By Van Ngan

Saigon (MF) January I, I971. Vietnam' s ever-active fortune tellers are now attempting to divine what lies ahead in the coming year, the last of the traditional I2-year cycle which will be known as the Year of the Pig. The pundits believe they see prosperity and possibly peace over the next year. The prophecy book of Trang Trinh, a much-quoted source of Vietnamese lore, declares that "The dog wags his tail to greet the master while the pig groans with satisfaction after a good meal." Thus the dog (I970) greeted signs of peace while the pig (I97I) will be able to enjoy prosperity.

Despite the animal's poor reputation in other nations, the pig is much respected, in Vietnam, being a source of food for most people. Chicken is the other common meat, and nearby every farmer owns a sow or two with broods of piglets in times of prosperity. It is the pig who earns extra cash for the farmer with rice the main source of family support. A farmer wealthy in pigs not only observes religious feasts properly but has earnings to buy the finer things for his family. Piggy banks of ceramic and plastic are common in Vietnam as symbols and receptacles for savings. Pigs figure prominently in the ancient customs of the Vietnamese. At the Tet (New Year) festivities, pigs are slaughtered and eaten. Any special occasion is marked by the roasting of a pig, including the traditional meal for those who come to pay their last respects to the dead in post-funeral ceremonies.

At wedding ceremonies, the bridegroom's family must prepare a roasted pig festooned with paper flowers in its ears and bright red sash down its back to present to the bride's family. This marriage pig is carried before the wedding cortege by attendants in special attire. A pig, either whole or just its head and tail, is frequently offered to one's ancestors as a sign of respect and memory. The head is presented to the most important person, for example, to a village chief, while the tail goes to the second most important person. A traditional feast may have as many as eleven different recipes of pig: boiled, roasted, hammed, pasted, seasoned with rare and perfumed vegetables. Even tripe and coagulated pig's blood are used in exotically prepared recipes. Pork is considered nourishing. Mothers eat pig's feet with lotus grains and rice to improve baby milk and wives will fry hog testicles with vegetables or rice to stimulate their husbands. Working men enjoy blood coagulated with salt and served with heavily seasoned vegetables, believing it refreshes human blood and regulates digestion.

Vietnamese, as do other peoples, refer to obese persons and the over- sexed as pigs, but many fortune tellers claim persons with pig-like faces are harmless and sincere people. Tet New Year means a time of clearing up of debts and a balancing of accounts. It is the traditional time of year to set one's house in order and to prepare for the new year with a clean slate. Kitchens are cleaned and everyone attempts to start the new year with new clothing. For a nation at war for the past decade, may the Year of the Pig be a time of peace and prosperity for Vietnam.

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Last update: May 1997 by VACETS