Sialum pig calling: Paul Oates

In 1974, Mum and Dad came to visit my wife and me at Sialum Patrol Post. Sialum Patrol Post was situated on the north eastern tip of the Huon Peninsular of the then Morobe District. While Mum and Dad were with us, I asked the people of Sialum Village if there was anything locally we could show my parents. 

The people put their heads together and suggested they might like to see the feeding of the local pigs. The afternoon was hot and Mum begged off however Dad, being an old country boy, was very keen to see how the people fed their pigs. We collected the village Committee man and followed his directions to where the pigs were fed. We travelled north along the coast road while the village women took a different path and walked through the mouth of a nearby river. They emerged with saucepans of boiled taro on their heads and walked to where we were in a dripping wet ‘gaggle’. Clearly it was a daily, social activity.

The pig feeding site was a semi island near a beach that was formed by a bend in the river. Together with the women, some men arrived and everyone then went to their prearranged location and started to call their pigs. The silence was broken by a cacophony of different sounds, many of which would have won an award at a Tennessee Hog Calling Competition. Each caller had a different call so that the pigs would recognise only their own call and therefore come to their owners. There were grunts and yells and yodels with each caller trying to make sure his or her call was heard over the everyone else’s. There was a sudden grunting from all around us and appearing out of the scrub and bushes where they had been sleeping, the village pigs emerged. There were large tuskers, sows with piglets and pigs of all sizes. Most were black although many of the piglets were striped brown and black.

When each family’s pigs were gathered around their owners they were counted and checked. Boiled taro from the saucepans was then poured into giant clam shells that were used as feeding troughs. The people told us that some of these clam shells had been used for many generations and it was hard to find ones of this size anymore. The bigger shells were at least a metre (three feet) across.

When everyone had settled down to enjoy the view of their pigs happily feeding, Dad asked about the red chewing gum that a lot of people seemed to be chewing. I then explained about the process of chewing betel nut. The effects of this mild stimulant were like a strong cup of coffee but to get this effect, one had to chew up the hard nut and precipitate the mild alkaloid stimulant by adding unslaked lime to the mixture in your mouth. Having tried betel nut previously, I thought Dad might like to try it himself.

I asked around if there was anyone who would like to sell me ‘the makings’? Immediately, the cry went around in a loud voice, “Husat igat buai? Kiap ilaik traim nau!” with a certain amount of passion and a lot of grinning. I bought a couple of ‘nuts’ and showed Dad how to skin them and chew the contents up without swallowing the spittle that the bitter flavour produced. I then showed him how to add Daka (pepper flower) and Kambang (unslaked lime) to his mouth that made the bitter nut semi sweet and, I thought, something like a liquorice flavour. When Dad got the red colour and the idea, we got rid of our mouthfuls. It was a lovely afternoon and as the sun started to set, everyone sat around and relaxed.

Suddenly reality dawned. “For goodness’ sake”, said Dad, wiping his mouth, “Don’t tell your Mother!”

 

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