Controversial Pig Festival in Taiwan: Animal Rights, Sacrifices
A pig festival in Taiwan where enormous pigs are slaughtered and displayed is drawing smaller crowds as animal rights activists alter perceptions of the controversial tradition.
The yearly tradition of pig festival in Taiwan is a vital cultural element for Taiwan’s Hakka community, comprising approximately 15% of the island’s population.
The custom has long been divisive, as local Hakka families compete to exhibit the largest pig, with the winner receiving a trophy, however pig festival draws smaller sacrifices in the recent years. In a celebratory atmosphere with traditional music, 18 slaughtered pigs, including one weighing 860 kilograms (three times the size of an average adult swine), were presented at Hsinpu Yimin Temple in northern Taiwan. The pig carcasses were shaved, adorned, and displayed upside-down with pineapples in their mouths.
After the festival, owners take the carcasses home and distribute the meat to friends, family, and neighbors.
Local Hakkas have long-standing belief that their wishes get fulfilled after the tradition’s successful completion.
A Hakka festival supporter expressed pride in the traditional pig culture, asserting its value for preservation. He dismissed animal rights concerns as “nonsense” and stated that there is no cruelty to animals, contrary to the rumors being circulated.
However, animal rights activists disagree.
What Animal Rights Activists Say About the Pig Festival in Taiwan?
Animal rights advocates argue that the heaviest pigs are subjected to force-feeding, sometimes in cramped cages, resulting in morbid obesity that renders them unable to stand, according to Lin Tai-ching, director of the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST).
Lin, who has observed the “holy pig” festival for 15 years, notes a shift in attitudes. The event is experiencing declining attendance, with a significant reduction in the number of sacrificed pigs. In the past, there were over 100 swine in the contest, but this year there were only 37.
Additionally, the number of pigs weighing over 600 kilograms has significantly decreased.
Notably, some families have even submitted rice packet representations of pigs, indicating a growing trend of rejecting animal sacrifices.
The festival has ancient roots, but the tradition of sacrificing fattened pigs is a more recent development. The Hakka people, who are among the ethnic groups that settled in Taiwan from mainland China, annually commemorate a group of Hakka who died defending their villages during the late eighteenth century.
The practice of sacrificing fattened pigs became more common during Japan’s colonial rule in Taiwan in the early twentieth century. In the 1980s and 1990s, the tradition expanded, with increasingly larger pigs. The festival primarily serves as a way to honor ancestors who defended the homeland and represents loyalty and brotherhood, as explained by Tseng.
Animal rights activists emphasize that they do not seek to eliminate Hakka cultural traditions but rather aim to mitigate the festival’s more inhumane aspects. They are not opposed to pig sacrifices per se, but they object to competitions that revolve around the forced weight of the animals.