This week we are holding the first ever Guga Eating Championship in Ness. It is being organised by the Ness FC Social Club, of which I am vice-chair, and it has made me think about the way the Guga (and hunt) is perceived outwith these islands.
For anyone unfamiliar with the Guga Hunt, you can have a look at the BBC documentary that was broadcast in 2011, photos from my trip to Sulageir this summer, and here is my own post about Super Guga Saturday. The Hunt is still as fiercely defended in Ness as it ever was, although criticism of it today seems to arise from far-off places, from people who appear to have little clue what they are talking about. I suppose it is a sign of the times and the reactionary social media culture that we have, that these ‘campaigns’ raise their heads, disappearing as quickly as they appear. Personally, I steer clear of all kinds of online campaigns. People think they are making a difference by supporting a campaign, or signing a petition, but they usually have little, or no impact. Fortunately, that is the case with the Guga. I don’t believe there is any danger at all of the license granted to the Guga Hunters of Ness being revoked, and the ill-informed rants that appear don’t worry me at all, only anger me. There was one in 2010 that read “The guga hunt is not vital to the inhabitants of Sula Sgeir.”. Of course it’s not vital to the inhabitants of Sulasgeir. Sulasgeir doesn’t HAVE any human inhabitants; it is merely a rock in the middle of the North Atlantic! This kind of behaviour isn’t restricted to the Guga, though. One of my favourite examples are the comments in this blog post Highlighting beautifully some of the ludicrous arguments that are put forth.
The most popular argument used is that the Hunt is “barbaric” and that the animals suffer. Now, I am an animal lover. I rear plenty myself and care about their welfare. I personally have no issue at all with the methods used to dispatch the Guga and I know, from my time working there, that the RSPB locally have no issues with it, just as the local vet and local SSPCA have no issue with it. Those who criticise it are themselves often guilty of extreme hypocrisy; happy enough to eat their intensively reared chicken, pork or any other meat, without thinking about how it lived, where it was reared and how it was killed. The population as a whole seems to be increasingly detached from where their food comes from, and it takes something like the horse meat situation to highlight how little people think about what they eat. The best a comment I have seen from a do-gooder, was questioning a crofter as to why on earth a pig had to die to provide his family with food, when he could go down to the supermarket and buy sausages like a normal person. Yes, I know. Ludicrous.
To the critics, I often reply with a series of questions: what about all those poor fish who suffocate on boats? What about the deer/rabbits/game birds that are shot and possibly not killed instantly? What about pigs who spend their lives in a crate? Out of sight, out of mind.
So, back to the first ever World Guga Eating Championships. Yes, the ‘World’ part is tongue-in-cheek and the event is a celebration of all things Niseach. We are so proud of where we are from, we have a strong identity as Ness-folk and the Guga is a big part of that. I for one cannot wait!