pigs and rites of passage

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everyone gets a three day weekend for double ten, so it’s a good day to gather one’s age mates, friends, and community elders for a celebration. one needs the assistance of one’s kapot (age set) to complete any large scale work, but particularly a celebration of a rite of passage: weddings, funerals, celebrating a new house, leaving town for work, the graduation of one’s children, all merit community recognition; and for these events, one must provide enough meat to feed the community. among ‘atolan ‘amis, that means gathering a large amount of fish and shellfish but, more importantly, killing a pig. the double ten holiday arrived. rather than accepting the invitation to celebrate the 103rd year of the republic of china, i stayed in ‘atolan to fulfill an obligation

*CAUTION: gentle reader, some photographs in the following post show pictures of slaughtering and butchering a pig. if you are among the squeamish or PETA inclined, you may wish not to read the rest of this post

i made associate professor in the spring and was formally promoted in september. people around the community did not exactly expect me to kill a pig, but several people reminded me that i should share my good fortune and happiness with my neighbors, to bring happiness back home. although i had assisted at pig killings in the past, it was my first time to be the principal and thus the person to wield the first knife at such an event. initially, i had been reluctant to slaughter the pig: wouldn’t it be cruel if my technique was insufficient to dispatch the pig rapidly? my kapot insisted, however, that not to stick the pig personally would invalidate the event. it was my rite of passage, and i had to shed the blood

mitokaday to diyong, 2014 october 'atolan. photo by ayaw

mitokaday to diyong, 2014 october ‘atolan. photo by ayaw

among ‘atolan ‘amis pig killings mark every large scale ritual event. in just the past month, there were pig killings for senior citizens’ day, the release of a locally produced album of children’s songs, an event at the catholic church, a family reunion, and a birthday. an officer on a far ocean fishing boat slaughtered a water buffalo to celebrate his successful return after a three year voyage. the mikomoday, or age grade entrusted with community administration, must butcher at least two if not three pigs to prepare for the annual kiloma’an (harvest festival)

clearly, killing is part of the event; but the ideological or metaphorical meanings of blood or killing seem less salient to ‘atolan ‘amis than material qualities of pork. it’s less important that one shed blood to celebrate a rite of passage than it is to separate different types of meat and render them partible. in keeping with the age set hierarchy, some types of meat must be shared equally among all guests according to their functions within the event, while other types of meat are reserved for guests according to their age ranking. extracting all of the blood is part of this process of sorting into blood, intestines, liver, brain and internal organs, meat with bones, skin and fatty meat, lean meat

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the members of an age set with some experience rapidly butcher the pig, sorting the meat into types. meanwhile, the age set’s women (a category that will now include women of an approximate age as the men in the age set as well as wives and unmarried daughters of the age set’s men) wash the internal organs and intestines. most of the intestines and the stomach are salted and held in reserve to make siraw, a preserved pork dish savored at banquets. as the men butcher, men of younger age sets often pour drinks or assist. my age set, lakancin, was a thirsty band and sent a youth more than once to fetch a couple six packs of taiwan beer

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lakancin butchering a pig. 2014 october in 'atolan. photograph by djh

lakancin butchering a pig. 2014 october in ‘atolan. photograph by djh

as the men divide meat into categories of bony, fatty meat with skin, and lean meat, one of the men scalds some of the liver and internal organs for those working together to share at the butchering site and as a small snack as they prepare to cook the meat. they hold most of the liver in reserve, however

with the meat divided into categories, the work of sharing meat begins. those responsible for butchering lay out the best of the meat, strips of lean meat alternating with fat and ending with skin from the pig’s belly, and begin to divide the meat into equally sized portions. this meat can be boiled or stewed, but is particularly good for roasting over wood or charcoal fire. at the double ten pig killing, lakancin’s kaici (financial officer or accountant) decided that we should create 35 portions of meat. shares went to those who contributed to the kapot or to the event. the shares were equal sized. each kapot member received at least one share, but some at the event take more shares depending upon their work: siki, for example, received one share as a kapot member and another share for use of his truck to carry the pig; my ina received a share as my mother and another for her work in providing beer and steaming red beans and glutinous rice for the banquet. the shares correspond not to individual persons but responsibilities personified (“for the kapot,” “for the truck,” “for holding the pig during the slaughter”), here also objectified as strips of pork belly. these shares, which are distributed among a kapot and to the kapot’s helpers (the youth assisting at the event also received a share), always go to the shareholders as raw meat

dividing pork belly into equally sized shares. 2014 october. 'atolan. photograph by djh

dividing pork belly into equally sized shares. 2014 october. ‘atolan. photograph by djh

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shares of meat bagged for distribution. 2014 october. 'atolan. photography by djh

shares of meat bagged for distribution. 2014 october. ‘atolan. photography by djh

this pattern of shares distributed according to functions corresponds with rituals to reward work that occur at meetings to follow up and reflect on work accomplished. at such meetings, a master of ceremonies will call members of the group active in the construction of a new building, an athletic competition, or a festival to the front of the space for recognition. the practice of calling up each group to bow, perform, drink, and to receive identical rewards (usually salt, soy sauce, or other household necessities) actually performs a kind of social analysis: groups composed by social category, such as gender or age group; by place of residence in the community; and by tasks accomplished or responsibilities have overlapping members, so it is nearly certain that everyone in attendance will come to the front more than once. in the case of the pig killing, moreover, it is notable that the shares are in raw meat. raw meat here corresponds to labour in hosting the event, while shares of cooked meat go to guests

snacking on pork liver before cooking banquet. 2014 october. 'atolan. photograph by djh

snacking on pork liver before cooking banquet. 2014 october. ‘atolan. photograph by djh

the host of the event shares most of the meat with guests at a large banquet at which elders, distinguished guests, and spokespersons of the kapot make speeches and perform songs. as the men cook meat, some of the elders are bound to arrive early for their special share of the meat, barely scalded pork liver. they eat the liver, dipping it in a relish of rice wine, chiles, and salt. the most prized type of meat, the liver served nearly raw, goes only to a few guests who have status in the community as elders or members of administrative positions. at my event, members of the community headman’s consultants, a former community headman, the current community headman, and the chair of the community development association all received a special dish of the liver, fatty meat, and intestines before the banquet began. need i add that i also had to personally serve them rice wine?

the men cook the meat in stages, cooking types of meat separately but in a single large cauldron, ladling out the meat as it is cooked, then adding meat of another category. finally, the remaining soup and pork bones in the cauldron become an ingredient for murky soup, made from dried taro stems and other dried vegetable along with the collected pig’s blood. each table at the banquet will have one or two bowls of murky soup, plates of vegetables and shellfish, and two or three large packets of red beans and sticky rice. pork also makes its way to the table, but often not on a plate

preparing the banquet. 2014 october. 'atolan. photograph by djh

preparing the banquet. 2014 october. ‘atolan. photograph by djh

pig killing banquets differ from pan to (ethnic chinese style banquets) not just because the dishes follow a traditional preference for boiling; the most distinctive feature of these banquets is that the hosts most often share the meat in individually wrapped portions, one to each guest. although guests may open these portions and share them among their table, each portion is each guest’s personal share of the cooked meat. as in the case of the raw meat shares, those responsible for the banquet slice the meat and are anxious lest any of the portions be larger or have different proportions of meat types. at my banquet, we served meat on plates, but several of my kapot worried that guests to the banquet might complain that the shares were not parceled out individually. the individual shares exceed a single person’s appetite for pork and are meant to be carried home. without the individual shares, there is always the question of what to do with leftovers; but i suspect that individual shares provide more than convenience. often guests at the banquet represent larger groups, whether kin groups or age sets. sharing allows the meat to travel through these networks. the individual shares also correspond with a particular ethos of personal recognition according to a specific function; here, the guests each get an equal share in their function as guests. and note: those who contributed to the production of the event as hosts will receive their shares of raw meat and their individual share of cooked meat

where does the murky soup come in? it turns out that the murky soup is the only part of the pig that is shared as a continuous unit rather than divided into discrete portions allotted to hosts or guests as shares. and it is the substance drawn out by the first knife. perhaps then, it makes sense that the principal of the event must be the one to commit this act of drawing blood. the blood, unlike the meat portions, will be shared together at the banquet which he is sponsoring

pig killing banquet. 2014 october. 'atolan. photo by djh

pig killing banquet. 2014 october. ‘atolan. photo by djh

at the banquet, a spokesperson or master of ceremonies from the kapot will ask everyone to eat and direct the sponsor and various guests to make speeches. the round of speeches continue as everyone eats and talks among themselves. eventually, the master of ceremonies will call for songs and play. both the songs and the play surrounding them contain improvised lyrics or phrases to celebrate the event. my ina sang such as song with our kapot to express her happiness–and the happiness of our kapot–on double ten

singing and play at the pig killing banquet. 2014 october. 'atolan. photograph by djh

singing and play at the pig killing banquet. 2014 october. ‘atolan. photograph by djh

there might not be a single event, like geertz’s balinese cockfight or bateson’s naven, that could unpack an entire cultural logic. i’m not sure that is what anthropologists are up to these days, in any case. yet the pig killing does show several ways of perceiving and acting in the world common among ‘atolan ‘amis. but for me, it was an important rite of passage. i was glad to share it with my kapot here in ‘atolan

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