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VANUATU NATIVE PIG HISTORY AND DESCRIPTION

Vanuatu, a relatively young landform, appeared 22 million years ago when a series of massive deep ocean earth movements forced a chain of submarine volcanos to the surface(8). In addition to being a remote island group, Vanuatu has not had the time to evolve and develop the rich array of mammalian species as some of its closest mainland neighbors. Only six species of mammals are indigenous to these islands; all are bats, representatives of the suborders Megachiroptera (Flying foxes) and Micorchiroptera (insectivorous bats).

Most historians agree that the peoples of the Western Pacific originated in southeast Asia about 40,000 years ago, and through a series of migrations across Indonesia and the New Guinea chain, these people colonized many islands, including the Solomons and Vanuatu beginning about 3,000 B.C.(8). The earliest evidence of human occupation and settlement discovered in Vanuatu comes from a site on Malo Island in the northern part of the country. Archaeologists(9) claim that in about 1400 B.C., the most adventurous of these proto-melanesians (people of the Lapita culture) travelled by canoe,and brought with them yams, taro, and the predecessor of the native pig, Sus papuensis. This corresponds somewhat indirectly with some of the people of Malo's interpretation of the origins of the first life forms on that island. Through oral traditions, many locals still believe that the first humans to settle Vanuatu were also from Malo, but that they arose from a hole in Malo Pass. From this hole, along with the first man, also came the first Naravé (The national language of Bislama"s term for the intersex pig). Many people of Malo believe that their island was the first site of human and animal habitation. Contrary to popular European misconceptions, the first pig in the Islands did not arrive with Captain Cook in 1774, but with successive migrations of peoples from Northern Melanesia in much earlier times(1). Marshall(10) stated that "No anthropologist would admit for one minute that such a elaborate and complex pig culture could be established in less than several centuries and it would be a biological impossibility anyway for it took centuries, co-related with native culture, to produce this incredible ratio of bisexual animals."

Sus sp.(Incorrectly termed Sus papuensis,these pigs are S. scrofa vittatus X S. celebensis hybrids)(11)(30), the ingigenous pig which is still thriving today, seems to have to adapted extremely well to the climatic and geographic conditions of Vanuatu. These pigs can be found on almost every island in Vanuatu in both the domesticated and wild states. The most predominant characteristics of these pigs are those of hardiness, compact size and a long tapering snout. Much smaller than its European counterpart Sus scrofa, the adult boar will generally weigh no more than 100 kilograms. Hope (12) wrote in 1872 that "We found no difficulty in getting as many pigs as we liked for an adze apiece, but they were by no means in fine condition, and if it is true that these pigs are descendants of those left by Captain Cook in the last century, then they must have been wonderfully altered ... they are shaped like a West Indian peccary, black and hairy, long in the leg and hollow in every part they should be full, the only point in which they excel is biting". The colors of the native pig range from off-white to black. All colors and color patterns (i.e. spotted belted, and differential point coloration) (Hetzer(31)) are represented in these pigs, with the predominant color being an agouti/grizzled, ranging from light brown to black with lighter distal tips on the bristles. By proportion there seems to be a lower proportion of white and lighter colored animals apparently because they suffer severely from sunburn and do not thrive in these conditions and, thus have been naturally selected against(11). Sus spp. has a leaner body build as compared to the commercial high production varieties who have proven to be uneconomical in this humid tropical environment. According to Weightman(12), Paddon probably introduced the first European breed of pig when, in 1845, he brought many kinds of livestock, including pigs, from Australia to Aneityum, an island in Northern Vanuatu. There have been, as one might expect, many subsequent crossings of the European with the native pig. According to local oral tradition as related by Cheif Joseph of Molo, along with the smaller body size, comes a lighter body frame and skeletal system as exemplified in the skull thickness. I have been told on many occasions that "during the `Nimangki" (a ceremony celebrating a Ni-Vanuatu mans social climb), it should only take one powerful blow of the carved hardwood club to shatter the skull, thus killing the pig, whereas very often it takes several strikes to kill a European pig or one with European blood". Many of the wild pigs are found in the dense bush and are joined there by wild cattle, dogs, and cats who have escaped disadvantaged domestic situations. These wild pigs are extremely nervous and wary of human encroachment. Sows with very small piglets and rutting boars in the presence of females in estrus, have been responsible for aggressive attacks on humans and animals. One thing to be noted though, is the excellent physical condition of these wild pigs as compared to their domesticated cousins. In the wild state they are able to realize the potential of their breed and thrive. Domesticated pigs of both European and wild blood, who are generally penned or tethered, are frequently ravaged by unchecked infestations of kidney worms (Stephanarus coleri)(12). The sow is a good mother, giving birth to and successfully raising a limited number of piglets per litter (averaging 4 to 5 offspring) every 12 to 18 months in uncontrolled breeding situations(13). The young, being extremely precocious, can survive on their own after one week of age. All Piglets, however, do not have juvenile striped markings as stated by Weightman(12) but are born with the color and pattern they will possess at maturity. Of the 109 piglets observed in this study none was striped. One elderly pig pig owner recalled observing striped young in his youth. Young sows have been bred as early as 6 months of age but generally a female is beyond one year of age when she first farrows. Piglets may be born in any month of the year and the gestation period seems to fall within the range of many other species of pigs (112 to 120 days). The average litter size of today"s high production domestic swine is eleven piglets with the sows farrowing at least two times a year(14). The small size of Vanuatu"s pigs and their reduced litter size have been mistaken for inbreeding in the past, it is more appropriate to say that it is most likely an adaptation to maximize the nutritional, climatic, and geographical conditions available to residents of this tropical Archipelago. As in many areas of Melanesia,Pigs were originally, (but much less today because of the breakdown of "traditional ways") maintained in Vanuatu not as an item of daily consumption, but more importantly for the occasions of feasts, food exchanges, and trade. Pigs were used as payment for women in marriage and ritually sacrificed and feasted upon at "Nimangkis". In the northern part of Vanuatu, status within a village was earned by males through a series of grade-takings or "Nimangkis". The social system is dominated by accumulation and periodic sacrificing of pigs (preferably curved-tusked pigs). This tusked condition is produced by knocking out the top opposing canine teeth of a male or intersex pig at about 2 years of age. The opposing lower canine teeth grow unimpeded by wear, creating a complete circle by 7-8 years and after 12-14 years of intensive care and attention a double circle is obtained(4,12,14). Only such tusked pigs were of any importance to the men of early Vanuatu, whose main preoccupation was that of attaining chiefly status through "Nimangki". Even more important than a tusked boar was the tusked intersex pig or Naravé. Thus the intersex pig became the most important commodity in the social framework of men's lives in Vanuatu and remains so many remote areas today.