Friday, June 8, 2012

The Slaughtered Scream of Swine

I am lost in a moment of silence as I stare at the blood slowly running down my calf and splitting into rivulets as it separates across my leg hair, forming a delta of thinning red slime. The broiling air of the tropics has coated my skin in a thick blanket of suffocating sweat that mixes with the blood and dirt to create a miniature scene of war torn carnage on my leg. I am brought back to reality as my head perks up to the sound of monstrous screams reverberating through the jungle, and I reminded that the blood is not mine. I notice the presence of a giggling toddler and a smiling grandma, which relaxes my nerves a bit and helps me realize that there is no danger afoot, well at least not for me.
This was the second time that I saw a pig get slaughtered, but this particular butchering event carved out its own corner of horrible memories in my mind. The other pig that I watched being killed was a young disabled animal with a tumor on his leg. His lameness and youth made his piglet death a quick and easy task. This more recent porker was also a gimp and went paralyzed in his left hind quarters a few weeks ago, but nonetheless he was a powerful beast weighing in well over 200 pounds. He didn't go as quietly into the icy hands of darkness.
            My host brother Kristino patted his pet on the head for the last time and said a final “kootpie piik” before grabbing the front hooves and hoisting him to the killing floor. With the help of four other fully-grown men, they pinned the pig down and held him prostrate across a large rock. Kristino tied a metal wire around the pig’s snout to protect from bites and attempt to stifle the screams. Then he straddled its stomach and positioned the other men on different parts of the pig. Although no violence had been inflicted on the pig at this point, he had the premonition of impending doom and was struggling mightily against his captors. They say a pig is smart enough to know when its going to be killed, and this swine was no exception.
The Chuukese men take interesting and sometimes illogical approaches to killing their animals, a part of their tradition that I can’t quite understand. Dogs are either hung from a tree branch or clubbed with a big stick, turtles are sliced slowly while still alive, and pigs are stabbed in heart. A simple slit of the throat would seem the most humane and simple way to take care of this grisly task, but they like to stick to their creative methods.
            The deathblow was inflicted with a 12-inched rusted blade that was the end piece of a Japanese bayonet from WWII. This steel dagger was plunged into the chest of the pig and the ferocious screams began. The horrendous sound of his shouts and squeals was not contained by the homemade muzzle. Its high pitch vibrations pierced my ears and echoed inside my skull. Its deafening cry produced a noise beyond the range of the human vocal chords. The screeching howl was a torturous sound worse than a thousand forks scraped against a chalkboard. It made my hair stand on end and my blood boil.
            The slaughter of this mighty animal was not a simple 1-2-3 process. The killer gouged at his heart for well over ten minutes as it bellowed its blaring cries of anguish. Each time he twisted his hand and plunged the knife deeper, the intensity of the screams would amplify higher and it would flay wildly against the tensed bodies of the men. A bucket was held below the wound and blood bubbled out in a trickling flow. At random intervals, the blood would spurt out and explode onto the faces of the men. When this happened, the children would giggle with glee and clap their hands excitedly. One of the most disturbing aspects of the slaughter was not only the pain of the pig, but also the unbridled happiness of the onlookers. Each of the small children had a smile plastered on their faces and eagerly crowded closer to get a piece of the action. The terrible squeals and abundant blood did not elicit any type of negative reaction, but instead brought bright-eyed grins and bursts of laughter.
            After about 15 minutes, the pig finally stopped twitching and let out his final breath. He was moved over to a pile of banana leaves and the butchering process began. They scraped the hair off with sharp knives and hot water to expose the smooth pink skin underneath. His throat was slit and then the first incision was made below the rib cage and sliced down his belly. The butcher was meticulously careful to extract the penis and balls in one intact piece. They believed that if we were to consume the genitals that we would be infected with the “magic” of the disabled pig and become paralyzed ourselves.
All of the guts were pulled out in one large gelatinous blob and laid at the feet of the carcass.  I was confused about one part of the intestines and couldn't recognize what organ it was. It looked like the pig had two stomachs. Upon closer inspection, we figured that the basketball size sac was actually an overfilled bladder. The paralyzed pig was apparently unable to urinate for the last few weeks of his life and his bladder filled up to a ridiculous size. They popped a little hole in the bladder and we watched as a stream of pee squirted out for minutes on end.
            The body was hacked to pieces and cooked in a variety of ways over an open fire. For four days straight, I ate pork for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was a nice change from the standard cuisine of fish and spam, but I could feel the fat begin to build up in my veins by the third day.
I like to think of myself as kind of a tough guy that isn’t squeamish or bothered by sentimental restraints, but the dreadful screams of this pig cracked a chink in my armor and exposed a bit of pity that I felt for the poor animal. If I close my eyes, I can still hear the shrill yelps of the dying pig amidst the carefree laughter children.

Chuuk Catholic Church Centennial Celebration

2012 marks the 100-year anniversary of Catholicism in the Chuuk Lagoon. All over the islands, massive celebrations have been going on to honor the occasion. The church is the most prominent aspect of life for many of these people, and this centennial celebration is quite a big deal for them. Most important events and parties are centered around the church, but this was the party of parties. The impoverished people of my island raised almost $100,000 in donations for its purpose! Dozens of pigs, thousands of fish and untold buckets of breadfruit were provided for the feasting.
School was cancelled for a week before and all government employees took time off of work to prepare. For weeks the children have been practicing songs, the men have been cleaning the church grounds, and the women have been cooking and sewing uniforms. Every conversation, every task and every moment has been dedicated to preparing for a successful centennial. My host father Benisio is the president of our parish and has been working tirelessly for over a year to organize the event.
 The priests and nuns from all over Chuuk were in attendance and even the Bishop of the Caroline Islands made an appearance. For two days, our church area was packed with colorfully clad singing groups and pious worshippers. Thousands of uniformed (matching muumuus or t-shirts) islanders flocked to our church and enjoyed the festivities of our centennial celebration.  They gorged themselves during elaborate feasts and gave thanks to the lord for a hundred years of happiness. Speeches were spoken, plates were passed, prayers were prayed and songs were sung.
The singing competition between the sup-parishes was the highlight of the church gathering. Each group bobs their heads and claps their hands in harmonious rhythms as they belt out songs of worship to god. Electric keyboards (which they call organs) provide the background music for the songs of exaltation of the lord. The excitable middle-aged women often burst into a frenzy of dancing and shake their roly-poly bodies to the music. During our group’s singing, I got caught up in the energy of the moment and jumped up to shimmy with the ladies. My fellow villagers were ecstatic that I joined the dancing and literally hundreds of people have congratulated me afterwards for being involved. However, they were perceptive enough to take notice of my highly trained dance skills and many locals have cheerfully asked me “pwata ka pwerukengaw?” or “why do you dance so badly?”