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Weekly Edition 035: Saturday 27th October 2001

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An Anthropological View
by Kirk W Huffman

"Ric com un Verga"
Of Pigs and Men on Eivissa/Ibiza - Part Five

Weather - at least temperature and humidity - is all-important for the traditional matanšes eivissencs (Ibicenco pig killing). The climate of Eivissa is not suitable for the production of cured ham, so popular elsewhere in much of Spain: traditional 'embutidos' (pig products) on the island are very specific to its climate and water. The famous sobrassades and other types of local products from the pig are cured specifically by low temperatures, certain humidity, and the salt and spices in the mix. There is no smoke curing as on the Spanish mainland. For these reasons there is an actual 'pig killing season' on Eivissa, which officially starts on the day of San Martin (November 12th, nicknamed 'mataporcs' - pig killing day) and lasts through to the day of Las Candelas on the 2nd February. But the mild winter temperatures here make it better ideally to kill the pig before the end of January - "Mata es porc pel gener, si vols que es conservi bŔ" - 'Kill the pig by January if you want it to preserve well'. Many phrases abound in Eivissenc (the rare early sub-dialect spoken on the island) related to the timing of pig fattening, killing, salting, etc: "Per Sant Tomas, agafa es porc p'es mas"; "Per Sant Marti, mata es porc i enceta es vi";"Per Nadal, es porc en sal";"Qui te porcs a la salera, bon any li espera";"Porcella i dona, tot l'any es bona" and so on almost ad infinitum. But the cold - or cool - weather is the essential element in the curing of the 'embutidos', if the winter is too warm the products don't 'gel' well, they remain slightly softish and cannot be stored for long before they go off.

Thus extreme care is taken with these pig killings, not just in regard to the ambient temperature but also, of course with the type of pig killed. We have already spoken about the avoidance of killing a female pig within a certain time around her menstruation. The ideal pig to kill is a castrated male pig. Ordinary male pigs can, of course, be killed, but if castrated when young their meat and fat produce sweeter tasting products. Sometimes the meat of uncastrated male pigs can be almost inedible: it possesses what is sometimes called 'boar taint' in English, particularly noticeable if one cooks such a pig's fat, when it can sometimes give off a slightly foul, urine-like, sweaty odour. This is caused by the presence in the fat of a chemical steroid called androstenone (the precursor of the steroid androstenol), present in uncastrated pigs. In its precursor form this steroid gives off a rank smell - not surprising, as it is also one of the major chemical components of human underarm odour. Androstenone is produced in the testes and released in the blood. Interestingly, one of its products, androstenal, is stored in the pigs salivary glands. When a male pig becomes sexually excited, he froths at the mouth, releasing this pheromone: if a nearby female pig is in heat, she becomes immobilised by this chemical and permits the male to mount her. Even more interesting is the use that related steroids are put to in certain women's perfumes (such as Jovan's 'Andron' and 'Realm'). Although there is (as yet) no concrete evidence that androstenal works in the same way in humans, one study of college age women in the US showed that women wearing a necklace impregnated with the steroid found it much easier to strike up conversations with men they did not know (? but shouldn't it be the other way around?). Admittedly this is a slight digression here, but once one enters the world of pigs anything can happen!

The day of the matanša has arrived. The casa pagesa (peasant house) is full of the extended family, each ready for their allotted tasks. Some - who might live far away - may have arrived the night before to be ready for an early start. Nowadays many peasant families have relatives who may have not been brought up in the traditional style, many working on the coast in tourism-related industries or living in Vila (Ibiza town), and who, although taking part in the pig-killing for the extended family, are thought not to like such activities any more. Many peasant jokes exist regarding (particularly) female relatives arriving from Vila to the original family homestead clad in fur coats, expensive jewellery, high heels and with a scented handkerchief never far from their noses. The famous Ibicenco play, 'Pera Bambu' ('Simple Peter') has such a matanša scene, with the female relative from Vila swooning and fainting because of the noise of the pig's squeals and the smell of the activities. Local audiences, many of whom have actually seen similar incidences, always roar with laughter, it is a scene now familiar to most Ibicencos.

Early in the morning a group of men - usually four or five (but in the famous case of the giant pig weighing 42 rovas - 420 kilos - a total of nine men) - will go to the hut/corral where the fattened pig awaits. Deft rope throwing lassos one of the pigs front legs and then the struggle is on to hook in the iron nose hook if the pig is a big one. Normally a matanša pig should weigh 20 rovas (200 kilos) or more, so they are rather hefty creatures. The men will pull and push the pig to the banc de matar (pig killing board) where the matanšer (the pig killer) awaits. The matanšer is a respected specialist, it is an ancient and honoured calling, and he directs and co-ordinates all the activities that day, almost like a complex ballet. Ideally his wife is a matanšera (a female matanša specialist), in which case he will co-ordinate the men's activities and she will co-ordinate the activities of the assembled women. Matanšers will travel around the rural areas of the island during the pig killing season: their work is becoming more exhausting now though, as their numbers are diminishing and there is a lack of 'new recruits'. One sad day in the future there may be no traditional matanšers left, then many pagŔs (peasant) families may be forced to take their pigs to the modern butchers if none in their families can step into the gap.

Traditionally, the men and women would work in nearby but separate areas. The men work on cutting up the pig and the women  (even today only women that are not having their monthly menstruation) deal with preparing the 'embutidos' from the meats passed to them by the men. An exception is the pig's blood. Once the pig has been placed, struggling, on the banc de matar, the matanšer deftly kills it with a swift stab of the special pig-killing knife into the jugular vein. A special woman with a bowl waits by the side of the matanšer to fill up the bowl with this first large spurt of blood from the jugular. Once this bowl is full she immediately retires to a corner of the women's area, where she will stir the blood, whilst still warm and whilst it cools, with her hand to prevent it coagulating. This blood is that used to make the botifarras, the large 'embutidos' of blood that are then cooked for hours in boiling water. Further blood taken from the pig is drained into a bowl whose bottom has been covered with salt: this blood is then fried for the matanša lunch. This latter is all done in the women's area, where other women are also preparing the special rice and other foods for the lunch (which on Eivissa usually takes place from around 3pm onwards).

Once the pig has been killed, its hair is singed off with burning fragrant brands (see previous articles), but nowadays this is often done with bottled gas flame. The skin is then scraped and cleaned with a special scrubbing stone - pedre tosque - ideally of pumice (but nowadays sometimes of a small square piece of wood with beer bottle tops nailed 'bottom out' to the wood) and hot water. A final skin cleansing, almost like a close shave, can be done with a sharp knife and hot water. The hoof extremities are then pulled out and thrown away. After all this has been done the pig can be weighed on scales if there are any around. The pig can then be shifted to a larger and wider wooden bench to be cut up. Placed belly down on the table, its ankles are cut and the legs bent underneath it. The matanšer then cuts the head off, starting from the nape of the neck down through the neck column. Shifting to one side of the bench he then cuts down each side of the spinal column and cuts and lifts out the large layers of fat that cover both sides of the back. These thick layers of fat, called sa xulla, are a great delicacy and can eventually be sliced or cut to produce es corters de xulla gorda, more manipulable in size, great as gifts or easy to hang by iron hooks for curing. The lean meat covering the ribs is then taken off and now the matanšer takes out the os de s'espinada and ses espatles, the spine and shoulder blades. Step by step each part of the pig is taken out for use and almost nothing is wasted. Sa freixura blanca, the heart and lungs are carefully taken out to be eventually mixed in as part of the content of the botifarras. As much as possible of the pig is used: in a pig of, say, 20 rovas (200 kilos), only 5 rovas (50 kilos) would not be used. Next week we will see how that 15 rovas would be used.

With thanks to Antonio Bonet Tur and Ana of C'an Joannot, Bartomeu i Annabel de S'hort den Bartomeu de sa Plana, Josep de Sa Torra, and for the work of MariÓ Torres Torres - and with thanks to quite a few pigs who are sadly no longer with us.








All pictures © Gary Hardy (January 1991)
Kirk W Huffman

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