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La Matanza (The Slaughter)

This past Christmas was a little different for me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to afford a plane ticket home, which meant that I missed out on the timeless family tradition of decorating the Christmas tree while blasting the Spice Girl’s rendition of Sleigh Ride in the background (a classic for those who’ve never heard it). Instead, I found myself with my roommate’s family in Valderros – a Spanish village of 300 people where they celebrated a rather unique Christmas tradition.

It’s called La Matanza, and it involved the killing of four pigs. This may seem like a brutal tradition, but in comparison with the animals I saw at Primark trampling over each other in a consumer frenzy, it felt right at home with the holiday spirit.

The tradition is common in villages in Spain, although it has been decreasing in popularity as a result of the inhumane way the pigs are killed. I was warned ahead of time that it could be difficult to watch, but my Spanish machismo was at an all time high so I told myself I could handle it (said the guy who winces when he kills a spider).

On the day of La Matanza, my roommate’s family gave me specific instructions not to take pictures of anything as what we were doing was technically illegal. They then handed me a blue onesie tracksuit to make sure no blood got on my clothes and we headed out to their farm.

Farm may not be the wholly accurate word to use, but I’m not sure what else to call it. Maybe live-stock storage sheds? There were three in total: a big one, and two smaller ones, all built with the same off-white corrugated iron. The entire area was surrounded by a chain link fence and was situated parallel to the freeway at the end of a dirt road.

The big shed housed what appeared to be a bunch of junk and also several sheep herding dogs. The smaller two were for their chickens and pigs.

We walked over to the pig pen and a big tractor was brought out. It looked roughly like this:

(*warning: descriptions/pictures of dead pigs follow if you don’t want to see that stuff.)

I didn’t understand why we needed it, but I figured it’d become apparent soon enough. The first pig was lead out, and it was a massive, 200 kg animal. They tied a heavy metal chain around it’s back left leg and began to drag it towards the tractor. Then, they hooked the chain onto the scoop of the tractor and slowly raised the pig up until it was hanging vertically.

This was done because the blood of the pig was important for cooking. It was raised up vertically and then stabbed once in the jugular so that all of the blood drained out into a container underneath.

I was not prepared for any of this. I had envisioned the pig being killed on the ground as swiftly as possible, not hoisted up like a flag at half-mast and slowly bled out. The worst part was the squealing.  A pig’s squeals are horrifically human-like, and they rang out continuously once it was in the air. It was at this time that all of my feigned macho-ness evaporated, and I very quickly walked around to the opposite side of the biggest shed where I couldn’t hear anything.

I sat there for a while and petted the dogs in a mild state of trauma.

One of my roommate’s cousins didn’t like to watch either, so he and I sat and chatted while the pigs were killed. Once a pig was dead, they would bring the blood over to us, and our job was to stir it continuously so that it wouldn’t congeal.

After the fourth one was dead, I walked back over to help. The four pigs were laid on the ground, and we lit bundles of straw like torches and pressed them against the pigs to singe off their hair. Then, we loaded them up onto the tractor and drove into town.

Once in town, we unloaded the pigs and set them on big work benches. There were about 16 of us helping with the pigs: 5 men cutting them up, 6 of us removing the organs and putting them in buckets, and 5 people inside making morcia(mor-thee-ah). Morcia is a sausage made from rice, onions, and blood. It is one of the greatest things I’ve ever tasted, and I highly recommend it to all.

The grossest part of the removal process was taking out the intestines as they still contained shit. One of them was accidentally pierced, and a smell was released that I would have preferred to have never known existed.

Once the innards were removed, the pigs were tied to ladders and propped up against a wall to drain overnight.

On the following day, the pigs were completely dissected. Again, 5 men were in charge of the main cutting while the rest of us were given smaller tasks. I spent the next few hours cutting meat into thin strips and feeding it into a grinder to make chorizo (another type of sausage).

All that was left after that day was to eat. It was all incredible except for the pig’s brain, which I urge you never to try.

I’d like to end this by thanking my roommate and his family for taking me in this Christmas. I hope one day you’ll all come to visit me in California. I won’t have any fresh morcia, but I can take you to In-N-Out which is almost as good.