Academic journal article Human Ecology

Life without Pigs: Recent Subsistence Changes among the Irakia Awa, Papua New Guinea

Academic journal article Human Ecology

Life without Pigs: Recent Subsistence Changes among the Irakia Awa, Papua New Guinea

Article excerpt

David J. Boyd [1]

Beginning in the late 1980s, the Irakia Awa commenced changing their basic subsistence adaptation. This included altering gardening practices, changing basic food consumption patterns, and most importantly, eliminating the production of domestic pigs. These changes were undertaken as part of an effort to improve the life experience of local residents and usher in a new plan of village improvement. The plan promoted the disintensification of subsistence production and increased involvement in cash-earning and recreational pursuits, as well as Christianity. If successful, the promoters of the plan hope that the village will become a more attractive place to live, migrants living away will return home to help revitalize the community, and Irakia will flourish in the new cash-oriented modern economy.

KEY WORDS: agricultural change; subsistence production; pig husbandry; modernization; Papua New Guinea.


The Irakia Awa, beginning in the late 1980s, began their most recent and most extensive effort to transform local village life. During the prior decade the community had been disrupted by a number of deaths attributed to sorcery. The fear and animosity generated by these unexpected deaths was a primary cause for the exodus of more than half of the village members from the community. The community also had suffered from a prolonged period of hostilities, beginning in 1981 and culminating in 1985-86, with the neighboring Awa Village of Mobuta during which three men from Irakia and two from Mobuta were killed. When a truce eventually was established, Irakians began to reassess their situation.

In this paper, I will describe the general tenor of the assessment of village conditions and the locally generated plan for village improvement. A major aspect of that plan--the elimination o pig husbandry--will be discussed in detail.


By the late 1980s, most adults and many of the children had had extensive experience living at coastal and urban employment sites where, despite the often harsh conditions and pressing need for cash, they had enjoyed some rudimentary aspects of modern life. Basic health care was usually available, many children attended schools, retail outlets offered a selection of consumer goods, and sports, movies and church activities provided new entertainments. In contrast, village life seemed dull and lacking in new experiences, especially from the perspective of young adults.

Irakians also realized that their community was not enjoying what seemed to be substantial improvements in lifestyles taking place in many neighboring communities. Although they had made modest efforts in the past to better local conditions and attract the assistance of government agencies and other outsiders, they still had no nearby road access, no medical aid post, no school, no retail store. In contrast, villages located on or near the regional road system that had been extended into areas to the west, north, and east had much more intensive contact with the outside world (including government services) and greater access to markets for the local cash crop, coffee beans. The roads also encouraged missionary groups to settle in the more easily accessible communities, bringing with them not only the word of God, but also many desired amenities of the modern world. In fact, Irakia was encircled by what they viewed as thriving missionized communities. To the west, an American evangelical mission had set up s hop along the Okapa--Purosa road in the South Fore community of Ivingoi complete with a huge church, school, trade store, local health center, and coffee groves. To the north, the long-time mission at Yagusa now had a government high school with an international staff, as well as a church, elementary school, store, and aid post. Across the Lamari River to the south, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) had maintained a nearly continuous presence since 1960 in the Awa village of Mobuta, which now boosted a community school, a church, a medical aid post, and a cattle-raising project (although still no road access). …

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