaign. “However, the way that these ‘divine pigs’ are raised is quite abusive, and I don’t think abused pigs are the best offerings.”
“Of course we’re not against offering pigs, but we are opposed to raising pigs in such unnatural way,” Lin told a news conference hosted by the Environmental and Animal Society Taiwan (EAST) in Taipei yesterday morning.
In a video clip showed at the news conference, pigs bred for the occasion were kept in small cages for about two years to prevent them from moving around so that they would grow as fat as possible.
They were fed about 20kg of food twice a day. If they refused to eat, they were force-fed. When they were heavy enough, they were slaughtered in public before being offered in a rite at the festival.
“The way that the pigs are raised is in violation of the Animal Protection Act (動物保護法) and the Council of Agriculture should intervene,” EAST executive director Wu Hung (朱增宏) said. “There have been cases in which some of these ‘divine pigs’ died during the process and that’s obviously a violation of the law and can be penalized with imprisonment for up to one year.”
Wu Hung also called on the council to revise the Animal Protection Act, which stipulates that animal slaughter for religious purposes is exempt from humane slaughter regulations.
While many temples say the divine pig contest is part of the Yimin Festival tradition, Wu Hung disputed this by showing EAST’s survey results.
“We’ve called 43 of the 56 Yimin temples around the country and found that only eight — or 18 percent — of Yimin temples host divine pig contests,” Wu Hung said. “In addition, 22, or 51 percent, of the temples use whole pigs as offerings, but do not hold contests, while 13 Yimin temples, or 30 percent of them, do not use whole pigs as offerings at all.”
“The result shows that ‘divine pig’ contests are really not part of tradition,” Wu Hung said, adding that while using pigs as offerings is a tradition, divine pig contests only began decades ago.
Hakka writer and former presidential adviser Lee Chiao (李喬) also called for a change, saying that some practices should be dropped as time passes.