Monday, 9 April 2007

Breastfeeding pigs

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'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".


Anonymous said...

Why would any one want to breastfeed a PIG and show their boods to the whole world

Tinet said...

Why would anyone want to write a comment like that and show their narrowminded ignorance to the whole world?

Anonymous said...

At reading the bit of the article I shuddered, how unnatural. But after reading through, it's in New Guinea... of course it's strange to us. It's a tribe that has had their way of doing things for years! I just know I wouldn't breastfeed a's just not for me

Tinet said...

Turns out your culture is a bit odd to me, sagacioussaga ... :o) For me it doesn't seem "unnantural". I had a pet pig, and if it would have been necessary and if I'd have had milk, I would have had no problem breastfeeding him. He was even closer to me than my dogs.
Though it would probably have freaked some people out here, too, if I had done it and anyone would have found out about it.

When my mum had my older sister she had too much milk, so she pumped out some of it and gave it to my dad and our dog. :o) She just thought it would have been a waste to throw it away.

Adam said...

Here is the truth. Sad as it is...

I work in Papua New Guinea. And I have seen the women breast feeding pigs. And there is a simple reason for it. Pigs are worth more to the tribe than children. You cannot eat or sell or trade children. You can with a pig. A child eats your food, which in ten, leaves less on your plate. A pig doesnt need to be cooked meals, its happy on any old stuff lying around.

Its very sad. PNG is a very dangerous place still (all expats have security teams that the companies arrange to move us to the local store, restaurants, anywhere as anywhere can be a place for attack) and the poverty is cruel and heartbreaking.


Tinet said...

Adam, thank you for your comment. The importance of pigs is certainly the main reason for why Papuan women would breastfeed piglets.

The poverty and inequality of the society is very disturbing. I hope the Papuans will be able to change it eventually.

Anonymous said...

At first I was curious about this. I was sent via Facebook and while reading it I thought, this happens throughout the entire animal kingdom. I mean I have seen pictures of dogs nursing kittens and we look in beautiful wonder. Are we not animals too?

Although I do feel Pig deserve pig milk, if there is not another nursing Pig Mama then what do you do to survive? Feed the pig, right?