Each and every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday in his own backyard, at between midnight and two o’clock in the morning, Juan Batista Hau respectfully and gratefully knocks a pig off its feet by striking it hard in the head with a sledgehammer. With the surprised hog then quite dazed and screaming bloody murder at the top of its lungs, Juan’s focus becomes to securely pin one of its front legs to the ground by standing on it, while forcefully parting the other as to expose its panting chest. Then, with nothing more than his extensive experience and expertise of judging location and depth, Juan confidently thrusts and buries a long, thin knife deep into its heart.
It may all seem like something straight out of an ancient Mayan civilization sacrifice ceremony, but it’s as common in the village as eating habanero chili peppers with lunch, and seeing flighty flocks of colorful parrots each day at dawn and dusk. Everyday, all across the Yucatan Peninsula, in just about every town no matter how large or small, pigs are killed and butchered, along with many more chickens and turkeys, all for the sole purpose of human consumption. But unlike in western cultures, where meat magically appears neatly wrapped in stores, and how it got there is ever seen nor rarely even thought about, the people of the Yucatan deal daily with the vivid colors and textures of blood and guts as part of their unique lifestyle.
Without having any special saws or fancy machinery, Juan is a true artist of swine dissection, a skill and trade he learned at an early age from his grandfather. He’s usually finished with his precision cutting job by the first light of day, when he hangs huge chunks of pork from iron hooks over his weigh scale, which is located on a rickety table where he trims orders and displays leftover soup bones. At about that same time, his assistant Don Fonso is completing his own tasks of making blood sausage, and deep-frying strips of the pig’s skin in a giant cauldron filled with boiling pig’s fat and salt. Customers begin to arrive at about 6:30am, shortly after Juan rides his bike three blocks to the center of town. There, he pays $1 to have a public announcement read throughout the village through a large rooftop loudspeaker. In crackling Spanish, the announcement reports that Juan has fresh meat to sell at his home, and that the prized chicharron (pig’s skin) is hot, crispy, and ready to eat.
But Juan also has lots of other work and projects to do each day, besides driving around in his old rusted pick-up truck collecting mature pigs from his neighbors to butcher. He constantly needs to tend to chores in his cornfield, … whether it be planting, harvesting, clearing, or burning. He also routinely has to search for, cut, and bring home firewood from the jungle for cooking and for heating water. And he continually has truly “odd” jobs to accomplish around his home. Yet, at the age of 35, and with a charming wife and two beautiful daughters, Juan is a peacefully compassionate and unselfish gentleman (with a great smile), who is fully devout in his faith and just may spend most of his divided time organizing and participating in functions of the church.
But as is the case with everyone in town, Juan enjoys nothing more than finally getting the chance to simply get together with family and friends to just have fun and laugh, chat and eat, and do whatever he can to make any of them happy. With a population of 2,000, the town of Tinum has an extremely social and interactive environment. Generations of family members often live together, or at least very near to each other. And with very few people ever moving in or out of the village, neighbors are usually life-long acquaintances with whom special bonds also exist. In fact, daily reality for most everyone in town doesn’t extend much beyond their own city’s limits. And it’s within that simple and peaceful small town solitude, where little understanding or knowledge exists of what the rest of the world may be all about. And that just might have its distinct advantages.