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The Haggis - An Endangered Scottish Species

Updated on September 28, 2012

The Wild Haggis

Source

The Haggis Hunting Season

As winter approaches, a crime against Scottish wildlife looms. From 30th November (St. Andrews Day) to 25th January (Robert Burns birthday), a small, defenceless furry creature is chased and killed to provide the Scots with their traditional feast.

The Haggis Ready for Carving

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"To A Haggis" by Robbie Burns - 3rd Verse

Robbie, or Rabbie, Burns, wrote his famous "Address to a Haggis" after enjoying a gourmet meal of haggis, neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes). Why he decided to address the haggis, which was not only deceased but digested, is not explained. However, here is the third verse for your enjoyment:

His knife see rustic-labour dight,
An cut you up wi' ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich.

Be honest - did you understand a word of that?

The creature in question is of course, the haggis. The entire world haggis population is native to Scotland and has long been subjected to systematic abuse. Every year hunts take place on the birthday of Robbie Burns, a Scottish poet who wrote poems incomprehensible to anyone who isn’t Scottish, and who was a notable abuser of the poor, wee, innocent haggi. (Haggi is of course the plural of the Latin haggis).

In these hunts, groups of Scottish hunters, many in kilts and wearing strange hats, lead the rabble and direct the hounds - mainly Cairn terriors and Scotties - in the blood-thirsty pursuit of one of the most gentle creatures on the planet. Indeed, it is now claimed by some naturalists, including the highly respected David Attenborough, that the haggis has become an endangered species.

Haggis Hunt on Selkirk Hill, Scotland

The Hunt Leader surveys his team while wearing a Viking helmet
The Hunt Leader surveys his team while wearing a Viking helmet | Source

Sadly, the world knows so little about the haggis. A distant relative of the platypus, it is assumed to be nocturnal, as it is rarely seen in the daylight hours, but in fact, it is simply shy, and will run or roll into its haggi-hole when its sensitive ears sense the approach of humans. These vicious hunters with their baying haggis hounds will trample on the haggi's nesting areas, hacking at the ground with long sticks to frighten them from their hiding places.

The leaders nowadays use cell-phones to organize the hunt, rather than the traditional blood-curdling screams.
The leaders nowadays use cell-phones to organize the hunt, rather than the traditional blood-curdling screams. | Source

The Haggis - Myth -v- Fact

The haggis is commonly said to have legs longer on one side than on the other and this enables them to walk around on the slopes of the Scottish hills. Some people believe there are two distinct species, one with shorter legs on the left and the other with shorter legs on the right. One can go only clockwise and the other can go only counter-clockwise. The two species cannot interbreed as it is physically impossible for them to mate – they just fall over.

Whether this bizarre physical feature is real, however, I have serious doubts. I suspect it is someone's idea of a joke. It seems to me more likely that the animal is simply rather ungainly when trying to move at speed. Its eyesight is poor as it spends a lot of its time underground, digging for neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) which are its main source of nourishment. When pursued, it will often curl up into a ball and roll down the hills to escape. Haggi are of course vulnerable when rolling, and perhaps because of this the species became extinct in most countries. However, they had no natural predators in Scotland until man came along. (Eagles and wolves didn’t like the taste.) Startled out of their haggi-holes by the hunters and hounds, the haggi instinctively begin to roll down the hills. To the hounds, this is nothing more than a fun game of fetch.

Hunt Saboteurs make their views known
Hunt Saboteurs make their views known | Source

Hunt Saboteurs

In recent years, animal activists have tried to disrupt the hunts. They have blown trumpets on the hills early in the morning, to get each haggis to roll out of its hole. At the bottom of the hill, they are collected in baskets and kept safe until the disappointed hunters have gone off to the pub to drown their sorrows. They also put up posters and stakes, with anti-hunt messages, hoping to discourage those who perhaps are not committed to this cruel sport.

Of course, the died-in-the-wool haggis hunters don't take this lying down. There have been a number of skirmishes and the police have been obliged to attend.

The Moorland Haggis

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Haggis Variations

In fact, there are two distinct species of haggis. Closely related to the better-known Highland haggis is the ultra-reclusive moorland haggis. This has a smaller, rounder body and a beakish mouth like its platypus ancestors. It is not eaten, because it tastes even worse than its Highland cousin, but is sometimes hunted for its fur, which is used to make hats. It is so hard to spot that no photograph of it exists, but the picture shows a painting made by a Scottish man who caught a fleeting glimpse of one when staggering home across the moors after a night at a nearby alehouse.

In even greater danger is the white haggis, a rare genetic mutation, which is hunted for its silky hair, used to cover sporrans, which are a kind of wallet that hangs in front of a Scotman’s kilt. Scotsmen have worn the kilt for centuries, and its origins are obscure, but some say they began wearing it when they discovered there was free admission for women to the football game.

The silky hair of the white haggis is used to cover the sporran
The silky hair of the white haggis is used to cover the sporran | Source

The Cry of the Haggis

Apart from those two months of the year, the haggi live in quiet contentment. The only problem they have is that, in good summers, when their staple food of tatties and neeps is plentiful, they often grow too fat for their haggi-holes, and get stuck. When this happens, their mournful cry can be heard across the hills and lochs, and a Scotsman will cross himself – which is strange, as they aren’t usually Catholics – and shout to warn others, “Och aye, the haggi cry!” It is believed to be an ominous sign, a forewarning of a danger to Scotland, or at least a rise in the price of beer. Scholars now believe that the cry of the banshee in Ireland was really the cry of haggi who had been brought over from Scotland and got stuck in the Irish bogs, where they would wallow helplessly for days, fruitlessly flailing their little legs.

Source

The Bagpipes

The traditional Scottish musical instrument, the bagpipes, was very obviously inspired by both the shape and the sound of the Highland haggis. The bagpipers would walk behind soldiers marching to war: this quelled any urge they might have to turn and come back. However, it is now known that haggi themselves were originally used for the same purpose. They would be captured and held, squeezed or placed in a tight hole, so their baleful cries would ring out.

They were also used on the battlefield, to send cries across to the enemy army, who were often the English. The English are known to be very superstitious and believe in ghosts and demons, and at hearing the horrendous howl of the haggi they would often turn and run, clutching their bowler hats. Eventually, a man called Jock MacBaggus invented a musical instrument which made almost the same sound. A pipe band would march in front of an army unit, and nine times out of ten the enemy forces would retreat, holding their ears.

The Fate of the Highland Haggis

Shrink-wrapped ready for cooking
Shrink-wrapped ready for cooking | Source

A Warning!

There are some websites, set up by hunt fanatics, which try to persuade people that a haggis as sold for human consumption is nothing more than a sheep's lungs, liver and kidneys, chopped up, mixed with oatmeal and sewn up inside a sheep's stomach. This attempt to hide the truth of the abuse of the Highland haggis is doomed to fail - it is surely impossible for anyone with any sense to believe that people would choose to dine on such a disgusting mixture. How gullible do they think people are?

Haggis-Related Goods and Treats

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    • stclairjack profile image

      stclairjack 4 years ago from middle of freekin nowhere,... the sticks

      WONDERFUL!

    • Mazzy Bolero profile image
      Author

      Mazzy Bolero 4 years ago from the U.K.

      Thanks, stclairjack!

    • bac2basics profile image

      Anne 4 years ago from Spain

      Another great hub Mazzy. Oh the poor wee creatures, and it´s not as if they look particularly appetising either..you would have to be hungry indeed to pop one of those in a pan of boiling salted water.

    • Mazzy Bolero profile image
      Author

      Mazzy Bolero 4 years ago from the U.K.

      So true, bac2basics, and I hear the gravy is worse than Bisto.

    • LuckyDawg profile image

      Lena Jaramillo Gonzales 4 years ago

      I had no idea, I ask myself, is this for real?

    • John MacNab profile image

      John MacNab 4 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence

      Ach Mazzy, whit can ah say. Totally Brill, and ah've marked ye up , awesome and a' the rest o' thae thingies. Ah've stumbled ower a few haggi masel, stuck in their wee hidey holes. A quick bash ower the head wi a caber tae flatten them an' then bile them in hot watter an' they taste delish. Next best thing tae a fish supper. Of course ah kin unnerstaund Rabbie -are there folks that cannae?

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Great informative hub, i had no idea about Haggis or the hunt, thanks for helping me learn more about this interesting subject . Well done !

      Vote up and more !!! SHARING !

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      My mouth is watering. I wonder if the Haggis could be slow-roasted over an open fire? They would make a splendid treat during the St.Johns eve bonfire.

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Just curious about your category selection. Why did you choose clean humour as opposed to humour? Did it have something to do with th haggis´bathroom habits, or lack thereof?

    • Mazzy Bolero profile image
      Author

      Mazzy Bolero 4 years ago from the U.K.

      Thanks for commenting, LuckyDawg, John, kashmir56 and DrMark1961. It's good to see there is public interest in the unfortunate haggis. However, John and Dr Mark, I felt obliged to report you to the Society for Haggis In Trouble for your heartless attitude to the wee creatures. You will be visited by a kilted Scotsman with leaflets. I thought it best not to mention the haggi's toilet habits on a family website.

    • John MacNab profile image

      John MacNab 4 years ago from the banks of the St. Lawrence

      As long as it isn't a kilted Scotsman with ringlets!

    • Mazzy Bolero profile image
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      Mazzy Bolero 4 years ago from the U.K.

      A fair number of the activists do have ringlets, I'm afraid, and a few have dreadlocks. However, you brought it on yourself!

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      Since I had read one of your other hubs and realized you had an interest in dogs, I thought I would let you know that during the time of Queen Elizabeth there are several notations of a Haggis Hound. Alas, the breed is extinct now so we can only imagine how great it was. The few engravings that exist of the breed usually show the dog breed with dreadlocks--uncanny, wouldnt you agree?

    • Mazzy Bolero profile image
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      Mazzy Bolero 4 years ago from the U.K.

      I had not heard of these engravings, DrMark. I will have to seek them out. Perhaps the human fashion for dreadlocks originated in attempts by hunters to blend in with the hounds and thereby not be identified. Thank you for contributing such scholarly input.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Hi Mazzy, well how interesting was this? poor little things! can they be kept as pets? lol! absolutely brilliant! and so funny! but wouldn't it be great if they were really there? I would have hundreds of them! haha! voted up hilarious! reminded me of the rabbit with the horns, can't remember what it was called!

    • Mazzy Bolero profile image
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      Mazzy Bolero 4 years ago from the U.K.

      Rabbit with horns? I never heard of that one, Nell. The haggis is a wild animal, I'm afraid, and does not live happily in captivity. They tend to dig holes in the living room carpet, looking for neeps and tatties, and as for house-training them.......! And of course, they ARE really there! You surely cannot be suggesting that I made this up? Thanks for commenting, Nell:)

    • DrMark1961 profile image

      Dr Mark 4 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

      You have never seen the Jackalope? The species is native to the American southwest, most common in Southern California and Las Vegas. I know it is true because I remember seeing post cards of them when I was a kid, long before the age of photoshop and the internet. Surely it was not an animal designed for gullible tourists? Hmmm.

    • Mazzy Bolero profile image
      Author

      Mazzy Bolero 4 years ago from the U.K.

      Thanks for that, DrMark. I must confess, I have never heard of this strange beast, the jackalope. However, I have heard there are some extremely strange things in Southern California, including human beings with bizarre plastic additions to their person - so a rabbit with horns may not seem so strange there. I am sure it is real - surely no one would invent a non-existent animal just to fool people?

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Of course I will be sending you a bill for the dry cleaning of my haggihair underwear which I … er … slightly wet … whilst sniggering at this hub. As you know these garments are not washable but are necessary to one of sensitive nethers.

      Loved it, Mazzy … but I bet it had some of our friends across the pond wondering :)

    • Mazzy Bolero profile image
      Author

      Mazzy Bolero 4 years ago from the U.K.

      Thanks for coming by, Angie, but I am afraid I will definitely not be paying for cleaning your haggihair knickers! This use of haggi hair in women's underwear is callous and cruel, as it leaves many of the poor creatures completely bald and shivering in the cold Scottish winter. Have a heart and try Marks & Spencer :)

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 4 years ago from Southern Clime

      It is true that people eat disgusting things, and haggis is one. What about the conch, chocolate grasshoppers, candy ants, earthworms, and rats? There is another meat that is allowed to rot, become infested with flies, then maggots. When the maggots go into the cocoon stage and later fly away, the meat is good and ready for human consumption. Some say that it is a coveted delicacy. How about dog steaks and cat fritters? Disgusting, but true? Warning: keep Fifi and Buggerhound inside.

    • Mazzy Bolero profile image
      Author

      Mazzy Bolero 4 years ago from the U.K.

      I have eaten whelks, which may be similar to the conch, and indeed I wrote a hub on the most gruesome foods. Examples I didn't include were the maggotty meat you describe or the fish the Norwegians eat which is steeped in lye for several days, the duck embryo cooked in the shell or, worst of all, live octopus. I didn't want to traumatize those who read it:) While it is possible some Scottish people might enjoy munching on macerated sheep offall sewn up in its stomach, I think it's much more likely they are dining on the roasted remains of an innocent Highland crittur. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Thanks for commenting, Levertis :)

    • profile image

      whowas 4 years ago

      Thanks Mazzy for highlighting the plight of this poor persecuted creature, the lowland Haggis (Ornithorhynchus anascotia) which seems not to have been championed by any of the major conservation organizations.

      Alex Salmond has promised, however, that if after the 2014 referendum Scotland gains independence, he will limit the licensing of the haggis hunts to protect the population and new measures will be put in place to ensure that each animal is dispatched in a humane way.

      In the meantime, anyone who wants to join the campaign to save the haggis can find more information here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/highlands_and_...

      Thanks again for bringing this serious issue to our attention. :)

    • Mazzy Bolero profile image
      Author

      Mazzy Bolero 4 years ago from the U.K.

      Thank you for sharing my concern for the lowland Haggis, whowas. However, if I were a haggis, I would not put my trust in Alex Salmond. The man looks as if he has consumed quite a few haggis in his time:)

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 4 years ago from Taos, NM

      What a delightful, funny article! I have heard of haggis, knew it was Scottish, and I'd heard it tastes awful, but then I've never had it myself. I never knew what a haggis was or what it looked like until I read this. They are cute little things, aren't they.? I didn't know the history behind them and the hunters are a hoot in their kilts and viking hats! LOL I'm all for saving the haggis! I'm not a fan of hunting any kind of animal for sport, so I'm on the side of the haggis. Interesting and informative article! Voted up and shared!

    • Mazzy Bolero profile image
      Author

      Mazzy Bolero 4 years ago from the U.K.

      Thanks for your support, suzette! Together we will save the haggis from extinction! My next project is to convert the Scots to vegetarianism :)

    • Peanutritious profile image

      Tara Carbery 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK

      Mazzy, i've been deeply saddenned by the plight of these innocent creatures. What have they done to anyone? Why can't people leave them to enjoy their neeps and tattie's in peace. Man's greed depresses me greatly. I think I'm going to get into haggis sabbing!

    • Mazzy Bolero profile image
      Author

      Mazzy Bolero 4 years ago from the U.K.

      I can see you have a good heart, Peanutritious. Perhaps you will join our "Hug a Haggis" campaign on Hogmany? Thanks for commenting :)

    • Distant Mind profile image

      Distant Mind 4 years ago

      I actually belong to the Estonian branch of Save The Wild Haggis and we smuggle innocent little haggis out of Scotland and bring them into Estonia and set them free on special hill farms.

    • Mazzy Bolero profile image
      Author

      Mazzy Bolero 4 years ago from the U.K.

      I am very impressed with this, Distant Mind and thanks for telling me. Unfortunately, I fear that once news of this gets out, Estonians will also start hunting the poor haggis. I understand that there has recently been a big rise in the number of kilts ordered by people in Estonia, and this can only have one interpretation. Your branch will need to be on full alert!

    • molometer profile image

      molometer 4 years ago

      It's so mean to eat an endangered species like the Haggis. They are so cute too. : )

    • Mazzy Bolero profile image
      Author

      Mazzy Bolero 4 years ago from the U.K.

      You are so right, molometer. They should be starring in the TV ads instead of all those meerkats.

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