Semana Santa, Holy Week, the week before Easter. This is marked by a week of vacation and celebration here in the Dominican Republic: full of habichuelas con dulce (sweet red beans), city folk fleeing to the campo to spend time with family, religious activities, going to the river, women and girls getting their hair braided, dominoes, lots of food… you get the idea.
For Semana Santa, my Doña (Morena) had family and her children come from all over to spend the majority of the time here in the campo. In addition, my boyfriend came to my community for the first time and spent part of Semana Santa with us. However, the most notable event during Semana Semana was when my Papá killed a pig. My Papá is the father of my Doña, my grandpa if you will. Apparently, he’s the local pig killer and this is something that happens regularly during Semana Santa (at least in our family).
Personally, I have never seen an animal be butchered/slaughtered/killed/sacrificed (use whatever you will). When I first heard that we were going to “sacrifice” a pig for Semana Santa, I thought it was a joke, and that my family was trying to scare me. However, the closer Semana Santa got the more I realized they weren’t joking around. From the moment I found out we were sacrificing this Semana Santa pig (about 2 weeks before Semana Santa) I was full of questions and my very patient Doña, answered every single one. The conversation went a little like this:
Me: Who’s going to kill the pig?
Morena: El papá mio. [My father].
Me: Papá is going to do it?! Wow… and, um, where is he going to kill the pig?
Morena: Aqui. [Here].
Me: “Here?! Like.. here here?!”
Morena: **Laughs** Si, aqui afuera. [Yes, here outside. *signaling underneath the giant mango tree*]
Me: Oh.. ok. Wow. And you do this every year?”
Morena: Si. [Yes].
Me: Does the pig have a name?
Morena: Qué? **laughs** No. [What? *laughs* No].
Me: Oh, okay… is it hard for you to kill this pig, after you raised it all this time?
Morena: Sí… yo me voy pa’ ya *signals to the mountains* No me gusta oír ni mirar eso. [Yes, I go over there *signals to the mountains* I don’t like to hear or watch this].
Me: Yeahhh I don’t know if I want to watch it. I don’t know if I can handle it.
Morena: No es obligao, tu puedes ir conmigo allá. [It’s not obligatory, you can go with me over there].
As Semana Santa approached, I started getting uneasy about watching this pig be killed. I am not a vegetarian, nor do I pretend to be, but I am a sucker for nearly all animals – ask my parents. I’m not allowed to go to the Humane Society because my parents know I would come home with a puppy, two cats, and a bunny rabbit if I could (see photo of me loving on 3 puppies and wanting SO badly to adopt all 3 campo puppies – don’t worry Mom & Dad, I didn’t).
Anyways, my family started arriving from all over the country – everyone flees to the campo for the holiday week and my boyfriend even came to spend part of the week in my community! Saturday morning quickly approached and I heard my papá chatting outside with the few people that were awake. He likes to wake up at the crack of dawn and then at 7 in the morning will say something along the lines of “it’s 10 in the morning! Are you just going to sleep all day?” even though it’s only 7/7:30 am. I woke up, went outside and sleepily observed the preparations that were taking place. In that moment I decided to stay and watch – a cultural experience, I told myself. It will be good to watch, it’s a cultural experience that I would not normally have. I am going to aprovechar [to take advantage] this. I won’t explain it graphically nor in detail but basically, my Papá pierced its’ heart but, accidentally only nicked it. So the death of this poor pig was long, loud, and drawn out. Finally he stepped in and put it out of its misery, took off the hair with warm water and a knife, cut the pig open and carefully take out/save the blood, and then began to butcher the animal – saving the best parts for the family and selling the other good parts to families that had arrived to buy meat.
I’d be lying if I said this experience didn’t scar me. I couldn’t bring myself to eat this pig – I just couldn’t. After barely eating my breakfast, of which I choked down 2 boiled green bananas and left the meat from the pig on my plate, I ran to my room and immediately burst into tears as I flopped onto my bed. Watching that pig die was awful – yes it was a cultural experience but it definitely had an impact on me. Throughout the day, I couldn’t eat a single part of that pig. Morena made morcilla – blood sausage – by stuffing the intestines of the pig with its own blood. I was mortified and nearly gagged watching her do it.
Since this day, I’ve struggled eating pig meat. There is talk of killing our new pig this Christmas and this time I don’t know if I can be around to witness this again. We’ll see.