L’uccisione del maiale

Written on January 29, 2008 by Administrador de IE Blogs in Arts & Cultures & Societies

Miguel Herrero de Jáuregui


Last week I was invited to witness the killing of the pig in Rossano, Calabria, the so-called Ravenna of the South. Nothing seems to have changed much, apparently, from Byzantine times. I was expectant to see all the ancient sacrificial rituals, which have been lost in the mechanized executions of the North, and I was not disappointed. On the contrary, the traditional usages were alife and full of sense, practiced with a sobriety which stands on the antipodes of the useless ornaments of touristic plays.

I told Julian I would write about this, because I think it is part of our culture. I know this post may be not everybody’s cup of tea and that’s why I’ve transferred the photo to the second part. But the killing of the pig has been for centuries a key moment in the life of peasant families in Europe, and it justly became ritualized as a feast which preserves an ancestral heritage. As Walter Burkert showed, Homo Sapiens is first of all Homo Necans. Modern cities are far from this culture now, though pigs are killed massively to feed them.

English language has preserved a trace of a similar social disinction: the “pork” is eaten while the “pig” is alife. That difference (like “beef” and “cow”) is due to the fact that French-speaking Norman conquerors (who said “porc” and “boeuf”) saw the animals as food on the table, while the Saxons fed, killed and lived with the animals in the country. Most of us usually live like Normans, eating ham and sausages without a single thought about where they come from. Let us submerge for once into the world of the Saxons.

The pig has been grown in freedom for 14 months and he has fed on the acorns fallen from the oak trees. Now his day has come: he is carefully taken to the ancient olive tree, which has seen thousands of these killings every winter. Only when the back legs are tied (years ago, I am told, four men held the legs) he feels the danger. Perhaps it reminds him of his castration a year earlier. But no one wants to prolongue anguish. The knife held by expert hand cuts his cariotide and its point touches the heart. He dies immediately and the nervous convulsions of the dead body make all the blood spill through the cut. It is taken and immediataly mixed to avoid coagulation. Blood sausage is not used here. A sweet with cinnamon will result from the mixture. The few drops which spill out are sucked by the dogs, and one of the men around mutters with philosophical air "mors tua vita mea" . Hairs are taken out with hot water and a knife (usages vary from place to place in the way to do this, but this method is the best, I am told) till the skin is white and clean. It is then hung in the olive tree with a ghiummedo which hold the sinews, to make the further operations easier. A last washing is done with salt and lemon. Then the boddy is rippen in two halves and the interiors are taken out. Liver and kidneys (as the brains) will have to be eaten in the next few days, while the rest of the meat will furnish food for the rest of the year. The intestines are emptied to use them as envelope for the sausages. The breast bone is separated and taken to the kitchen to be eaten immediately. It is called the “porcaro” because it is traditionally the part that the killer took for himself as reward. The rest is taken to the butcher, who will transform it in prosciutto and salumi of the highest quality.

Enzo, the skillful performer of all these operations, learnt them from his grandfather. His mother does the mixing of the blood, the emptying of the intestines, the cooking of the meat, as it has been done for centuries. Enzo was studying law, and his two sisters work in Rome as banking consultants. But he chose to go back and  make the traditional farm of his parents viable in the 21st century. He has never repented. As many of his neighbours, he has succeeded. But that will be matter for the next post.



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