Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Have You Seen the Little Piggies?

Pigs naturally like to live in forests,
especially where there are oak trees that make acorns,
because pigs like to eat acorns.
Kidipedia http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/economy/pigs.htm

Left: Hunting pigs, The General History of the Vast Continent and Islands of America, 1725-26, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, E141.H59.1725 rare.

Just yesterday I was driving with the radio on and heard yet another “feral pig” story, this time about farmers building fences to keep “pigs gone wild” out of agricultural fields. It seems that the prime suspect in the “Ecoli in the Spinach Crop Outbreak” a few months ago is the feral pig. It must be true; I heard it on NPR.
The other recent story I’d just heard was about feral pigs destroying the Koa forests on Maui on the National Geographic channel. Again fences had been built to keep the pigs out of the forest; the pig-side of the fence more resembled the moon rather than Hawaii.
And I then remembered kind of joking recently about short-legged cows in a post called “The Occasional Chestnut Rail” and realized I was forgetting about pigs. I’d had some ideas about pigs before, intruding into the Native American Landscape, and so this morning I was drinking my coffee and humming the tune of “Piggies” by George Harrison.
So, as is often my first step, I checked the index of “Changes in the Land” by William Cronon and under “livestock” found several pig references. Hogs were let loose in the Mast Forest to forage for themselves; they had a great ability to defend themselves against bears and wolves, reproduce rapidly, and live almost as wild animals until fall when they were hunted and slaughtered. Cronan calls Swine the “weed creatures of New England, breeding so quickly that a sow might farrow twice a year, with each litter containing four to twelve piglets…Colonists were glad to have swine reproducing and fattening in forested areas distant from English settlements – where only Indians would have to deal with their depredations.” Cronon recalls that by 1634 William Wood defined the wealth of the Massachusetts Bay Colony “referring to its livestock” “where (Wood writes) for four thousand souls there are fifteen hundred head of cattle, besides four thousand goats and swine innumerable,” which seems to mean a lot of pigs.
In the late 1630’s, Roger Williams wrote that “Of all the English Cattell, the Swine are most hateful to all Natives, and they call them filthy cut throats.” Williams describes the pigs watching and waiting for low tide (“as the Indian women do”) and digging up and rooting in oyster and clam beds. Both Indian and English corn fields were targets for the pigs. By 1653 the town of New Haven CT made a promise to spend sixty days helping Indians fence their fields. Other towns soon followed suite.
So am I suggesting that Indians only learned to build fences, either of wood or of stone, only after the English taught them to?
Not really. I keep in mind that epidemics decimated the Indian population. Estimates range up to 90% of the population died, and wave after wave of disease continued to do so. By 1653, around New Haven, who was left alive, what land had been taken?
Maybe the land near me, to which the first English arrived in 1659, lands claimed by right of conquest after the Pequots were massacred at the mouth of the Great River, was managed by firebreaks of stone. But maybe those rails were added to keep out pig colonists, running wild, way ahead of the human colonists. Maybe those sacred mounds were protected from swine by those stone rows…

Some pig stuff from the net:

“The pig is one of the first domesticated animals: its remains in some archeological excavations have been found to date earlier than the bones of cattle…Pork was a popular food in early dynasties of Egypt. The ancient Greeks ate pigs. The Romans were masters of smoking and salting pork. From the time of medieval Europe through colonial North America, pigs were allowed to forage for acorns, nuts, and other foods in the forest in a semi-wild state. In the fall, they would be rounded up, slaughtered, butchered, and preserved by smoking, salting, and curing. In the United States, the pig was the most popular source of meat through the nineteenth century. The westward migration of American settlers into what would become the Corn Belt in America's midwestern states was the perfect marriage of an Old World livestock with the grain of Native Americans. The diet of swine shifted ever more from woodland forage and scraps to corn.
Prolific and Efficient Meat Producers
The Spanish, too, brought hogs with them to the New World. The explorer, Hernando de Soto landed in what is now Tampa Bay, Florida, in 1539 with thirteen hogs. Three years later, the swine herd had grown to seven hundred.
This ability to multiply rapidly is a quality that endears the pig to some of the poorest farmers on earth as well as the most modern swine production complexes. A sow produces almost three litters of pigs a year, although 2.25 litters per year is more realistic on smaller, traditional farms. From each litter eight or more pigs usually survive. Sows on large commercial farms can produce nearly twenty-six pigs per year…
Not only are pigs prolific, they grow fast on modest amounts of feed. A pig easily gains a pound for every three to five pounds of feed it eats, reaching more than two hundred pounds in six months…”
A female pig can become pregnant at around 8-18 months of age. She will then go into heat every 21 days. Male pigs become sexually active at 8-10 months of age [1]. A litter of piglets typically contains between 6 and 12 piglets.

Feral pigs like other introduced mammals are major drivers of extinction and ecosystem change. They have been introduced into many parts of the world, and will damage crops and home gardens as well as potentially spreading disease. They uproot large areas of land, eliminating native vegetation and spreading weeds. This results in habitat alteration, a change in plant succession and composition and a decrease in native fauna dependent on the original habitat.”

Wild Gardens: How Native Americans Shaped Local Landscapes
(an article on California Indian land management practices)
“Local tribal peoples had an intimate connection to the land, living with it rather than on it. They consciously and conscientiously reshaped it through the use of such horticultural techniques as burning, pruning, and digging, enhancing many species while suppressing others. These methods resulted in a world well suited to plants and animals upon which people relied for food and objects that blended utility and beauty. The uplands of Ohlone Regional Wilderness have the most extensive and the east side of Briones Regional Park the most diverse oak woodlands in the Park District. Recent studies have shown that most of the state's oak stands date to a mere 50 to 150 years ago, with few seedlings ever reaching maturity. Reasons for this decline include some combination of fire suppression, poorly managed cattle grazing, land clearing, moisture depletion by nonnative annual grasses, and predation by insects, rodents, deer, and pigs.”


Pigs: The Perfect Colonists (Old World)

The Boar or pig, A New Complete, and Universal Body, or system of Natural History, 1785, From The Library at The Mariners’ Museum, QH15.M6 oversize rare.

"Pigs were first brought to Espanola and the Antilles in 1493, when Christopher Columbus made his second voyage. They were the perfect colonists. Why? They weren’t picky and did not need to be fed a special diet. They could eat vegetables of any kind including cassava, as well as shellfish, and even small animals. With a healthy diet, and no natural predators, pigs reproduced quickly in the dense forests. And while pigs quickly adapted to their new environment, the environment did not quickly adapt to pigs; they had a dramatic impact on the native ecosystems, rooting in the forests, killing vegetation, and causing erosion.
Pigs adapted well to North America in the English and French colonies, but it was the Antilles that were hit the hardest with wild pig populations.
If you look at a map of the North American East Coast, a number of places are named “Hog Island.” Ever wonder why? The Spanish dropped pairs of pigs on uninhabitable islands as a future food source. Pigs were also a staple food not only for English farmers, but for the Native people who discovered the pigs roaming wild in the woods. Since most Native American cultures felt that animals did not have human owners, they did not hesitate to take advantage of this new food source. This became a sore spot between the colonists, who felt they owned the pigs, and their Indian neighbors. In Virginia, the Powhatans’ killing of pigs and cattle became a rallying point for Bacon’s Rebellion. Which seems so appropriate, since bacon comes from pigs…"


And this is my family's coat of arms.

Suibne (Shivna) has been anglicised into MacSweeney and even McSwiney.

Apparently my Irish ancestor's hunted not only wild pigs but an occasional dragon...

1 comment:

  1. There were 47 people living at the Qinnipiac reservation in New Haven at the time of the fence law...