Wildlife in Asia: Cultural Perspectives

By John Knight | Go to book overview

9

PIGS ACROSS ETHNIC BOUNDARIES

Examples from Indonesia and the Philippines

Gerard A. Persoon and Hans H.de Iongh

A poster issued some years ago by the Indonesian Department for Social Affairs shows two pictures (see overleaf). One of them shows two hunters with weapons pulling a dead pig out from the forest. The other picture shows a farmer’s house surrounded by chickens and goats. An arrow, which symbolizes ‘development’, connects the two pictures: from hunting animals to domesticating animals, implying a step from ‘primitive’ pig-hunter to ‘civilized’ peasant.


Introduction

The wild pig is a controversial animal in the forested areas of Asia. For forest dwelling hunter-gatherers, wild pigs are by far the most important game animal and the major source of animal protein. But for shifting cultivators and sedentary farmers clearing land in the forest fringe, wild pigs are a mixed blessing Although they are the most important game animal, they are a nuisance because of the damage done to the agricultural crops like upland rice and corn. There are also what might be ‘pig cultures’ in various parts of Asia and the Pacific, where pigs are a crucial element in the division of labour, ritual cycles, systems of exchange and land-use patterns. Even though they continue to roam around in the forest environment, these pigs are, to some extent, domesticated, and their prominent position has, in some cases, prevented other ethnic groups from moving into the local area. In a variety of social and cultural contexts in Southeast Asia, pigs mediate relations between different groups of people and even become markers of ethnic identity

In this chapter we shall discuss the importance of the wild pig in terms of food, cash and culture. We shall look at the different forms of human—pig relations that arise, that is, the pig as a crop pest, the pig as a game animal and the pig as livestock. We shall also explore why the pig is such a controversial animal in different parts of Southeast Asia by examining examples from Central Sumatra,

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