Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Guy considers wife-swapping
Would you trade your sow for a wife?
The question came up this week during a farm visit from a group of Papua New Guinean farmers and researchers.
They’re in Tasmania for a pyrethrum conference, and they’ve also been touring Tasmanian farms to get ideas to improve their agricultural practices. And they wanted to see a pig farm.
Pigs are worth a lot of money in PNG; a large mature breeding will cost you about $A2,000. They’re also considered legal tender, and you can trade pretty much anything if you’ve got the right number of pigs.
Apparently several large pigs and a few thousand dollars cash will buy you a wife, and the bigger the pig the better. The sow and money goes to the wife’s family with the largest pig for your bride’s father. The better the girl, the more pigs she’s worth, too.
However, don’t give away all your pigs for wives, as you can also use them to buy land. One mature pig would allow me to get about five acres and start a farm with a new wife. And if you have an enemy, a pig as a token of peace calls off the war.
If you have a herd of pigs you can buy multiple wives. But some families don’t accept pigs, and insist on cattle instead.
I began to do the sums and worked out that with our couple of hundred pigs, 50 cattle and 60 sheep that not only would I have something that could match most PNG families’ demands, but I could potentially buy a new farm and have about 20 wives.
But my excitement and plans to ship our menagerie to PNG were short- lived, when I was told you have to ask permission from your first wife before you can gain another, and so on.
If you do decide to go ahead and get a second wife without permission, it’s common for your house to be burnt down and then you have to trade more pigs to get another house.
A look from Eliza indicated that a burnt down house would be the least of my worries.
The visiting farmers asked lots of questions about our free range pig system, with the hope of taking some different ideas home.
In PNG pigs are often kept on a lead or chain that’s moved around the farm so they can work the ground. Others are kept free range where they scrounge for sweet potatoes and edible plants.
Pig farming has come a long way in the past 20 years: pigs now have their own shelters - previously it was traditional for pigs to share a house with the farmer’s family, with the pigs getting one half and the family the other.
One of our close friends Graeme Stevenson spent time working in PNG several decades ago, and recalls using a long drop toilet and hearing the sound of pigs cleaning up the mess.
There have been close ties between Tasmanian and PNG ag scientists for decades. At the moment they’re working together to grow western vegetables to market to the expat community in PNG. It’s an interesting dilemma facing many developing countries as they are influenced by the appeal of western agriculture practices, plant varieties and livestock breeds.
The most common meat eaten by our visitors is not backyard chicken or pork, but lamb that’s been imported from Australia and New Zealand.
Western agriculture offers greater levels of productivity for farmers and could lead to improvements in nutrition, but at the same time it has the potential to displace traditional practices and culture. It can also lead to the extinction of local species and breeds.
Interestingly, the loss of cultural knowledge in PNG and the switch to western food has prompted another Tasmanian agricultural scientist, Bruce French, to develop an international database of edible plants.
Bruce and his team of volunteers are hoping that by identifying native edible plants and documenting their nutritional values, that they can assist indigenous people to overcome diet-related health issues and encourage them to continue using indigenous plants. It’s a fantastic cause and they have already successfully documented 18,000 plants.
When the farmers saw the size of our pigs their eyes lit up, “They are so much bigger and productive than our native pigs. We would love some of these pigs in PNG”.
I guess it would be hard not to be excited when large pigs like ours could give you access to virtually any woman.
While I’m sure the Wessex Saddleback would adapt to a diet of sweet potatoes and pasture, its size and productivity could quickly lead to the displacement of the indigenous local breeds.
That thought was a subtle reminder that it’s probably best to keep our pigs in Tasmania.