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Glabrousness(Hairlessness) in Pigs of Vanuatu, 2000


    Vanuatu, (formerly the New Hebrides), is a Y-shaped archipelago of eighty islands located in the southwest Pacific between latitude 12 deg. and 20 deg. and longitude 166 deg. and 171 deg. It’s distance from north to south covers 1000 km. All of the islands, to some extent, have been affected by volcanic activity which has fashioned Vanuatu’s islands in the geological past, and helped to re-shape some in the recent present.
Vanuatu’s vegetation is generally described as tropical rainforest. On many islands, the forest extends from the high mountain interior to the coastlines and it’s density makes much of it’s interior virtually impenetrable.
    Tanna, one of
Vanuatu’s more remarkable and diverse islands, lies at the southern end of the island chain. It is 40 km long by 27 km wide. It’s 565 sq km is a compact mix of savannah, thick brush and rugged mountains. In the center is a fertile area known as the Middle Bush by islanders. In 1774, Captain James Cook landed in a small bay at the southern end of the island, drawn to this area by the night time glow of Tanna’s active volcano, Mt. Yasur. Tanna is rich in natural history and resources. Traditional life is still evident with 85% of it’s population living in small villages and surviving on subsistence gardening. Tanna boasts Cargo cult followers, age old festivals and ceremonies, free roaming wild horses, spouting blowholes, hot springs, and the world’s most accessible active volcano, Yasur.

Pigs in the Pacific

    Pigs have been woven into the fabric of Pacific island lifestyles for thousands of years. Pigs were first brought with the first men to inhabit these area, aboard their huge ocean going canoes. Captain Cook, along with subsequent explorers, added to and hybridized the original pig populations with their European breeds.Pigs were not only used for food, but more often as money  and a symbol of one’s wealth. The more pigs a man owned, the wealthier he was. Pigs were bred, bought, sold, and traded. Pigs were even exchanged for brides at weddings in payment of the bride price. Pigs were generally only eaten during special ceremonies and rarely ever as a commonplace daily occurance. In some of the central and northern islands of
Vanuatu, any man can become chief, through a system of  grade-taking or “Nimangki”. Possessing large amounts of pigs was important. Castrated male pigs, with circular tusks, were more valuable and the hermaphrodite pigs( which I have studied in-depth since 1993, more correctly termed Intersexual pigs), were worth their weight in gold. On some of the more southern islands, Tanna in particular, chiefdom is hereditary, but pigs are no less importation Tanna, the hairless pigs(Or Kapia, Kepwia, Kepwiah, Pukah Kipwia, pig as it referred to by the Tannese men)are the most prestigious animal of them all. Perhaps, because of it’s rarity, does the Kapia pig get it’s value.

Lore and Legend

    Kapia pigs, have been in the past, and continue to be today, are a very rare occurrence on Tanna.. The only other island these pigs are said to have occurred is on Futuna( Tanna’s island neighbor to the east) as a result of inter-island trading. Each island of the
Vanuatu archipelago is culturally diverse from the next. It is a fact, that as important as these hairless pigs are to the chiefs of Tanna, they are all but unheard of on the northern islands. In the same respect, When I spoke of the Intersexual pigs, revered culturally in the north, the people of Tanna had never heard of such animal.
    As told to me by High Chief Tom Numake, of White Grass, Tanna, Kapia pigs are the pigs of the chiefs only, but today are sometimes ritually killed during circumcision ceremonies, weddings, and bride price offerings, which he remarks is culturally incorrect. According to Custom law, there are only two instances when the Kapia may be exchanged and eaten.( and this is only between chiefs)These are at certain times of the year in exchange for a sea turtle and as a gratitude payback from Toka dancers one month after the Nekowair ceremony.
    There are five classes of people on Tanna. The highest class are the Rulers(Lords), or the Yeremuru(Iermanu).. The next two classes are the high chiefs and the chiefs( Spokesman of the canoe). These men are referred to as Yenni(Iani neteta). Each locale has at least one of these titles-and some more.  The next class of man is the Tapunis man and the last is the common man. The Tapunis men are very important because they are the “ providers” for all of the people’s needs. These men claim rights to various types of magic. There are Tapunis men for fish, bananas, fruits, vegetables, chickens, and a Tapunis Kapia pig man. With a sacred herb , worked together, and rubbed on a special stone, the Tapunis Kapia man is said to be able to create more Kapia pigs when their numbers get low.
    During certain times of the year word comes down to the coast, via the custom network that the people in the highlands want some sea turtles. There are special Tapunis turtle men on the coast who have the power( with the use of special herbs and stones) to attract sea turtles to the coast. The Tapunis turtle men must not sleep with women or eat certain foods during the time( 2 or 3 months) they are attracting the turtles into a cove. When the turtles approach the shoreline, sharks are requested, by the use of  more herbs and special stones, to swim back and forth, blocking the sea turtles exit back out into the sadhe specific number of sea turtles are selected. At this point the sharks discontinue their blockade and allow the remaining turtles to swim back out to sea. These sea turtles are now exchanged with the highland people for kava, taro, and a Kapia pig. Upon the swap, the Kapia pigs snout and forehead is stained( with the reddish-orange pulp, around the nut of a local plant) in a pattern representing that of the offering highland chief. The Kapia pigs are then cooked and shared with the people of the coastal village. Chief Tom mentioned that Kapia pigs are only eaten during the months of March through August.( These months correspond with those months the sea turtles can be captured.)
     The only other time a Kapia Pig can be exchanged is one month after a Nekowiar Festival. This festival occurs about every two years or so on Tanna and brings remote villages together( clan alliances,exchanges of gifts in the form of song, dance ,food,etc.)The villages celebrate enduring exchange relations between places and lineages. This four day ceremony culminates  in a massive, all male Toka dance that can last all night. On the afternoon of the next day, a large number of  pigs are killed by the host villages and presented to the guest dancers. One month later, the Toka dancers repay this generous gift with an equal number of pigs of their own- plus 10 or 20 more. One of these pigs will be a decorated Kapia pig.


    During July, 2000, The Southwest Pacific Research Foundation, with the generous funding of EIEICO, Inc., was subcontracted to travel to Vanuatu in the South Pacific, to investigate the incidence of glabrous pigs(hairless condition).Along with a student research assistant,( My son, Tucker McIntyre) we set out on a two-fold approach to investigate these mammalian anomalies from a scientific standpoint and at the same time  document  their cultural significance to the people of Tanna.
    I enlisted the assistance of High Chief, Tom Numake to help us identify and locate the rarely occurring Kapia pigs. Chief Tom, besides being current president of the Tanna Council of chiefs, and one of  the authors of the original written version of Tanna’s Custom Law, ardently fights to preserve the customs and traditions of his father and grandfather. He is also respected and influential on the
island of  Tanna and has, or can get, access to the peoples of even the remotest bush villages. Tom, being my only contact on Tanna, was probably the best one I could have had. By the time I touched down at the airport on Tanna, Chief Tom had found ten villages which were thought to contain Kapia pigs. These villages were located in all corners of Tanna
as well as the central Middle Bush. Many villages required a one hour bushwalk and climb, only after a one and a half hour ride in a truck on “roads” that were more representative of a bad path.
    In all, ten Kapia pigs were located, investigated, and documented. Each pig was photographed and videoed. Approximate age and weights, as well as descriptions were noted. Each pig was manually restrained while blood, tissue, and hair samples were collected from the top side ear. The tissue and hair samples were collected in a 70% ethyl alcohol solution. each animal was ear tagged in the hole left by the tissue sample. Each pig owner was in turn offered a gift of five kilos of rice and two cans of  tin fish for allowing us the examine their prized possessions.

Description of the Kapia and Pispis Pigs

    Tanna’s  hairless pig, at first sighting, is indeed a strange sight. Ten of the ten pigs we investigated were predominately black in color, which resulted from the black pigment in their skin, as there was no hair to influence the color or pattern. Their skin was very dry and scaley in appearance. It was also noted that many of the villagers had the same condition with their skin which perhaps points to a diet related condition, since pig and human diet is roughly the same. Heavy Kava drinking( a traditonal drink made from the roots of  the Piper methistycum plant) has also been known to dry out the skin.There was relatively no hair to speak of on the entire torso of these animals. Each pigs was graded on a scale of 1 to 10.( 1 being completely hairless and 10 being normally haired) Nine of the Ten pigs fell between one and three, with one pig graded a four because of additional hair around the jowls and ears. What little hair that was evident was usually sparsely distributed down the center of the back.
    There was no set skull or body shape characteristic of the Kapia pig. Pigs with log, narrow snouts and taller, leaner torsos were observed as well as the more “ European” skull and body types( ie: shorter snout length and stockier body type) One hairless pig was observed to be “dwarfish” in appearance(see next section on Pispis pigs) as compared to the others.
    I did not observe any extra care and maintenance given to these pigs.( Much different from the intensive care given to the raising of the Intersexual pigs on the Northern islands) More often than not, these Kapia pigs ran free in the bush with all of the other village pigs and wild pigs. When we asked to study these pigs, they had to be hunted and captured using the adept skills of the village pig hunting “catch” dogs.
    There are also people on Tanna that are referred to as “Kapia men” Living on Tanna today are adult men with hair on their heads, but the remainder of their body is virtually devoid of hair. This includes facial, arms, legs, chests, and genital area.
    Pispis pigs(The local name given to this particular type of pig) were also observed and documented during this study. Describing this pig is a little less definitive than that of the Kapia pig. Pispis pigs, even when mature, are somewhat “dwarfish” in appearance. Characteristics that we found in common with the five examples observed were and abbreviated shortened snout and the appearance of shorter than normal legs. A stocky body shape was also characteristic of the Pispis pig. Although no obvious cultural or traditional importance is placed on these pigs, they are, nonetheless, still kept and identified as such.

Pig Breeding and Farrow Size

    The average farrow size of Tanna’s pigs seems to fall between four to six piglets per birthing. If there is a Kapia pig represented in the breeding pair,(ie: either the sow or the boar) the chances of the pair producing another Kapia pig(maybe one Kapia piglet every three or four farrows)  are better than if neither parent is phenotypically Kapia.. Kapia pigs have occasionally produced by “non-Kapia” looking parents. We learned that the percentages of Kapia offspring are even greater if both in the breeding pair are Kapia type pigs. The Kapia pigs of Tanna, in comparison to “normal” pigs, are said to be slower in their growth.(Although they can grow to eighty to ninety kilograms)The Kapia pigs are said to be somewhat “slack” in their behavior, referring to their less aggressive behaviors and their willingness to stay in and around the villages while their normal counterparts readily take to the bush.


    It is, with hopes, that this preliminary investigation shed some light on this condition of hairlessness on a small group of the pig population of the
island of Tanna, and nowhere else in the world. Perhaps the genes or enzyme deficiencies responsible for this condition can be isolated and this information applied to other studies in this area. Of equal importance is the anthropological  information being documented and thus preserved for a people whose custom ways are rapidly disintegrating. It is with hopes by studying these unique animals, and recording these findings, that future generations might know the importance the Kapia pig played in the lives of their forefathers.


    First, and most importantly, I would like to thank Chief  Tom Numake for his invaluble contributions to the ultimate success of this project. Besides arranging the excellent accommodations and meals for our study team, Chief Tom worked diligently, prior to our arrival, locating Kapia and Pispis pigs for investigation. Many thanks to the competent and friendly staff at Tanna Evergreen Bungalows for making our stay on Tanna comfortable and worry free. Thank you Miriam, Peter, Sam, and Samuel. To our Guide, Louie, Thanks for your competent assistance. To our drivers, Sam, and George, thanks for getting us to places no vehicles were ever meant to go. And to those pig owners who shared prized possessions and stories with us, Thank you Chief Samsom Kaso, Chief Jack Naiva, Charlie Noklam, Semil, Yabilai Johnson, Capera, Kubulu Moses, Mrs. Kakau, Munbasena, Yoda Root, Reuben Kamedi, Peter Sia, Noka, and George.
     Gratitude to EIEICO, Inc. of 
Pennsylvania, USA, and Templar Sciences for generously funding this study.
     Special thanks to Anthropologists, Kirk Huffman and Dr, Lamont Lindstrum, for their expertise, and critique of this paper.
     And To my son, Tucker Samuel McIntyre, for being a more than competent assistant and a great travel partner.


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