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Vietnam bans animal slaughter at violent spring festivals

By Vy An   October 26, 2016 | 02:41 pm GMT+7
Vietnam bans animal slaughter at violent spring festivals
A pig is paraded before being slaughtered in a spring festival in Bac Ninh Province. Photo by Animals Asia

It remains to be seen whether locals are willing to abandon their traditional rituals.

With the spring festival season nearly upon us, Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has ordered an end to all performances that include either violent or offensive rituals, such as killing animals.

Several festivals still feature violent rituals that involve slaughtering pigs and bull fighting, and that has to stop, the ministry said in a new statement.

Most spring-time rituals in Vietnam were created centuries ago to commemorate ancient war heroes, show respect to the gods and to pray for good health, peace and prosperity -- all honorable causes.

But how people celebrate and perform these rituals is another question.

Sometimes that involves the brutal killing of animals in public, like the pig slaughtering festival in the northern province of Bac Ninh.

Nem Thuong villagers celebrate the festival on the sixth day of the first lunar month, which is February 5 next year, to commemorate a general who took refuge in the area while fighting invaders a thousand years ago. He killed wild hogs to feed his soldiers, hence the tradition of slaughtering pigs.

Traditionally, villagers parade two pigs around before beheading them and collecting their blood. Then they soak money in the fresh blood and place it on the altars in their houses to pray for good crops and health.

The festival has been facing criticism and opposition since 2012, including a petition from the Hong Kong-based Animals Asia Foundation, which said the festival was “extremely cruel”. But the villagers have refused to give up their tradition.

In the past the ministry said that local communities should have the right to conduct their traditional festivals, and this is the first time it has taken such a tough stance.

The statement also asked local authorities to stop any fighting, gambling or begging at the upcoming spring festivals.

Many spring festivals involve hundreds of people scrambling to touch good luck charms, and this can break out into fighting.

At a festival in Hanoi in February 2015, many people were beaten with sticks and poles when a frenzied rush to snatch up sacred offerings turned into violent clashes. At another in the nearby Phu Tho Province early this year, several men passed out after being crushed by hundreds of people trying to catch sacred balls tossed into the crowd after a spiritual ceremony. The game was created to train soldiers during ancient times and those who manage to seize or just touch one of the balls believe it brings good luck for the year.

The ministry also said that the number and the scale of spring festivals must be scaled down.

Official statistics show that every year, more than 7,300 festivals take place around Vietnam, mostly in the spring.

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