M is for Matanza, Pig slaughter

“You’re going to need your wellies.” Butcherfriend had warned me beforehand.

Villager C waited inside her house with her daughter, she couldn’t bear to watch it. “Just because we eat our own animals doesn’t mean we don’t care about them.” she’d explained.

I watched.

Butcherfriend was quick.

“Eh que? What do you recon Chica?” he asked, wiping the blood of his hands with a rag. “That was fast.” I replied. He smiled at me, multi-tasking, he lit a fag and at the same time dragged the gas bottle closer with a cling clang, attached the  blowtorch to it, lit it,  adjusted the flame to roaring level and pointed it to the carcass.

The skin of the pig bubbled up in patches, stench of burnt hairs filled my nostrils.

I’d seen pig slaughter in Portugal before  and thought it a peculiar way to roast a pig, with a blowtorch. I had no idea they were doing it to remove the outer layer of skin and hairs of the pig, the first thing done after slaughter.

Village Pig slaughter as a process is quite sexist. And it involves community, more than any other job. The killing of the pig and cleaning of the skin, burning it off and washing it, is a man’s job.  The sorting out the entrails a woman’s job. I wanted to learn how to do it. Villager C told me she would.

I had no idea what I let myself in for, but to my surprise I didn’t find it disgusting. There was an odd sense of normality, while I stood there with this steaming pile of entrails in front of me.  And the colours!  Shades of pink and blue. Like a still life.

For some reason I thought guts only needed entangling and emptying, but the process is far more complicated than that.  All of it is held together by membranes, and has to be separated.  Separating the thick intestines involves an entirely different method than separating the small intestines. It is a skill, you have to know what you’re doing. Do it too slow and the guts cool down, making it very hard to separate them. Work too fast and you might tear one of them, finding yourself  pretty much in a shit situation. In the village there are only a few women who really know all the ins and outs, what part to cut and what part not to cut. I wanted to be one of the knows all the ins and outs women.

I learnt most at villager C’s house, simply because she told me it didn’t matter if I messed up, in a nice calm atmosphere. That things could be very different I learnt later that afternoon at villager O’s.

The forever shouting family O also had the loudest slaughter. The table which they had placed in the courtyard for the separating of the guts was too small and there were too many hands. Village women have a competitive edge over them, everyone is eager to show they can do it faster and better with the result in ripping guts. If what is inside of the gut comes on the outside of the gut,  you can throw the lot away, unless you act really swift with rags and string to tie the affected patch. Villager M, always a bit clumsy, managed to rip one followed by frantic screaming, “String?? Where is the string, where are the rags?!” while villager O wailed over the top  “Oh my God my guts!  Look what you’ve just done to my guts!”

As soon as the guts were separated we went to the stream to clean them out. Again, this is not as easy or simple as I thought it was. Smaller intestines need a method using a really thin willow twig to squeeze the bile and fat out, I didn’t learn how to do that until my second year. The bigger intestines are cut into smaller pieces and held in the stream to get the poo out. Guts, after they have been totally emptied, have to be turned inside out, then scrubbed on stones to get the rest of the fat off them. The stomach gets cleaned and scraped thoroughly with a knife.

It was cold that day but I thoroughly enjoyed it, my first time at pig slaughter, marveling at the hills, the muttered swearing of the women complaining about the cold in the background.

Slaughter basically takes place over 4 days.

The day after slaughter the meat is butchered. Some meat gets salted, some parts cut up and then put in the freezer, or meat goes through the grinder and is mixed up in big buckets with other ingredients used for different types of sausages. The day after normally is the day when villagers make salami type sausages, as well as onion sausages.  After they’re finished they are hung up in smoking sheds.

Day four, Chorizo making, is a thing the villagers seem to enjoy most.  A lot of banter and jokes take place about who likes her sausages firmer. Chorizo tying is strangely addictive, a bit like knitting. And when you are good at it you are allowed to join in with comments directed at the person filling the guts, “Oh for god sake, look at these guts. They’re no good, stop filling them so much, you’re doing it all wrong!”

I am proud to say after 4 years I am an expert.  Those two weeks in December when yearly slaughter takes place, I am entirely in my element, going from house to house to help. And villager C is always sure to show off her gut prodigy. Villagers might doubt my abilities to work on the land, in regards to gut cleaning and chorizo making I have  respect. “She knows how to do the job better than most village women.”

It took some guts.

Separating guts

15 thoughts on “M is for Matanza, Pig slaughter

  1. Brilliant post, Barbara! Bet it took some guts to share that. Some people can be squeamish about slaughter. It happens. I believe if you can’t accept the slaughter of an animal – don’t eat the meat. Definitely choose to have you by my side lost in the wild – that’s if Ray Mears wasn’t available, lol. At least we’d eat!

    • Thank you Liz. Odd fact : I used to be vegetarian for many years and am not even that much of a meat fan. I think however it is one of those traditions that are in danger of being abolished. Laws are making it more and more difficult for villagers currently. Washing guts at the stream is not allowed. Not that they care 🙂

  2. I haven’t been in the position of watching a slaughter, but I have plucked chickens, and eaten goats that my father slaughtered. Yes, I think it is getting more difficult these days, and very few people know how to do it. I know I wouldn’t. But I really admire people who do!

    Rinelle Grey

  3. I have only ever been to one but did not stay for the first day – I went sight seeing instead. Once the deed was done it was just meat, chorizo, salami and black pudding. Great post that brought back a few memories.

    • I am still walking around with an art/photo idea based on village pig slaughter, to show it in a non squeamish way. I’ve taken some pictures, which if you do not know what you are looking at, are simply beautiful.

  4. Pingback: K is for Knowledge | CHICADEROCK

  5. I was talking to my aunt and she didn’t think anyone in our village did this at all anymore 😦 I think I know 2 that do but they probably just don’t advertise the fact. it will be something I investigate come July

  6. Pingback: U is for Understanding | CHICADEROCK

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