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When camping, if your friend, who has just left on a beer run, comes careening back helmetless on his scooter shouting “You have to see this. And bring your cameras!” you know you should listen. So, we grabbed our gear, jumped on our scooters and half slid, half drove down the damp path in his wake. The sky was like low hanging concrete and mist was spilling over the treetops. What we needed was a bit of excitement to inject into our chilly camping trip. And we found it
We were camping in Tai-An, a small village in the mountains of Miaoli County, Taiwan. We set up camp high in the hills far from the tour bus crowds who came to soak in the hot springs. But the area had something other than its steaming waters to offer: Mountain pig. Greasy, fried and, (apparently), delicious. As we pulled up next to the riverbed we got to see first-hand just where, exactly this specialty came from.
Lying unceremoniously on a rock, legs akimbo, was the unfortunate creature. Surrounding him, a group of Aboriginal hunters were beginning the process of dismemberment. Two were armed with blow torches to singe all the hair off its body. Another, wielding a long knife, scraped off the charred hair like a post mortem barber. Whisbey and Kaoliang, the local brews, were flowing and betelnut juice stained the corners of their mouths. We had only limited Chinese, and they no English, but that was of little importance. From the instant we arrived cigarettes were proffered, alcohol was poured and they eagerly allowed us to document every step.
As two men tended to the fire the rest hauled the now bald carcass into the river. Scorched skin was scraped clean and then with a few sickening thuds the head was hacked off. The sound of metal hitting bone, sticking, then sliding loose, only to be brought down again is a sound I shall not forget. It was like the last teetering moments of a tree before it splinters and falls, if a little more juicy.
The head was left to ponder its fate, alone and forgotten on the rock. Its blind gaze unable to see what was now being done to its cadaver. With a long, smooth cut down the belly they split apart its skin like a zipper. I haven’t eaten pork for nearly four years and yet horror was not the feeling that came to the fore, but, rather, fascination. Each organ was intact and in place, smooth and pink and nestled tight against its neighbour. But, not for long.
Laughing at our reactions one of the group dipped his hands into the opening and began to scoop the insides into a small iron pot. With a gleam in his eye he removed the liver and laid it on a rock. Taking his knife from its wooden sheath he cut off a chunk, looked over his shoulder towards us and then popped it into his mouth with a satisfied smack of the lips. But, no meal is complete without a digestif and on the menu this day was none other than pig’s blood. They ladled it out from the gutted animal and poured it down their throats, catching drops on their clothes. No cup needed!
All that remained was to cut it into pieces, throw it in a sack and cart it down the mountain to sell. The liver still sat on the rock and, feeling braver than I, two of my friends volunteered to sample it. The only thing worse than having to eat liver fresh from a pig’s belly is, perhaps, having to wash it down with Kaoliang after.
While some may find the killing and devouring of animals cruel and unnecessary, I at least prefer an animal that was reared in the wild and killed by hunters than one that lived its life in a cage, bred for only one purpose. The men that hunted and killed that pig were welcoming and accepting to a bunch of curious, trigger happy foreigners and ready to share what little they had. And, besides, anyone who can guzzle down pig’s blood without batting an eye is pretty amazing in my books.
Photography by Kyle Merriman (www.brandknewme.com)
Story by Kayt Bronnimann (www.thegirlonawire.com)