The Killing of the Pig – Laos

The Killing of the Pig

New York, 7:30PM, a nice French restaurant. You look at the menu and here it is:
a cotelette de porc with this unreadable sauce which “sounds” so good. Yes, that’s
it. “I’ll have the cotelette.” You give back the menu, smile, “What was I saying? Oh yes…”

North Laos, 2:30PM, a pig is running. The village is active today. Tonight there
will be a feast. A child died this morning and a pig will be sacrificed. Everybody is
smiling but for a mother quietly sobbing in the dark of her house…

Except for Muslims and vegetarians, we all eat pork from time to time, especially in Asia, but very
few of us can remember to last time they have seen a pig being killed. We don’t
kill them anymore, we just eat them. Somehow we guess there must be a few steps involved
from these smelly and noisy animals to the plate in front of us but we just don’t
give it much thought. It’s cruel, it’s dirty and anyway it would probably ruin our appetite.

Well, it isn’t that bad in traditional societies where it is almost always a ritual
and the funny thing is that it is actually and genuinely quite interesting. So, let’s
go back to this early afternoon in Laos and see what’s going on now.

Pigs are domestic animals but they are not pets, that they know for sure! They like
humans to be nearby for protection but not too close, you never know. These two eyes
focused on them are the unmistakable sign of predators. And so they live their quiet
lives, getting closer when it’s time for food, further away all the rest of the day.

But today is different, the children are joyfully running after a sporty but round
animal. It’s used to it, they do it all the time. Only today they don’t stop and
the small black pig is getting tired. Just as the pig skirted the little girl, a
young man approaches the animal. That one will be more tricky. Sure enough, the man
catches its ears and pulls the animal to the ground. Now is the time to send an SOS
and the pig suddenly bursts into piercing shrieks both of pain and fright.

Tying the pig

Tying the pig

It calms down. The pressure has not increased, the pain is not that bad really. OK,
it was mostly fright. Still the pig is uncomfortable with its head pinned to the
ground and breathes heavily.

Another man is getting close with a rope in his hands. He is smiling but probably
has bad intentions. Yes! He seized the hind legs and tied them up, time to shriek
some more and try to get free! It does not work. He’s doing the same to the front
legs. More shrieking. But it’s too late. The pig is now powerless. The two men stand
up and look at the animal. Good job.

Someone just brought a long, pole-like branch and the pig is attached, suspended by
its legs. They try to carry it but almost immediately, the branch breaks in two.
Everybody burst with laughter. Not the pig though, which falls on the ground heavily!

Cutting the throat

Cutting the throat

Another branch. Yes, it works. They carry the pig close to the fire. This can’t
be good, last chance to scream and try to get free but to no avail. The man has a
knife in his hand which came out of nowhere. A woman places a bowl close to the neck
of the animal. Everybody is silent, the glare of the children is intense. The pig is
wailing softly, tired probably.

Suddenly, the knife plunges into the neck of the animal. Another scream but not as
loud this time and within seconds it becomes fainter. The blood flows into the bowl
as the head drops inert. Life is gone.

The men place the pig on the fire, wait for a few minutes then take it off. Scratching
now, on and on, they remove the hair off the animal, painstakingly. It takes time,
there is a lot of surface to brush. The skin is marbled black, brown and pink but is
clean finally.

They move the dead animal to a washbasin where fresh water is flowing abundantly.
Someone opens the belly of the animal and takes off the entrails, all pale white
now that the blood is drained.

Removing hair

Removing hair

The carcass is then washed carefully and cut in two. Women who until now were mostly
looking from behind have replaced the men. They cut the meat and wash it again and
again and then they are gone. Nothing is left behind, the children are playing noisily
again, it is already 6PM. It will soon be time for dinner. I haven’t seen the menu
but I have an idea of what will be on our plates tonight.

It is getting late in New York. “Wow, that was really fantastic! So are we coming
back next week for your birthday? What should we have?”
“Yes, well, what about fillet mignon?”
“Sounds like a great idea.”

Meanwhile, in Laos a cow is grazing peacefully…


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