Life Without Pigs: Recent Subsistence Changes Among the Irakia Awa, Papua New Guinea.
Subject: Food habits (Social aspects)
Subsistence economy (Management)
Indigenous peoples (Papua New Guinea)
Author: Boyd, David J.
Pub Date: 09/01/2001
Publication: Name: Human Ecology Publisher: Cornell University, Human Ecology Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Science and technology; Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2001 Cornell University, Human Ecology ISSN: 1530-7069
Issue: Date: Sept, 2001 Source Volume: 29 Source Issue: 3
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Papua New Guinea Geographic Name: Papua New Guinea Geographic Code: 8PAPU Papua New Guinea
Accession Number: 78358630
Full Text: 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). A mission group also had settled recently among the Tainoraba Awa. To the southeast, just beyond the bounds of Awa territory, the village of Owenia had two resident mission groups, an airstrip, a store, and what seemed a flourishing coffee industry (see Fig. 1).

During my visit to Irakia in mid-1991, people were well aware of the changes taking place around them, but were undecided about what steps they should take to become more involved. Attracting a mission, which seemed the common denominator in more successful communities, appealed to many younger Irakians and they were just completing construction of a small village church. Some village elders, however, remained leery of adopting this new religion. They noted that they had rebuffed numerous overtures from mission representatives over the years and still did not understand how paying homage to a foreign religion would help their cause. But the notion that a successful move into the realm of local improvement depended on the assistance of outsiders, preferably Europeans, was still very much ingrained in their local vision. There was a dawning sense, however, that this was not a likely possibility and residents felt that the prospects for local improvement indeed were bleak. Although one accused sorcerer had died and another had been expelled from the village, 52% (143/274) of village members were still living away from home.

When I returned to Irakia in mid-1993, people were much more upbeat. They had a functioning evangelical church and had hopes of attracting a resident pastor. For the time being, local young men who had been converted to Christianity while working at coastal plantations and had returned home with Bibles and guitars presided over the weekly services. In addition to the church activities, a new men's house had been built and people were preparing for a male initiation ceremony. This appeared to be a significant change of direction for the community as men's houses had been abandoned some 15 years earlier and no male initiations had been held since the mid-1980s. [2] People had also planted large gardens in anticipation of the coming event, money was being pooled to finance the purchase of rice, tinned fish, beer, and other store goods, and materials were being collected from the forest to build sleeping quarters and bonfires for the anticipated guests. [3] Village emissaries also had been sent to various employ ment sites to encourage migrants to return home, and most migrants--still 52% (152/293) of village members--indicated their desire to do so (see Boyd, 2000). It was a time of local confidence and unquenchable optimism in Irakia.

When I returned again to Irakia in mid-1996, local enthusiasm had not waned. Everyone was anxious to explain to me what community members had accomplished in my absence. They had put in place a plan of local improvement that included, among other things, encouraging people to adopt Christianity, build larger, more commodious houses, plant more coffee trees as a cash crop, and organize competitive sports teams. Also, consumption of alcohol and gambling with playing cards, both thought to stimulate disruptive behavior, had been prohibited. In terms of subsistence activities, people were to learn to live without pigs and to reduce their reliance on true taro (Colocasia) and yam (Dioscorea), both of which are labor-intensive food crops, in favor of the less labor-intensive sweet potato (Ipomoea), manioc (Manihot), and New World taro (Xanthosoma).

The thrust of the plan, according to proponents, was to make the village a more attractive place in which to live. Shared Christian virtues, as well as the ban on alcoholic beverages and gambling, would reduce social conflict. Improved housing, more locally-generated income from coffee, and organized competitive sports teams would make life more comfortable and enjoyable for everyone. Also, the alterations in gardening strategies that were underway would reduce the time that people had to devote to food production. It was hoped that such changes would encourage people to remain permanently in the village and entice migrants living away from the village to return home to stay. In fact, this already was beginning to happen. In 1996, only 22% (67/299) of village members still were living away from Irakia. If, as expected, village life became more agreeable and resident villagers became more numerous and self-sufficient, other improvement projects could be initiated.

The above aspects of change are, of course, complexly interrelated. But the one change that has had the most immediate and far-reaching effect on Irakia Awa subsistence practices is the abandonment of pig husbandry.


As is well known, the domestic pig (Sus scrofa papuensis) has long been an important feature of human adaptations throughout Melanesia and especially in the New Guinea Highlands. While the actual location and exact date of initial pig husbandry in the region are not known, Golson and Hughes (1980; see also Golson, 1991) suggest that archaeological evidence from the Manton site at Kuk in the Western Highlands may indicate its presence, along with probable taro cultivation, as early as 9,000 B.P. This early date, of course, rivals estimates of pig domestication in the Fertile Crescent and China, and is admittedly controversial. But it is generally agreed that evidence from Highlands sites does support a date of 6,000 B.P. (White, 1972; Golson and Gardner, 1990). What is known and uncontroversial is that domestic pigs have played a pivotal role in the evolution of Highlands societies (see Feil, 1987) and remain an important element in most contemporary village economies in the region.

Given the importance of pigs in human subsistence systems in this anthropologically interesting part of the world, it is not surprising that they also have been an important focus of several theoretical challenges and reformulations in anthropology.

Early observers of societies in the New Guinea Highlands were quite impressed and a bit mystified by the amount of effort devoted to pig husbandry and the curious manner in which the animals were used. Pigs obviously and voraciously consumed an array of local food resources, many of which also were on the human menu, and their husbandry clearly required a good deal of human effort. But rather than being slaughtered and consumed on a relatively regular basis as a protein supplement to a largely carbohydrate diet, the animals were slaughtered in large numbers on infrequent ceremonial occasions. People gorged themselves on pork, some got ill and occasionally died from an intestinal infection known as "pig bel," associated with such feasting behavior, [4] and some of the meat was simply wasted (Luzbetak, 1954). Initial consideration of these massive ceremonial pig slaughters viewed them as yet another example of the irrationality of "primitive" economies (Linton, 1955).

Such views were eventually challenged by various neofunctionalist arguments that asserted the human benefit, or utility, of Highlands pig husbandry practices. Pig-raising strategies were reinterpreted not as an inexplicable drain on human effort but as a very rational way of converting vegetable crops to high-quality animal protein in a protein-poor setting. Pigs, it was suggested, might be seen more usefully as "... food resources on the hoof" (Vayda et al., 1961, p. 71). This important corrective stimulated researchers to pay much closer attention to the role of pigs in Highlands adaptations. Certainly the most widely known study to result from this reorientation was R. A. Rappaport's Pigs for the Ancestors (Rappaport, 1968), which explored the complex relationships between the Tsembaga Maring people and their local environment, which seemed to be mediated by pig husbandry and cyclical pig slaughter ceremonies.

In the meantime, the dynamics of complex regional exchange networks, which seemed to consume the attention of members of the largest Highlands societies, also were being studied in some detail. Brookfield and the bugla gende among the Chimbu (Simbu) (Brookfield and Brown, 1963), Meggitt on the te among the Mae Enga (Meggitt, 1965, 1972,1974), Strathern on the moka among the Melpa (Strathern, 1971), to note only the most comprehensive early studies, offered descriptive and analytical feasts of their own yielding a greater understanding of how Highlands societies were interconnected through these pig exchange networks. Second generation scholars (e.g., Feachem, 1973; Feil, 1984; and Waddell, 1972, on Enga groups; Hide, 1981, on Sinasina [Simbu]) pursued and refined these analyses. What we have learned is that pigs in these societies are highly domesticated, managed herds (Brookfield, 1973; Hide, n.d.). What also is apparent is that these ceremonial exchange systems, in which domestic pigs play such a prominent role, bring together politically autonomous groups into what arguably constitute the most encompassing polities in the precolonial Highlands.

In the Eastern Highlands, where pig exchange cycles were either absent or much less elaborated than in the Western Highlands, pigs were nonetheless recognized by early observers as an important focus of human subsistence effort (see, e.g., Read, 1965; Salisbury, 1962; Sorenson, 1972; Watson, 1965, 1983). Based in part on knowledge of these less intensive production systems, pigs became a focus of another classic debate in Melanesian anthropology. In 1965, Watson proposed that the introduction of the New World sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) into the New Guinea Highlands had set off an "Ipomoea Revolution," with this new fodder crop stimulating more intensive production of, among other things, pigs (Watson, 1965). Brookfield and White (1968) disagreed, saying that what had occurred was an "evolution," not a "revolution," in subsistence adaptations. They argued that the changes that Watson enumerated in support of his position had been in the works for several centuries and did not result from the introduction of sweet potatoes. In response, Watson (1977) asserted that the important dynamic was the production intensification resulting from increased competition between local groups, what he termed the "Jones Effect." As one group began to produce more pigs for exchange, other groups were forced into intensifying their own pig production regimes to match the efforts of their neighbors and affines. Thus, a cycle of intensification began to spiral upward leading to the intensive systems of pig production and the ceremonial exchange networks encountered by early ethnographers in the Highlands. What Watson also noted was that the process of intensification was still being played out in such groups as the Awa where the sweet potato had not yet become a dominant food crop and pig husbandry remained a relatively casual enterprise.

These early debates spawned a number of detailed studies of pig herd demography and husbandry and management practices (Boyd, 1984; Dwyer, 1993; Hide, n.d., 1981; Kelly, 1988; Malynicz, 1977). Important comparative dimensions were also suggested. Strathern (1969, 1978) argued that pig management in the Western Highlands relied on "finance" strategies that emphasized the frequent transfer of live pigs between exchange partners leading up to culminating feasts. Societies to the east, on the other hand, focused more on "home production" in which village pigs were raised on local resources and exchanges more commonly involved the transfer of pork. Those working with materials from Lowland and Fringe Highlands societies, where pig husbandry generally is much less intensive, have also added important insights. Baldwin (1978) distinguished "pig breeding" (where domestic boars are kept in the village herd) from "pig rearing" (where all male piglets are castrated and the herd is maintained through the capture of wil d piglets). Recognizing the important, but incomplete, nature of this distinction, Yen (1991), following Kelly (1988) and others, added the category of "semidomesticated" (where all male piglets are castrated and village sows are impregnated by wild boars). In addition, Dwyer (1993) pointed to the different implications of strategies where pigs are "tended" (i.e., provided with substantial fodder regularly although also allowed to forage) versus where pigs essentially are turned loose to "free-forage" (but also given some fodder irregularly).

More generalized comparative analyses also focused on the intensity of pig production. [5] Modjeska (1982; p. 93) offered an extended and influential argument that intergroup differences in the organization of pig production, circulation, and consumption were important to understanding patterns of inequality in Highlands societies. Feil (1987), in an ambitious attempt to organize and reasonably interpret the large corpus of information related to the prehistory and contemporary variation of Highlands societies, saw the ratio of pigs to people as a good indicator of social complexity and production intensity. As many of the earlier comparisons assert or imply, Feil based his analysis on a general decrease in complexity and intensity as one moves from the Western to the Eastern Highlands regions, which he argues also reflects the spatial direction of prehistoric changes. He notes that the Awa are a good representative of the low intensity (eastern) end of a contemporary Highlands continuum with the Enga repres enting the other high intensity western) pole (ibid., p. 48). [6]

The place of pigs in the anthropology of the New Guinea Highlands societies became, in many respects, a paradigmatic example of how attempts to explain an important feature of regional social life reflect changing currents in Western social theory. As theoretical interests changed, so too did the interpretation of pigs in the New Guinea Highlands. From being an economically irrational drain on the human resource base, to being a protein storage mechanism, to being a managed resource with important implications for human well-being, to being a possible key variable in explaining historical process, pigs obviously were an important aspect of Highlands societies. All students of the region recognized that little of social importance transpired without the transfer of pigs. Nearly everywhere, pigs (or in some instances pork) were required to settle disputes, compensate enemies and/or allies for deaths in warfare, cement exchange relationships, finalize marriages, cure the seriously ill, and inter the dead. In fa ct, it has been argued that increasing reliance on pigs in inter-group affairs hailed a "Susian Revolution," rather than an "Ipomoean Revolution," in the New Guinea Highlands (Morren, 1977).


The Irakia Awa are one of eight Awa-speaking communities totaling approximately 1400 people, who live on both sides of the Lamari River in the southeastern corner of the Eastern Highlands Province (geographpical coordinates: 145[degrees]43' E, 6[degrees]38'S). Irakians control a home territory of 21.5 [km.sup.2] (8.3 [mi.sup.2]) [7] that ranges in elevation from 900-2400 m (2950-7875 ft). Approximately 60% of their territory is grassland and the remainder is secondary and primary forest. With a population of 299 in 1996 (gross density = 14/[km.sup.2] or 36/[mi.sup.2], [7]. the Irakia Awa still do not press heavily on their resource base. They continue to depend largely on subsistence production for their daily fare. Their gardens produce the standard array of Melanesian tuber crops (yams, taros, sweet potatoes, manioc), bananas, maize, squash, sugarcane, and a variety of leafy greens and other vegetables, many recently introduced (e.g., scallions, tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, chayote, carrots, etc.). They a lso produce modest amounts of coffee beans as a cash crop. Significant developmental initiatives, however, have eluded them. It still is a 1-day walk to the nearest road, school, medical aid post, or trade store.

Until recently, pigs were an important aspect of the Irakia Awa adaptation. Although pigs were not raised in such large numbers or accorded the attention given to pigs in intensive pig-raising societies further west, they nevertheless were the most valuable product of Irakia household production. In terms of the comparative dimensions given above, the Irakian pig-raising strategy, until the early 1970s, could be fairly characterized as one in which nearly all animals were raised at "home" on local village resources, they obtained most of their sustenance by foraging, and they were "semi-domesticated," spending most of their time away from the village, but returning regularly to receive small amounts of foodstuffs from their caretakers. The uses to which pigs were put were also more limited than in societies further west. A live pig was very rarely included in an exchange transaction and then only to comply with recipients' demands. The usual medium of exchange, however, was pork. Allies, but not enemies, in warfare were compensated with pork for injuries or deaths sustained, male initiations and marriage rituals were celebrated with feasting on pork, curing rituals for particularly intractable illnesses required portions of a freshly slaughtered pig carcass, and mortuary ceremonies for deceased adults usually culminated with a distribution of pork. Also, husbands were required to repay bridewealth contributors with standardized portions of pork, and occasionally to present their wife's relatives with a large pig for slaughter to cement the affinal relationship. Although individual men or groups did not engage in formal competitive exchanges, people who were recognized as especially successful pig raisers were accorded due respect. They were considered not only skilled at raising pigs and, therefore, reliable exchange partners, but also superior in their ability to avoid the impact of nature's various calamities (see also Hayano, 1974, on the Tauna Awa). So, pigs were indeed important to Irakians.

The importance of pigs to Irakians is also illustrated by the fact that, in late 1971, they made a concerted effort to increase the size of the village herd by adopting a pig-raising ritual complex from the neighboring South Fore people (see Boyd, 1985). The impetus for this innovation was the increasing demand by affines and exchange partners for live pigs in exchanges as well as more money in bridewealth payments. This actually precipitated one of the first major crises stemming from the expansion of the nascent cash economy. Groups that lived nearer the growing road system and, therefore, had more access to new economic alternatives were requesting increased quantities of goods, especially pigs and cash, in exchange transactions. The initial reaction of Irakian leaders was to try to meet the new demands by raising more pigs. To further that goal, they borrowed and implemented neighboring South Fore pig husbandry practices involving of several rituals designed to improve the growth and reproductive rates o f pigs and provisioning the animals with greater amounts of fodder. Although these new practices were successful in the short run--expanding the local herd by about 30% in 1972--increasing demand for money in exchange transactions soon superceded the desire for pigs alone. This change also initiated a subtle shift from a forage-based to a fodder-based pig-raising economy. Within a short period of time, Irakians began to provide pig fodder twice each day, occasionally cooked food specifically for their pigs, and regularly enacted various rituals to stimulate their growth and reproduction. By the early 1980s, however, pigs had become secondary to money, although they remained a necessary item of exchange. Recipients usually demanded a pig for their immediate gustatory pleasure, but hard cash was the essential medium of exchange.

The dynamics of the human and pig populations in Irakia are presented in Table I. These data illustrate the significant increase in pig herd size as a result of the adoption of the South Fore ritual in late 1971. The herd size was increased from 148 to 191 animals (29%) in about nine months. What is interesting here is that this intensified pig rearing continued for the next two decades. Despite the fact that the resident population declined by nearly one-half between October 1972 and June 1991, the number of pigs/household and pigs/resident remained relatively stable. In the early 1990s, however, this began to change. The size of the village pig herd was decreasing, an indication of the declining commitment to village pig husbandry. At the same time, the resident human population was rebounding as members began to return to the village from coastal and urban work sites.

These statistical artifacts, of course, leave much of the story unexamined. While changing averages give important hints of changes in group strategy, they tell us little of how people actually altered their lives.


The decision to initiate a program of major change in Irakia took some time to garner support. In 1991, while sitting under a shade tree on a grassy ridge waiting for my companions' wives to return from their gardens, two young men in their 30s told me that the young people wanted to stop raising pigs. When I expressed dismay, they tried to explain that the effort it took to raise pigs was no longer rewarded by corresponding benefits. Pigs required daily attention and people had to make large fenced gardens to feed them. But the animals were always causing trouble among villagers. Furthermore, owners then gave their animals to others to eat. It was as if pigs owned people. They told me that they had discussed the idea of getting rid of pigs with other young people, and they had agreed that it was time to do so. My companions, like most young adults, had lived for long periods of time in towns or at coastal plantations where they did not have the burden of caring for pigs. Upon their return to the village, th ey were convinced that pigs simply were not worth the effort they required and the social disruption they caused. However, when they had approached older people with their radical proposition, they (the elders) would not even discuss it. The elders disparaged the idea and criticized the younger people for being lazy and unwilling to lead proper lives. If you have no pigs, the elders had asked rhetorically, what will you give to the brothers of a woman you wish to marry, how will you show proper respect to your affines, how will you maintain the allegiance of your exchange partners? And, what will women do with their time? The young men in my company admitted that it would be impossible to make such a change with the elders firmly against it, so they would have to wait until the older generation was gone. But sooner or later, they affirmed, pigs would have to go.

Within several years, support for the discontinuation of pig husbandry was bolstered by the return to the village of a number of young people who had converted to Seventh Day Adventism (SDA) while living at coastal plantations. An important prohibition within the SDA church is the consumption of pork. These young adherents simply refused to have anything to do with pigs and supported the movement to eliminate them altogether from the village. All Irakians were well aware of the SDA injunction against raising pigs and consuming pork. After all, an SDA mission had been located in the nearby village of Okasa since 1956 (Alpers, 1965, p. 79) and the fact that members raised goats instead of pigs was a subject of curiosity and mild derision by others. [8] Certainly, for more than three decades, no Irakian had ever seriously suggested following a similar course.

After the deaths of several prominent older leaders, younger families began, in mid-1995, to slaughter their animals giving the community members and to close relatives in other communities. By late 1995, the entire village herd had been butchered, except for one animal--a big sow belonging to a respected man who at that time was the oldest member of the community. He refused to kill his sow, saying that she was the best tempered, most (re)productive pig that he had ever owned. When he died, he said, others could kill the pig for his funeral feast. They would die together. That is exactly what happened. Popo'tara died in early August 1996, as did his beloved sow.

What I soon came to realize was that doing away with pigs was but one aspect of a concerted effort to transform village life by reducing the amounts of time and labor people had to devote to subsistence activities. Without pigs to look after, people could spend more time on cash earning activities and recreational pursuits. People in the neighboring Awa village of Tauna, to the north, also had recently killed all their pigs. [9] Village life simply would be more fun without pigs.

The instituted changes in Irakia, however, did not stop there. Irakians also decided to change consumption patterns by focusing their diet more on manioc and sweet potato, rather than yams and taro. Combining the elimination of pig husbandry and the shift towards manioc and sweet potato as primary garden foods resulted in a substantial disintensification of subsistence effort.


Some ramifications of a village without pigs were apparent immediately. When I arrived in Irakia in early July 1996, I noticed that one did not have to climb a fence to enter the village proper. In fact, what remained of the enclosing fence was totally dilapidated. Also, I did not have to calculate carefully every footfall along the path to avoid soiling my boots. [10] When I asked about the deteriorating village fence, people simply replied that they didn't need it anymore. Given my previous experience during the pre-1975 colonial days, I casually assumed that the end of the colonial era finally had filtered down to these rural residents. They no longer had to fear that colonial patrol officers would arrive without warning and demand stronger village fences and deeper latrines, both of which were now missing. When I inquired further, they said that they no longer needed fences because they had no village pigs to fence out. "No pigs to fence out?" I asked. "Yes," they said, "We killed all of them."

One of the most important effects of the demise of village pigs was the reduction of labor devoted to fencing food (and coffee) gardens. With pigs present, all gardens within the foraging range of pigs had to be strongly fenced to keep pigs out. This required cutting and transporting to garden sites saplings for fence posts, lengths of bamboo from distant groves for fence rails, and rattan vines from the forest for ties. The building of fences was the most demanding task for men in garden preparation and was exceeded only by the labor required of women in tilling the soil in grassland gardens. In a random sample of 264 food garden plots in 1971-72 (see Boyd, 1981), 90% were fenced. The fact that people attempted, in the early 1980s, to excavate a long (and ultimately unsuccessful) pig-proof trench barrier around a commonly cultivated area attests to the fact that fence building was a burdensome job. Now, with pigs eliminated, fencing was no longer necessary. [11]

Doing away with pigs also relieved women of the daily chore of transporting food and feeding the pigs under their care. Although pigs always had been allowed to forage freely for much of their food, caretakers were expected to feed their animals small amounts of substandard garden produce and household food scraps each morning and evening in the village. I asked women how they felt about no longer having domestic pigs. Older women, who had raised pigs for their entire adult lives, noted that pigs did require a lot of work and said that they really did not mind not having pigs to tend anymore. But skillful caretakers had also been highly respected and now that was gone, too. They also expressed concern that the younger generation did not understand the importance of pigs. Pigs brought people together and now what would take their place, they asked rhetorically. Younger women, most of whom had spent formative years at coastal plantations or in urban areas where their families did not raise pigs, said that not o nly did they not know how to take care of pigs, but they did not want to learn. It was something to which their mothers had devoted themselves, but that was in the past.

One Saturday morning while waiting for everyone to bathe and get ready to go to church, a son of one of my closest collaborators in the 1970s (now deceased) put his arm around my shoulder. He said that people knew that I did not understand why they had killed all the pigs. People recognized that I was from an older generation, he explained, and he would tell me why they had done away with the pigs. Pigs, he said, were simply too filthy and disruptive. They fouled the village grounds, trails, and waterholes with their feces and broke into gardens, thereby causing animosity among neighbors. Also, whenever anyone slaughtered a pig for distribution to fulfill some social obligation, someone invariably would feel that he/she had not received the share to which he/she was entitled. This would lead to hard feelings and often to sorcery. It was just like card playing, he saiduif someone was a consistent winner, others would suspect him of using sorcery against his opponents. If such an accusation was made publicly, i t could arouse potentially violent reactions. It was the same thing with pigs. Therefore, doing away with pigs would eliminate these tensions and make the village a more peaceful and safer place. No longer would people quarrel over pigs.

What is apparent here is a stark intergenerational difference in the significance attached to pigs. Older people see pigs as essential to the integration of different clans and communities while the younger generation has decided that pigs are something they can do without.


It is important to emphasize that Irakian subsistence practices had begun to change some years before the wholesale slaughter of the village pig herd in 1995. In the late 1980s, many people already had begun to alter their household garden repertoires and food consumption preferences. But, as I will discuss below, changes following the elimination of pigs were more rapid and more dramatic. First, a brief overview of basic Irakian gardening strategies is necessary. The Irakia Awa food garden repertoire consists of eight different garden types, easily distinguished on the basis of zone of location (forest vs. grassland), soil preparation technique (tilled vs. untilled), presence or absence of irrigation, and principal crop(s) (see Table II). [12] The annual gardening cycle is characterized by two periods of relatively uniform activity by all households and two interim periods during which the gardening activities of different households vary somewhat. During AugustuNovember, all households clear and plant at l east one forest yam-taro (to') garden, and from FebruaryuJuly, all households make at least one grassland yam-taro (ongi) garden. During the NovemberuFebruary interim, each household selects from the six other possible types of gardens those that are compatible with their current household labor supply and anticipated consumption needs for the coming year. In July-August, households round out their selection of gardens by focusing efforts on either a tilled (o'maka) or untilled (topankago) grassland sweet potato plot.

By 1991, people had largely given up making irrigated grassland taro (mehko) gardens. The effort required to till the root-bound grassland soil, build the fences, and transport and construct the bamboo irrigation pipelines was thought not to be worth the effort. Also, the preparation and planting schedule for mehko conflicted with that for the karipeongi peanut gardens that many people were expanding. Besides, people were eating more manioc these days and really did not need the additional Colocasia taro from mehko gardens. "Pitpit" (Saccharum edule and Seta ria palmifolia), a principal crop only in mehko, could be planted more heavily in other gardens (i.e., o'maka, to', and topangkago) to cover its loss in the mehko.

One energetic elderly man, however, did make a mehko in 1991. He said that he had done so because he loved taro and wanted to show the younger generation how to make this type of garden. Every time we passed by this garden on the trail, companions pointed it out to me. They obviously were proud of it, but no one else has made this type of garden since then.

Another important change observed in 1991 was a very apparent increase in the planting and human consumption of manioc. In the 1970s and 1980s, manioc was planted at medium densities only in tilled grassland sweet potato (o'maka) gardens, and most of the tubers were fed to pigs. Although a minor human food source at that time, it was used in preparing a special ceremonial dish, called apoyeh. For this preparation, 12 ft lengths of bamboo were split and flattened, covered with banana leaves and thin parchment from the inner core of banana stalks. Grated manioc mash was spread over the leaves and topped with small pieces of various savory treats, for example, pork ,game animals, grubs, smoked rodents, etc. The flattened lengths of bamboo were then rolled together to enclose the mash mixture and carefully slid into long hollowed-out bamboo tubes for cooking over an open fire. When done, the rolled bamboo lengths were pulled from the cooking tubes and the apoyeh inside was cut into foot-long portions for consump tion. Although it was an infrequent and quite laborious preparation, apoyeh was relished by all.

By 1991, o'maka gardens were densely planted with manioc and it also occasionally was scattered within topankago sweet potato gardens. Also, leaf-wrapped packets of grated manioc were a common meal and late night snack. People explained the increased planting of manioc by noting that it is easy to grow, requires little tending, and does not have to be harvested when it is mature. It can be left in the ground for long periods and therefore is always available when people are hungry. Once people learned how to cook manioc properly for humans, they found it delicious. The currently approved method is basically a simplified version of apoyeh. The grated manioc (or sometimes taro) mash is patted out on the palm of a hand and, if available, topped with salt, meaty morsels, or tinned fish, and then wrapped in banana leaves. The packets are tied, put into three-foot-long bamboo tubes, and cooked over an open fire. The result is a steamed food packet resembling a starchy burrito. I can attest to the fact that ingesti ng one of these items will allay any hunger pangs for about 48 h.

When I returned to Irakia in 1996, after the pig herd had been eliminated, the first physical change I noticed, as mentioned above, was that the surrounding fences of the living areas were no longer maintained. Furthermore, as I surveyed village lands from a nearby ridge, it was apparent that people had planted huge food gardens as near to the village as possible. Some gardens had always been placed next to the village proper, but this location was an area of high pig predation, so these gardens were always at risk. Households reduced this risk by planting several gardens and scattering them widely over land to which they had access, often at considerable distances from the village. If pigs (or sometimes insects) ruined gardens in one area, food supplies would be available in gardens located elsewhere. But without the threat of pig invasions, this precaution no longer was necessary. People felt free to make larger, but fewer, gardens and locate them nearer their residences.

This is not to say that all gardens now are made near the village. People still do make gardens at distant sites, some over an hour away from the village. When visiting a garden at the outer boundary of Irakia territory, I asked the owner why he had chosen to put a garden in that faraway location. He simply said that crops had always grown well at that place and that his now deceased father had made gardens several times in the same location. He liked the place and enjoyed remembering making gardens there with his father. Also, he added, if he did not make a garden there occasionally, others might challenge his right to use the land.

The lack of any threat of pig predation had another noticeable effect on the placement by households of their various garden plots. Increasingly, households are choosing to locate different types of gardens in close, often adjacent, proximity. For example, it now is common for a household to choose a garden site along the grassland-forest boundary and to plant a grassland yam-taro (ongi) garden and a forest yam-taro (to') garden next to each other. During the next phase of these gardens, the ongi will become a peanut (karipe ongi) and/or a tilled grassland sweet potato (o'maka) garden, and the to' will be converted to a forest sweet potato (topankago) garden. And, nowadays people often plant contiguously forest yam-taro (to'), forest sweet potato (topankago), and sugarcane (ta'kigau) gardens in the forest zone. The unequivocal explanation given by Irakians for this new pattern of garden placement is that one does not have to walk from garden to garden when planting and tending new gardens. When the gardens a re mature, a substantial variety of foodstuffs can be harvested in just one location.

These new strategies of placing many gardens near the village and aggregating more distant gardens of different types in the same locations greatly lessen the travel time between house and garden. It is an important reduction of subsistence effort. Discussing the future of this trend with an old friend, he said, "We like this next fashion. Now we can get food for a whole meal in just one place. Maybe the next time you come to visit, we will be making just one huge garden" (Wamanante O'u, 1996, personal communication).


As noted above, fundamental changes in subsistence practices have taken place in conjunction with important changes in other aspects of the Irakian lifestyle. While basic food production has been disintensified and pig husbandry has been eliminated altogether, other activities have been expanded and new ones have been adopted. Here, I will mention the most important of these nonsubsistence changes.

In an effort to make the village more self-sufficient in money (and thereby reduce the pressure on members to migrate for wage employment), many people planted new coffee gardens in 1995-96. Coffee sales during the 1995 marketing period totaled PGK8,238 (US$6,179) [13] for the entire community. [14] Irakians understood that if members were to remain in the village, they would need greater local income. Of the 56 resident households in 1996, 47 (84%) had planted as least one new coffee plot. Based on a selective survey of new coffee gardens in 1996, I estimate that village coffee holdings have been increased by about 50%. Of course, coffee market prices fluctuate rather widely from year to year, but coffee remains the largest source of locally earned cash for villagers in the region and indeed is the backbone of the entire Highlands market economy (see Stewart, 1992).

To augment coffee earnings, many households now plant large karipe ongi peanut gardens and market some of the crop for cash. This rather laborious earning activity involves harvesting, cleaning and trimming the plants, tying 3-5 stems into individual bundles, and then transporting the nuts on a day-long walk to the periodic market in Okapa for sale. An individual can transport a load of 60-80 small bundles, each of which will be sold for 10 toea (US$0.08) at the market. Each seller, then, can expect to earn PGK6-8 (US$5-6) per marketing trip. By 1993, members of only three households had marketed peanuts in Okapa. During 1995, however, members of 49 Irakians households earned a total of PGK1,623 (US$1,217) from the sale of peanuts. [15] It is a small, but important, cash augmentation to the village economy. [16]

The elimination of pigs of course raises the question of how Irakians will meet exchange obligations to recipients who demand meat as part of the transactions. The commodity that has replaced pork, evidently in much of the Highlands, is imported frozen "lamb flaps." [17] On occasions when meat is required, Irakians purchase cartons of lamb flaps in Okapa, or even as far away as Goroka, and use them as a substitute for pork. It is considered a prestige food and is acceptable to village SDA members. What is obvious here is that the cessation of pig raising has bound Irakians ever more tightly to the cash economy.

A major new focus of daily village activity is sports--basketball (mainly for women) and soccer (solely for men). Again, the influence of experience away from the village is important. People learned to play basketball while at coastal plantations. When they returned home, they carved out a court in the middle of the village, bought a ball and rims in town, and nailed homemade backboards to logs set vertically in place. The created court is a source of daily activity. Rarely does a day go by without a late afternoon pick-up game usually involving both men and women.

Soccer has become the passion of young (and some not-so-young) men. The game was introduced to Irakians about 1994 by a young man who had learned to play while living with relatives in a South Fore community. Although there is no level ground within Irakian territory the size of a regulation soccer field, an area has been marked out and players' enthusiasm overcomes the imperfect condition of the playing field. Several neighboring communities also have organized soccer clubs and recently have gotten together several times each year to engage in week-long competitive tournaments. Each participating team pays a PGK6O (US$45) entrance fee and cash prizes are given to the three top teams. Irakian teams still do not have proper uniforms or cleated footwear, but players and spectators alike look forward to these events.

These sports teams have become a primary focus of village life. Not only do practice sessions happen almost daily, but teams can also be hired to perform a variety of tasks. Auxiliary household labor used to be recruited on the basis of kin relatedness-for example, a man would ask his sisters and/or his affines to help clear or plant a new garden and would then reimburse them for their assistance with foodstuffs from his mature gardens (see Boyd, 1981, p. 80). Today, sports teams, eager to earn money to buy uniforms and pay entrance fees to tournaments, offer their services for a fee. The women's basketball team can be hired to clear, till, or plant a new garden for PGK4 (US$3) per day. The men's soccer teams charge PGK6 (US$4.50) for a day of house-building or garden-clearing. If team members do not show up for such workdays, they are

fined 20 toea (US$0.15) for their absence.

It should be noted that not everyone supports the changes underway in Irakia. A few older men and women do not oppose the recent changes, but continue to smoke their home-grown tobacco and occasionally chew wild betelnut. They generally attend the Saturday church services, but admit that they do so to visit with fellow villagers and do not really understand what the church proceedings are about. One older man, who is a smoker and betelnut chewer and always takes a place on the edge of the church proceedings, explained to me, "Young people like this new church thing, so I come to watch" (Kehsa, personal communication, 1996).

There also is a small group of young unmarried men that openly defies the prohibitions on alcohol and card playing in the village. They float between the village and other venues, make only small gardens for themselves, and occasionally bring beer to the village and host gambling sessions with cards and darts. When confronted by the reformers, they coldly respond that Irakia is their village too, and they will do what they want. It is an underlying source of recurring friction within the village.


The recent changes in Irakia Awa village life are quite dramatic. Faced with the apparently superior progress of neighboring communities and the seemingly stagnant condition of their own community, young Irakian leaders decided to act. No longer hopeful because of their rather remote location that outsiders, including government representatives and missionaries, would come to their aid, they formulated their own plan of village improvement. New gardening strategies and consumption practices were being adopted, sorcerers had been expelled from the village, domestic pigs had been eliminated, new coffee was being planted, and a church and competitive sports teams had been organized. With these changes in place, village members living away as migrants willingly had begun to return home to live. Irakians believe that these attempts to disintensify subsistence effort, remove the threats of sorcery and warfare, and intensify cash-earning and religious and recreational activities will provide opportunities to local r esidents that previously had been missing. To date, most residents and returned migrants seem committed to the new ways and express confidence that Irakia has embarked on an effective, locally generated course of village improvement.


The research reported here results from a long-term involvement with the Irakia Awa, so I am indebted to several sponsors. Information was gathered on six separate occasions (1970, 1971-72, 1981, 1991, 1993, and 1996) for a total of approximately 24 months. The 1970 research was supported by a grant from the Cora Black Foundation. The 1971-72 dissertation research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. In 1981, research was conducted as a Visiting Research Fellow of the Papua New Guinea Institute of Applied Social and Economic Research, Boroko. The 1991 and 1993 research periods were funded, in part, by grants from the Committee on Research, University of California, Davis. During all of these research periods, except 1981, I was granted affiliation and provided logistical support by the PNG Institute of Medical Research, Goroka (Michael Alpers, Director). I owe all of these supporters a debt of gratitude. I also wish to thank Terry Hays, Shirley Lindenbaum, and two anonymous reviewers for the ir constructive suggestions.

(1.) Department of Anthropology, University of California, Davis, California 95616;

(2.) See Newman and Boyd (1982) for a description of Irakia Awa male initiation ceremonies.

(3.) The initiation did occur a few days after my departure from Irakia in August 1993, and by all accounts, was a huge success. Visitors came in large numbers from neighboring communities and were housed, fed, and given appropriate gifts of food. All Irakians felt that their labors in staging the initiation, while demanding, had been justly rewarded. Members of neighboring communities had seen with their own eyes the productivity and generosity of Irakians and now viewed them as a vibrant, industrious community. They had regained the respect of neighbors, affines, and exchange partners.

(4.) It has been determined that "pig bel" (enteritis necroticans) is caused by a Clostridium bacterium that is spread from the pig entrails to unsuspecting participants during the butchering of the animals. Children under 5 years of age and adults over 40 are especially vulnerable (see Lawrence and Walker, 1976; Lindenbaum, 1979, pp. 33-35).

(5.) Brown and Podolefsky (1976) then compiled extant data on various societies to demonstrate that human population densities correlated well with several indices of agricultural intensity. However, they did not include pig production intensity in their analysis. See, also, Brown (1978) for a basic survey of Highlands societies.

(6.) Kelly (1988) tossed a rather heavy wrench into these promising explanatory schemes by reporting that the Etoro people of the lowland Papuan Plateau region, who can legitimately be characterized as "low intensity" on any scalar comparison, averaged 1.3 pigs/person, more than the approximately 1.0 pigs/person reported for the "intensive" Enga groups. The important reason for this seemingly aberrant datum is a fundamental difference in pig-raising strategy. The Etoro, like other low intensity pig raisers, allow their pigs to forage for most of their food. Without the burden of producing fodder for their animals, owners can control larger numbers of semi-domesticated pigs.

(7.) This population census was conducted by the author in July 1996, and includes the 232 people then resident in the community, plus 67 individuals who were living away, at several distant work locations. The earliest reliable census for Irakia was 242, in 1963 (Pataki-Schweizer, 1980, p. 107).

(8.) In the early 1970s, Irakians did not yet know a word for "goats," so referred to them, in neo-Melanesian TokPisin, as "pik bilong Sevende" ("SDA pigs").

(9.) A visitor to Irakia from Tauna, in 1996, told me that people in Tauna were very pleased not to have pigs to look after anymore. Frankly, he said, it was a relief to not to be raising pigs because they demanded daily attention, ate everything in sight, and simply could not be trained, like a dog, to behave properly. According to informants, Tauna and now Irakia are the only Awa communities that have stopped raising pigs.

(10.) Incidentally, the largely barefoot Awa consider stepping in pig manure a vile experience.

(11.) Wild or feral pigs have not been encountered on Irakian territory since the early 1990s.

(12.) This typology of eight types differs slightly from the one distinguishing nine types in Boyd, 1981. For the present purposes, there is no reason to distinguish between the forest and grassland versions of the topankago sweet potato garden, so I treat them here as a single type. Irakians use the same name for both and distinguish them, when necessary, by zone of location.

(13.) The Papua New Guinea kina (PGK) was valued at US$0.75 in 1996. One kina equals 100 toea.

(14.) These data are based on seller recall in July 1996. Household coffee sales ranged from PGK10-1,110 (US$8-833), averaging PGK147 (US$110) per household, or PGK7 (US$5) per resident.

(15.) The 1995 peanut sales ranged from PGKS-150 (US$6-113), averaging PGK33 (US$25) per seller household, or PGK7 (US$5) per village resident.

(16.) Irakians boast about the quality of their peanuts, which they claim is superior to nuts grown nearer Okapa. When returning from a selling trip in 1996, a woman reported that enthusiastic buyers were waiting for them when they arrived at the market. They eagerly helped them lower their loads and quickly bought alt the peanuts.

(17.) "Lamb flaps" might be more accurately labeled "mutton ribs." Those I have enjoyed were a very poor cut of meat consisting of the lower half of the rib section and most of the belly fat of mature sheep. In 1996, a 20 kg carton of lamb flaps sold for PGK38-50 (US$ 27-38).


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Table I.
People and Pigs in Irakia Village, 1971-1996
                     Oct71   Oct72   July 81  June 91  July 93
Member population    267     273     262      274      293
Resident population  248     254     242      131      141
No. of households     73      74      58       38       34
Pig population       148     191     155      101       63
Pigs per household     2.0     2.6     2.7      2.7      1.9
Pigs per member        0.55    0.70    0.59     0.37     0.22
Pigs per resident      0,60    0.75    0.59     0.77     0.45
                            July 96
Member population               299
Resident population             232
No. of households                58
Pig population                    1
Pigs per household                0.02
Pigs per member      [less than]  0.01
Pigs per resident    [less than]  0.01
Note. The difference between the member population and the
resident population equals the number of members then
living outside the community.
Table II.
Garden Types, Irakia Village
Awa name                    Type         Zone(s) of location
To             Forest yam-taro           Forest
Ongi           Grassland yam-taro        Grassland
O'maka a       Tilled grassland sweet    Grassland
Karipe ongi b  Peanut                    Grassland
Topankago      Untilled sweet potato     Forest and grassland
Mehko          Irrigated grassland taro  Grassland
Ubi            Irrigated forest taro     Forest
Ta'kigau       Sugarcane                 Forest
Awa name       Soil preparation  Irrigatin
To             Not tilled        No
Ongi           Tilled            No
O'maka a       Tilled            No
Karipe ongi b  Tilled            No
Topankago      Not tilled        No
Mehko          Tilled            Yes
Ubi            Not tilled        Yes
Ta'kigau       Not tilled        No
Awa name       Principle crops
To             Yams, Colocasia and Xanthosoma
                 taro, maize, beans, greens,
                 bananas, sugarcane
Ongi           Yams, Colocasia taro, bananas,
                 greens, sugarcane
O'maka a       Sweet potato, monic, bananas,
                 greens, "pitpit" (Setaria
                 plamifolia) sugarcane
Karipe ongi b  Peanuts
Topankago      Sweet potato
Mehko          Colocasia taro, bananas, "pitpit"
                 (Saccharum edule and Setaria
                 palmifolia), sugarcane
Ubi            Colocasia taro, bananas, sugarcane
Ta'kigau       sugarcane
(a)These gardens are the usual second stage of ongi gardens.
After yams and taro are harvested from the ongi, sweet potato,
manioc and various subsidiary crops are planted.
(b)More common now than in the past, these often follow the
ongi phase. After the peanuts are harvested, the plots become
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