|Source [Image modified by me]|
When I was teaching traditional Asian history, my students were fascinated by many intriguing things I'd share with you Had We But World Enough and Time. We don't. But when we discussed prehistoric China, students' imaginations were often fired up by pigs, because of an image I showed them very similar to this one.
At least let me share this feature of history with you. It's relevant to our lives, as much of history is when you think hard enough about it, which all too few do.
We have good evidence that in prehistoric villages at least some 7000 years ago, the Chinese came up with what seemed a sound, logical idea that resulted in one of humanity's first attempts at sanitation and eco-recycling.
The miniature model tells the story. The pig is locked in for a set time daily, the extended family uses the toilet, and there's nothing further in the household sanitary department that needs to be disposed of. There are few flies, no maggots, and little smell, comparatively speaking.
You'll recoil in horror at the idea, but it seemed sane enough then – so sensible in fact that it's been used for millennia afterwards in many parts of the world besides China, so stifle your gasp at any apparent ignorance of the health risks. There was not a wealth of data then to show any down side. They had a fat pig to eat or sell at the end of the year.
It was seemingly win-win. Let's not be too superior. What about our flagrantly stupid abuse of antibiotics, and something like mad cow disease? We aren't all that clever either. In the future they're going to marvel at our utter ignorance and greed at some of the things we do.
At least, I hope someone is there with enough sophistication to do that. It might be pigs in the dunny all over again because of us.
The pig-privy did go out of favour bit by bit, but never completely. This funerary item is from the Han period, straddling the beginning of the Christian era. Maybe residents of villages practising pig-human-waste recycling occasionally came to a sad end with some then-unexplainable diseases. Neighbours added two and two, and it was fazed out in favour of pigs being left to wander more freely. They do now in China, if you drive through China's countryside and see an enormous sow rooting about in the grass amongst the rice paddies.
|Source Note that these animals are as clean and healthy as any you could find|
Let's be clear about one thing. In its natural forest environment, the pig is as clean as most animals. That's how it evolved. After all, elephants wallow in mud when they need to. Pigs in the forest on their natural diet are as clean as the animals shown here. In the forest, they are formidable survivors and dangerous foes, as the many tales of wild boars in the stories of every forested country where pigs exist will tell you.
Today's pigs are what man has turned them into. We kept pigs on our dairy farm, and they were a good source of income. From wooden troughs, they ate like ... pigs... just about everything left over, such as vegetables well past their Use-By date, curds and whey, cow-cane fibre, chewed corncobs – you name it. They were smelly, rude and loud.
|Source Proper pig management|
The problem for pigs on the farm has been their own intelligence. Pigs are smart and have initiative. It was for a good reason that the pig features as he does on Orwell's Animal Farm. If they escape the sty or are unwisely let loose, they are the very devil to catch.
So they need strong sties to contain them. Traditionally, these enclosures were small and sturdy. Pigs soon chop up the floor with their sharp little cloven hooves and turn it to stinking mud. They eat, excrete, bicker and squeal in that same mud they share with their siblings. Pigsy, the Pig Spirit in the classic Chinese Buddhist tale I wrote about elsewhere on this blog, is rather too much like that.
They do have one characteristic they share with humans and some other primates. They're omnivorous, which has been very useful for species survival. Give them an animal carcass and they happily tear it apart and consume it.
But unlike humans, they retained that quality of being able to eat faecal matter of almost any sort, including human, and still look like they're relishing it.
A profound distaste for pigs occurred in some societies as a result, their consumption often forbidden by religious lore. Jewish religion declares the pig an unclean animal and Islam retains that view.
Christianity did not share that tradition when it became Europeanised. Pig farming was far too entrenched, so – welcome to the fast food hamburger and western Christmas fare. Pork spare ribs and a thousand Chinese menu items. There are high standards expected and policed in modern societies for pig meat use and production, but for many, the pig still has the stigma it has always had when human domestication changed its lifestyle forever.
Don't blame our porcine siblings. They're more like us than we care to admit. Valves from their hearts are in hundreds of thousands of humans. They're habits in sties are entirely the fault of human intervention. If you put humans in exactly the same environment, how much better would they behave? Look at some documentaries in life in maximum security prisons. They'll show you.
"Pigs were domesticated multiple times ." is a good introduction to the western pig tradition.