Saturday, December 17, 2016

Die Hard: The Traditional Pig Slaughter

Pacma is a political party, the "animalist" party against animal mistreatment. It's been around since 2003 and has failed to make any real impact. It has never had any deputies in Congress or senators, but its vote has steadily increased. In this year's general election it scooped 1.19% of the vote for Congress, up from 0.87% in December 2015 and the 0.42% of 2011.

If it remains at the margins of the Spanish political system, does the increased share of the vote represent a greater appeal or has it simply been a protest? Both perhaps. It will never assume a significant role because of its essentially single-issue nature, but it does capture at least a sense of greater awareness of animal mistreatment, while it has also been to the fore in pressing for tougher action by the courts. With the aid of the Balearic association of lawyers for animal rights, Pacma and animal-rights organisations secured the first ever custodial sentence for animal mistreatment in Spain. In October last year, a Palma court upheld an eight-month sentence for the owner of a horse called Sorky. The owner had bludgeoned the horse to death after it performed badly during a trotting race at the Manacor course.

Cases of mistreatment do now appear fairly regularly in the local media, and animal welfare has been pushed up the political agenda by the left. In Palma, as an example, the Més councillor Neus Truyol has animal welfare as one of her three main responsibilities. That party (Més) may have been jolted into greater proactivity on animal rights by a former member - Guillermo Amengual. He is the main spokesperson for the campaign Mallorca Sense Sang (Mallorca Without Blood), which has led the move to outlaw bullfighting. He left Més to join the Esquerra Unida (United Left), as it was the only party to have a formal animal-rights' section.

Amengual is also the spokesperson for AnimaNaturalis, and in a newspaper chat over six years ago, the first question he was asked referred to "matances". This is the traditional annual slaughter (that's what the word means) of pigs. His answer, promoting vegetarianism, was that the AnimaNaturalis group was against all forms of animal processing (from birth to death), regardless of cultural or religious reasons.

The cultural aspect of the matances is something with which Pacma is now taking issue. It has released a video in support of its claim that the pig slaughter is one of the most "anachronistic" examples of Spain and its disagreeable attitudes towards animals.

The "matança" is about as old as it comes in Christian Mallorca. It clearly wouldn't have been around - or one would assume not - during the Muslim occupation. But it certainly was around at the time, post-conquest, of Ramon Llull. In the early fourteenth century, he referred to the matances and to the start of the season of the slaughter. Various writers of more modern times, such as the Archduke Louis Salvador in the nineteenth century, spoke about this cultural tradition.

The pig, where livestock farmers were concerned, hadn't been particularly popular until more intensive cultivation of figs led to a pig boom in the nineteenth century: figs were an easy means of fattening pigs quickly. Prior to this, it had been behind goats and sheep. However, the pig was ubiquitous in a domestic sense. Families would have one, or more than one, which was destined for the autumn slaughter and transformation into various pig products, of which sobrassada is the best known.

The slaughter itself would be an occasion for some celebration. It could go on for several days, depending on the size of the immediate population and therefore the number of pigs. It was deeply rooted in local culture, so much so that George Sand - who found plenty to take exception to in Mallorca - complained that the Mallorcans took more care of pigs than they did people.

It is perhaps the pig's misfortune that it is versatile in terms of how it can be transformed in a culinary fashion. And it was the various possibilities that made it so popular. One pig could satisfy a family's needs for several months, if the products were made correctly, and in the case of sobrassada, the addition of the local paprika provided excellent preservative qualities.

The matances are nowadays looked upon with fondness by traditionalists, who note how they survived the swine fever of 1956 and how they have made a comeback following the migrations to the coast that occurred because of the sixties' tourism boom. But this is the traditionalist's view. Not everyone shares it, and despite town hall requirements regarding the slaughter - it has to be performed in abattoirs and under strict food safety conditions - Pacma insists that there are still slaughters by non-professionals which do not conform to established procedure.

Pacma is therefore demanding that legislation on animal welfare be rigorously applied. It would seem, if only from a food safety point of view, that it should be. There are other forces, though, the traditional ones, which consider the pig with reverence: adored and primed in order to stave off hunger. Some traditions die hard.

No comments: