This story has some element of pork but not of the seductive paper variety that appeals so much to greedy politicians and clever operators. Call it an epiphany on Thanksgiving.
Living off the land, he accepts with regret the necessity of sometimes taking the life of wild animals in the forest when he runs out of vegetables and fruit. To him hunting is a desperate survival necessity—not a pleasure or ego trip; an outlook and philosophy he shares with another kindred soul of ours an ocean and a continent away.
The last time I saw my friend, who once taught history at the University of the Philippines, was last June. He was at his sturdy hut in the flatlands of Agusan del Sur, a few hours by jeep from Butuan City, cleaning and singeing a full-grown wild pig he had killed in the bush with a spear and a knife.
Sporting a goatee and very long, lush grey hair, which earned him the monicker “the savage” from unsympathetic people in town, my friend gave me a hearty embrace upon my arrival before noon. We talked about old times over a cup of piping hot black coffee.
“How did you catch this elusive boar, with such deadly tusks?” I asked, half expecting what he would say, after a long pause: “A hunter must always respect his prey… enter its mind and identify with it, in order to track it down … and slay it.” His voice was low and had no hint of boast.
Then it was time for his ritual. Before he placed the large animal on a bamboo table outside the kitchen, he swept his entire humble dwelling with a thick cogon broom, clearing away leaves and debris brought by the monsoon wind. Afterwards he meticulously washed and scrubbed the top of the table with boiled water and a bar of laundry soap until he was satisfied it was immaculately clean.
Moments later, there was a long silence. Silence so palpable you could cut it with a dull knife; a silence no different from the silence of prayer when one is alone in a secluded place, a church or mosque. The reluctant hunter was meditating, paying homage to the once vibrant life force he had taken to preserve his own.
Ever so careful, my friend sliced the boar into various sizes, just below the neck, putting each chunk gently on the table. Later, he would put salt and herbs on the animal’s clean flesh to prevent spoilage. With added help from wild honey and smoke, for curing and flavor, the bulk of the animal meant weeks of delicious food. The head and neck would be roasted, lechon-style, for immediate consumption.
Yes, he did kill, and he violated his own philosophy of non-violence, I thought. But the kill must have been quick and merciful so the animal did not suffer needlessly.
At that moment, I thought that my once urban-based friend now living in the wilderness is far more “civilized” (in the noblest way) than most of us city folks, with all our 21st century amenities and pretensions. At least he dared to directly and honestly confront and resolve, in his own terms, the fundamental human condition: We are what we are and there is a food chain out there, soaked in blood, upon which we are top predator; a reality that cannot be masked and deodorized by the modern kitchen.
My quiet friend’s morality of kinship and accommodation with nature and all its life forms recognizes the necessity of murder in the sustenance and perpetuation of human life and civilization. But such act is always done with a kind of spirituality and reverence. It is always a sacred occasion with him. In stark contrast to the insensitivity and cynical attitude of most people in the world who have little or no affinity with non-human life, over which man has absolute dominion. In fact, as human history is a long narrative of unbroken conflict and brutal warfare amongst tribes, and within and among nations, it is evident that we don’t even have compassion, much less genuine love for one another.
Who can deny it?
Like most people, I too am guilty of a measure of indulgence and ingratitude. Humanity has such an exploitative, adversarial relationship with nature that seeing lower intelligent life- forms as food on our table elicits nothing more than an impatient anticipation of intestinal fulfillment and a burp of pleasure in the course of a meal.
But at the rate man is wiping out species after species of nature’s wonderful creations—to date, he has caused the destruction of tens of millions—there will come a time when even that kind of gratification will be a thing of the past. And so too, will best-selling gastronomes, like Anthony Bourdain and his quest for the perfect carnivore’s meal.
Simply put, we want to have our cake and eat it too. We relish our fast food meals and fine dining, courtesy of Mother Earth, without having to pay the gory price of admission. What really happens in modern life is we have others doing the dirty work of chasing, herding, farming and killing for us, while we wait impatiently (but comfortably) at a linen-covered table. So there’s a break in the natural order of things.
But we are too blinded by our ego and avarice to see it. And so we continue our uncaring, profligate ways, behaving like an undeserving, spoiled lot, lacking even rudimentary decency to pay meaningful homage to the once vital, living flesh that is now on our porcelain plate. And would soon be part of us.
Narciso M. Reyes, Jr. is an international book author and essayist, a former journalist and diplomat.