Chasing pigs in Pukapuka

Friday May 03, 2013 Written by Published in Return to Pukapuka
Chasing pigs in Pukapuka

We belong to the same pule in Pukapuka.

Each village has four pule that protect the motu or the ecological food reserves. Ngake village protects Motu Ko, Yato village protects Motu Kotawa and Loto village protects Motu Uta. Each motu has a delicate ecosystem highly regulated in terms of food gathering and fishing rights. For example, Ngake village has closed the gathering of kaveu or coconut crabs for two years so they can replenish. This week Loto and Yato village allowed the gathering of one hundred uto per family as the uto was more than abundant. Each village carefully watches over the motu with the Polynesian wisdom of the original environmentalismliving off the land and sea and protecting the resources for future generations.

Every two weeks villages hold meetings where the pule reports on the activities of the last two weeks, fines get paid and the new pule starts their rotation. For Loto village, the men’s pule worked on the motu for the last two weeks. Their work included overseeing the gathering of the uto, clearing the paths, fining any rule breakers, and killing stray pigs. The stray pigs can destroy the motu ecosystem and up root taro. While some islands use fences, we find the pigs and tie them up or if they run loose on the motu, they get killed and returned to the owner for a feast. The pregnant and baby pigs, however, get returned to their owners. “Those pigs are smart,” said Ted Taunga, “they know how to root around for the best taro. The don’t go after the ordinary taro, just the special ones.” And so the pule continue to look after the motu and protect food security by chasing, tying and killing pigs.

The last two weeks our pule had to chase pigs. Our pule, named apala kula or red apples, woke up early in the morning to walk the roads of wale. If we found and caught a stray pig, we returned it to the owner who had to pay a fine of fifteen dollars. “Usually the pigs brake free when they haven’t been fed,” said Anne Williams as she carefully snuck up on an untied sleeping pig. Our morning began with a prayer and then a long walk all around the island. Eight of us showed up as some women had to go to their government jobs and others were too old to chase pigs. We found one loose pig that belonged to Lainga Ataila, who helped catch and tie up her own pig since she belongs to our pule. “I don’t mind being fined,” she laughed, “the money will come right back to our village.” I had originally imagined jumping on top of the pigs in the style of WWF. “I do tackle them sometimes,” said Anne, “but this is a good pig so we can just grab the back legs.” We gathered around the pig in a large circle and the two youngest girls got close and grabbed the back legs. Then, Lainga tied up her pig. We continued our walk through the taro patches, commenting and offering critiques of different women’s taro patches. We finished our rounds in about two hours. On the way home, we saw one of Ngake’s pule scaling four large palu or oil fish. We asked for a fish and walked back with our fish to cook. While most of the pule cooked the fish, Anne and I walked home for a shower. On the way home, we spotted a small loose pig and ran after it. The pig sprinted and we sprinted. I lost my slippers and ran out of breath. The pig won before we could tackle. We let it go. By ten in the morning, I was showered, dressed and at work at the school having completed my first pig chasing morning.

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