Culture Vulture ( 12-02-2014)

Update: February, 12/2014 - 08:00
Violent images in the recent pig chopping ritual in the festival of Nem Thuong village, Bac Ninh Province once again stir arguments on traditional festivals such as pig chopping, buffalo sacrificing and fighting. In traditional thinking, animals are sacrificed to the god of fortune and prosperity. However, many complain they are brutal, uncivilised and should be wiped out of modern society. Regarding this controversial matter, Vietnam News Agency's The Thao & Van Hoa (Sports&Culture) newspaper talked to Professor Tran Lam Bien, a noted researcher on faith.

Could you please interpret the meanings of these rituals?

In the beliefs of many nations in the world, animal's blood with its typical red colour is always a manifestation for vitality.

Vietnamese citizens chop pig to get its blood to present to the local god, implicitly seeking the god's support for plentiful and fertile land as the blood bow offered. Once the animal is slaughtered, its blood is splashed all around into the local land, which also represents such meaning.

The ritual's significance is quite similar to buffalo sacrificing which is widespread among ethic groups in the Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) region. These groups originate from those of the Malayo-Polynesian languages living by the sea. Their life was connected to the sea waves so they worshipped the Moon.

Buffalo is considered as an ideal sacrifice because its dark colour symbolises sea water and clouds over the sky whilst long horns symbolise crescent moon and twisting pinches of hair on its body represent thunder and lightning.

At the buffalo killing ritual, a high bamboo pole called cay neu (or new year tree) is erected as a spiritual axis between the heaven and earth. The buffalo sacrificed has the duty to carry "the soul" of witch-doctors to sky layers.

Therefore, the origin of these rites are the old beliefs of Vietnamese people. In those days, during the world common development trend, people might partly forget spiritual essence and the mental beauty of the rituals.

Thus, it is unfair and wrongly to judge the ritual if we just stand outside and consider them simply as festivals to kill animals for fun.

In the view of many individuals, the performance of these festival is quite cruel-looking and improper in the modern society. What do you think?

I myself want to ask a question: how many people among those against the rituals have ever spent time and efforts seeking for the rituals' origin and meanings, or just take a leaf out of homebody's book and look things through vulgar eyes?

It is obvious that buffalo and pig sacrificing have existed until now because of its spiritual and religious importance to local community. And when masters of these rituals still find the necessity of the rituals in their modern life, let put yourself in their position to think but not quickly allow yourself the rights to judge the practice as "brutal" arbitrarily.

As a matter of fact, issues related to beliefs and spiritual life are pretty sensitive. It is hard to say "don't" because these rituals have been repeated over years and taken roots in the subconscious of local community. In case, we successfully force these to stop, the story will develop in another direction, much more completed. It is because, the imbalance in spiritual life will easily make them seek for other value systems.

Saying so, do you mean it is essential to conserve these rites?

It's better to say you should not talk about "conserve" or "remove" [the rituals] at this moment. Besides the local communities, there are a few people that understand the cultural essence of buffalo and pig sacrificing rituals.

In the short term, it is necessary to explain and supply sufficient information about the rituals for the festival-goers, so they can view the practice from perspectives of the ever local residents. They should not, for the sake of anything else, impose or coerce into accepting meanings and feelings from outside.

A custom exists or loses, depending on the altered awareness of the insiders.

If one day, young generations in Central Highlands, Nem Thuong Village and Do Son [Hai Phong City] feel that animal sacrificing and buffalo fighting are no longer suitable, they themselves will stop and seek for another type of expression.

As far as we're concerned, we should respect local cultures and never let ourselves to deal with their affairs. — VNS