The Hong Kong-based charity organisation Animals Asian Foundation (AAF) is calling for public support to end a pig sacrifice ceremony in Nem Thuong Village in Bac Ninh Province, which they describe as “barbaric cruelty”. However, most locals disagree, saying that the ritual instils in their children the virtues of bravery and solidarity.
In an open letter released on January 27, the foundation asked people to petition authorities in the province and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to ban the slaughter in Tien Du District.
“The cruelty is in stark contrast and incompatible with the vibrant, modern and economic success of Viet Nam,” the foundation said.
“It has a negative impact on the mental state of visitors, as well as society and the country’s tourism image.”
Every year, on the sixth day of the Lunar New Year, thousands of people, including children, gather in the village to see the public slaughter of pigs, which is part of a festival to commemorate General Doan Thuong of the Ly dynasty, who reclaimed the land in the 13th century.
According to legend, the general slaughtered wild boars to feed his soldiers, hence the tradition.
Responding to the AAF’s letter, spokesperson from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism Phan Dinh Tan said the ministry did not encourage violent or brutal acts at festivals.
“Living in this civilised world, we should support cultural and civilised activities and limit uncultured and uncivilised acts,” he said.
Tan also said the ministry also did not encourage the promotion of any other violent festivals.
Trinh Thi Thuy, head of the Ministry of Culture’s Basic Culture Department that supervises local festivals, said the department encouraged annual festivals, but those considered offensive to the public should be limited or stopped.
“The department has asked localities nationwide to organise festivals in accordance with government guidelines that promote beautiful traditional values,” she said.
However, animals were still being sacrificed at other festivals around the country.
“Similar events such as bullfighting festivals and buffalo sacrifices are also held across Viet Nam,” she added.
Thuy said thorough research should be conducted to specify which festival could be deemed disturbing or violent before making a decision was made to cancel it.
“Many spiritual and religious festivals have been practised for a long time, and there are differing opinions about them,” she said.
Many of the local people in Nem Thuong Village want to continue the festival, saying it taught their children about their ancestors’ bravery and determination to fight foreign invaders.
However, Bac Ninh’s Department of Culture banned the public slaughter of pigs in 2012 under pressure from animal rights groups. Since then it has been carried out by a small group of villagers in an enclosed space.
“The village elders will be unhappy if the tradition is changed. We want to maintain our ancestors’ customs because the festival is an opportunity for villagers, including those who live in other provinces now, to get together and celebrate our traditions,” 67-year-old villager Tran Van Han told vnexpess.net.
He was one of the locals who helped to revive the festival, after it was lost during the wars.
Nguyen Dinh Loi, deputy head of the festival’s organisation board, said the event had revived the glorious victories of General Doan Thuong’s forces hundreds of years ago.
“The barbaric scene of decapitating pigs should not take place in front of children. I agree that the slaughter should take place behind closed doors.
“However, I strongly oppose the AAF’s proposal to cancel the festival. We need to adapt to modern society, but we have to preserve our traditions,” he said.
Like other villagers, 84-year-old Nguyen Thi Dinh also wants to preserve the festival.
“It would be good if the festival continues. Now the slaughter does not take place in front of the public, the number of tourists and participants has fallen,” she said.
Nguyen Van Cuong, 24, said the ritual should take place in public because otherwise young people would not learn about the village’s custom and the tradition would fade.