Tori Amos (left) has appeared breastfeeding a piglet on the album sleeve of her record Boys for Pele (about which she talks a bit in this interview), alienating hundreds of "fans" (not true fans, I guess) and apparently shocking the hell out of bigot America.
Breastfeeding pigs is in fact something fairly normal among certain tribes in New Guinea.
But there, it's not really anything more eyebrow-raising than "a low-tech version of U.S. sheep ranchers bottle-feeding orphaned lambs", as Answers.com's article on pigs puts it. Taking care of the pigs, the only domesticated animals they have, is one of the main tasks of traditional New Guinean women.
The traditional society in this area doesn't have that much equality between the sexes. In Women Speak Out! A Report of the Pacific Women's Conference (1976) - from where also the black and white photograph below right is taken, it is written in the section about common legal problems for women in Papua New Guinea:
"[Wives] were expected to work long hours in the gardens, then walk home carrying huge loads of firewood and food, then go to the river for water, then cook dinner - and through it all, tend the children. While they did all this work, the men occassionally hunted or fished - or mostly sat under the trees and 'protected' the women from enemy attacks."
As for pigs,
"Women did all the work of caring for pigs - even breast-feeding sick piglets - but their husbands owned them and decided when they would be traded, killed for a feast or given to someone else."
A normal day for traditional New Guinean women might look like Neil Nightingale describes it:
"Each day they take the animals to the gardens and tether them close by. If they are constructing new sweet potato mounds the women allow the pigs to root around in the ground they are about to prepare. In this way the pigs get to feed off any remaining sweet potato tubers while helping the women by churning the soil. In the evening the pigs accompany the women back to their homes. Some spend the night in specially built sties; others sleep in the same huts as the women and their children. While food is prepared for the evening meal the animals are thrown scraps and even whole sweet potato tubers."
Women and pigs have a fairly close relationship:
"The pigs often have names and are treated as part of the family, being stroked, fondled, and gently spoken to as the children prepare for bed. By tickling their udders and imitating the action of a suckling piglet females can be encouraged to lie down quietly on their side to be gently de-ticked."
In the last sentence it becomes obvious that Nightingale doesn't know very much about pigs, as he explains the pigs' lying down on their side when they get their tummies rubbed as some kind of mechanical reaction to the feeling you get from suckling piglets. Mind you, also a barrow or boar will lie down on his side when he gets his tummy rubbed, simply because it feels good.
The New Guinean pigs, though seemingly treated like pets in our culture, will eventually be killed, but, again, not like regular food animals in Western culture.
As Joyce Kilmer writes,
"Pigs are the only domesticated animals and their value in this culture is a difficult concept to grasp. Although nurtured by women, they are the most important measurement of a man's solvency."
Pigs have great economical, political and mystical importance. They are used to buy brides, sacrificed to appease ancestral spirits and to pay compensation for killing members of another tribe (Nightingale describes how he witnessed about twenty pigs and the equivalent of a thousand UK pounds in cash being handed over as part payment of a large debt for the killing of one man), and in many other important ceremonies. In some parts, "huge pig-giving festivals" are held once every few years, in order to "impress neighbours".