I grew up tracking animals through the snowy woods with my mom and dad and across the prairies with my grandparents. I’ve seen deer, turkeys, antelope, coyotes, rabbits and myriad other creatures fall from an accurately-aimed bullet or arrow. My worldview, from a young age, accepted this as simply a part of life. So, I arrived at our Christmas pig sacrifice with a well-stocked psychological arsenal.
Still, not many hunters like death. The skill and thrill of the hunt, yes. The pride of being able to give your family something that has value far beyond the financial and health savings, yes. But actually ending the life of an animal? No. Not the hunters I know. aUnless we’re talking coyotes in NE in Wyoming, where the mantra is KILL, KILL, KILL!
But I’ve never seen any animal die at the hands of a sharp, wooden stake. Until Christmas at my friend Beth’s house.
If you read, “Chicken Sacrifices and the Love of My Life,” you’ll know that sacrificing an animal to appease or encourage the assistance of spirits is routine for many people here in the Philippines. The pig sacrifice hadn’t been a planned part of the holiday. But one night a fancy-pants bottle of Johnnie Walker had inexplicably crashed to the ground and shattered, ruining the precious and pricey cargo. When it happened AGAIN before 24 hours had passed, it became clear that the spirits of their ancestors were communicating the need for a sacrifice.
So, we gathered up offerings into a basket – clothes, shoes, cash, a bit of the aforementioned Mr. Walker, etc. Then the “pagan priest” (at least I’m pretty sure that’s what Beth called him) knelt down by the basket near the pig and said a few prayers. I should take a moment to say that this was not the solemn, cult-like ceremony that you might imagine. There were upwards of 30 family members and friends milling about the house, wandering in and out of the dining room and sitting around on the patio. I was one of maybe ten people who were paying any attention at all to this pig business. Most folks were chatting in little clusters of conversation. The sun was shining. A fire with a pinikpikan (sacrificed) chicken was crackling in the corner.
And actually, let me take another moment to tell you a funny side story. The pinikpikan chicken, once it had been offered to the spirits, was ready for eating. However, the priest said for the hoped-for-blessings to work, no one who actually lived in the house could consume any of it. So that left a handful of friends and neighbors to enjoy the bird. Pat dug right in. Maybe ten bites later, Beth began laughing with a sweet, older man in the chairs across from us. “Oh, no! Pat! (laughing) I forgot to tell you! I am very sorry, but when you eat this one, you cannot do anything until tomorrow. (laughing)” About this time, everyone on the patio tuned in to hear what was being said. In response to Pat’s quizzical look, she laughed again, pointed at me, and said, “I’m sorry. I forgot you didn’t know. (laughing) You cannot make love! (laughing) No, really. Nothing until tomorrow! (laughing) You must respect our traditions or the blessing will not work! (laughing)” At this point, the older man cracked up and couldn’t stop giggling. Eventually the whole patio was rolling in laughter as Pat went back and forth with Beth, clarifying exactly what ‘tomorrow’ means. “Is this like… 24 hours? Or after sun up? What’s the deal here?”
Ha ha ha. Okay, so back to the pig (who had also been listening to this exchange). After the prayers had been said, the priest gave the nod. The sacrificial assistants got the pig into position, cut the cords binding its feet, and held it in place while the man who would do the deed collected a machete-length, two-inch-diameter branch that had been sharpened to a point. Of course, if you’ve ever worked with pigs you’ll know the animal was screaming bloody murder. Strangely, right before the moment of truth, the pig fell quiet for a few seconds. The man with the stake had good aim – straight into the heart – and the pig never made another sound.
Within the span of an hour, the hair was burned off, the intestines and blood were removed and turned into a dish, the legs were removed, the ribs were portioned, and the whole lot was cooked and ready to eat. Growing up on the relatively lean meat of wild game, and not being much of a meat eater beyond that, I have trouble slurping up the thick slices of fat on most meat here. So I picked my way through a bit of pork, but (being sick) I mostly stuck to the broth.
Ah yes. Sick for Christmas. Exhaustion consumed me. I spent most of my long-awaited reunion with Pat sleeping or spinning fun circles around the whirlwind that is my friend Beth. We went and got massages. We went to the movies. We went out to eat (I beg and beg her – please! No more food!. And she begs and begs me – please! Eat, eat, eat!). We went to dinner at her house. We went out for coffee. And then I slept. And slept. And slept.
No complaints, though. All-in-all a fantastic holiday. And… great news! Guess who’s coming to travel with us for a week in Thailand! Beth! Yay for new friends! ♣
Click for a teeny-tiny photo album (and sorry I forgot my camera for the pig shenanigans, etc.)
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