The Yimin Festival: The search for the fattest pig
When I first arrived in Taiwan I made a checklist of odd things to cover. I shot numerous mass weddings, fights in the parliament and the enchanting sky lantern festival.
Wanting to complete my list, I did my research, marked down on my calendar and made it a point this year to cover the Hakka Yimin festival in Hsinchu where worshippers breed pigs to a fattened state for sacrifice.
The Yimin Festival commemorates ancestors who fought for the Chinese imperial army during the 18th century to help put down a local rebellion. After their deaths, locals built temples in their memory and offered pigs as a sacrifice during the annual ghost month, the seventh month of the lunar calendar.
Breeding giant pigs has become a professional industry in the small town following this tradition. Families buy their super-sized pig from a special breeder, with the price for a pig weighing over 600 kilograms (1323 pounds) starting at 600,000 Taiwan Dollars (US$18,738).
I was shooting this assignment a few hours before the scheduled sacrifice and what really struck me was that these pigs actually do get the most luxurious treatment by their owners. The pigs which are often too fat to move get water cooling fans and soothing music to keep them calm. They also survive on a specifically formulated (and expensive) high protein diet.
An owner whom I chatted with was standing beside his pig and petted it proudly like a prized horse. I was wondering how could he show so much affection for this animal when he knows he’s going to be hiring someone to butcher it a few hours later. It was just insane to me.
While most animal rights activists see this as a form of cruelty, the culture of fattening pigs for the annual sacrifice is pretty much ingrained into the lives of the people from this small town who really just see this event as traditional and something they grew up with.