How now? Year of the Sow?

Beginning this week (5 February 2019), is the Year of the Pig. As with any year, you can be boared or sow your will oats, but take time for some cinematic piggies!

In Chinese, the symbol for the year isn’t designated as male so the old translation, Year of the Boar, is a touch of male chauvinism. In Japan, it’s translated as the Year of the Wild Pig. Wild pigs, both boars and sows, were sometimes called yamakujiru which translates at “mountain whale” because Japanese Buddhists could eat fish and fowl, but not four-legged creatures.

The character of home or house in Chinese and Japanese is a pig under a roof. Think of that the next time someone calls a messy room a pig sty. In Chinese, pigs don’t “oink” they say “hu-lu, hu-lu (but in Japanese they say būbū). One has to be surprised that Hulu hasn’t gone hog wild on that one. The Chinese have a few sayings about pigs:

一龙一猪 (Yī lóng yī zhū): One dragon one pig (Two people of very different status)

猪朋狗友 (Zhū péng gǒu yǒu): Dog and pig friend (Bad lazy friends)

泥猪瓦狗 (Ní zhū wǎ gǒu): Mud pig and dog (Useless)

猪突豨勇 (Zhūtū xī yǒng): Pig bursts with wild pig courage (Someone rushing in, unafraid of death)

指猪罵狗 (Zhū zhū mà gǒu): Point to the pig; scold the dog (Pretend to scold one, but scold the other)

猪狗不好 (Zhū gǒu bù hǎo): Pig and dog are not good (Someone of bad character)

泥猪癞狗 (Ní zhū lài gǒu): Muddy pig; Mangy dog (Someone who is despicable)

冷水烫猪 (Lěngshuǐ tàng zhū): Cold water; hot pig (pointless effort)

人怕出名猪怕壮 (én pà chūmíng zhū pà zhuàng): People fear fame; pigs fear strength  (People should fear fame like pigs should fear being fattened)

The co-relation between dogs and pigs in the home should give one pause unless you own a pet pig. In Chinese astrology, dog year and pig year people are supposed to be compatible.

Each year has one of five elements according to Chinese astrology (wood, fire, earth, metal and water) and this is the year of the Earth Pig. In a time where global warming is a concern, this is no time to hog natural resources and sometimes you have to get pignacious about it.

Aside from eating pork, my experiences with pigs is limited to photographing a screaming pig as it was dragged from the parking lot, up a flight of stairs and into a room where I was the photographer for the Pasadena Humane Society’s Santa Paws fundraiser. The screaming pig sat screeching with a fellow pig mate and a German Shepherd Dog along with the two owners. The other time, I just hear feral pigs in the thick ferns and flora on a short hike in Hawaii. While luau pork maybe good, meeting a feral pig drove with only a Swiss Army Knife isn’t fun festivities for the humans.

So for more about pigs, I turned to the university that provided confirmation that pigs could in fact dispose of a human body (when I was writing about the 2000 “Snatch” and the 2001 “Hannibal”). It wasn’t until 2002 that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Vancouver Police Department closed in on Robert and David Pickton and their pig farm. Only Robert “Willy” Pickton was convicted of serial murder at their so-called party Pig’s Palace.

What are pigs really like? I turned to Dr. Edward P. Fonda, professor in Animal & Veterinary Sciences at Cal PolyPomona. In an email correspondence Fonda wrote: “Domesticated pigs are exceptionally friendly and adaptable creatures – wild or feral pigs are not so friendly.”

Where are pigs from?

The origin of swine is probably in Middle East but today, domesticated swine in US are from Europe. Pigs are not native to US but were brought to US by early explorers from Europe like [Hernando] de Soto. The first Indian/European settler wars were fought over ownership of pigs. i.e. Differences in belief of property ownership. Europeans believed they could own animal as property and Indians believed no one owns animals and they are free to be hunted. So when De Soto invited friendly Indians for a “meet and greet” BBQ pig meal, the Indians had never tasted pork and loved it and wanted more. De Soto would not give Indians any of his pigs he brought with him because he believed he would need them as food as he explored Mississippi valley area ( Indians told him there was plenty of deer to hunt but Desoto did not trust the Indians) so many battles over pigs occurred and the pigs that escaped the arrows and musket balls became feral and became the American Razor back wild hogs that can still be found in Arkansas and deep south of US.  This is a true story about origin of many wild hogs found in Deep South.

Where can pigs be found?

Swine can be found everywhere in the world where there are not religious bans on them (i.e. Moslems believe pigs are unclean and pork should not be consumed by people). There is speculation  that early pigs were easily domesticated by man because humans fed them their surplus grain production but also their human garbage.  From this garbage, pigs became infected with Trichinosis ( parasite that pigs tolerate but will kill humans if consumed) and since early man did not always cook his meat, he could easily picked up this parasite from raw pork. So if you see the Bible or Koran as a religious document that fosters the well beings of groups of people that are becoming civilized and living together in groups ( i.e. thou shall not kill, or steal or   “eat meat from a cloven hoofed animal” like a pig).  So a religious book that advised you to not eat pork made sense and kept you alive.  So today, we have certain religious taboos that surround the consumption of pork.

How big do pigs get?

Domestic swine are harvested for human consumption when they reach about 275 pounds.  However they can easily get to weights like 600-700 lbs. for a sow or 800-900 lbs. for a boar.  Wild pigs probably weigh about 400-500 lbs. but have been known to reach over 1000 lbs. ( depending on their diets).

Regarding problems with pigs today:

Pigs can be very friendly animals and for that reason people believe they make good pets if you can keep them small ( but your 800 lb. sow may not make room for you on your sofa at night while you watch the movie “Babe” together). So people believe a potbelly pig is small and therefore makes a good pet.  However, even pot belly pigs can get to 200-300 lbs. and really become too big to keep in a house.  Also, many cities have codes against raising farm animals within city limits (public health reasons),  and even pot belly pigs are considered farm animals. So you will be pitted against you city code enforcement police if you choose to keep “pigs” on your property.

The real environment issue with swine involves feral swine ( domesticated swine that escaped the farm and easily revert back to a wild state).  These feral swine breed well in the wild and are very prolific and as their numbers grow, so does their need for food.  Once they exhaust the wild food carrying capacity of the land they live on, they start to harvest the crops of farmers and cause considerable economic damage to crops, property and even represent a threat to people.  This is where the real environmental concern comes from about swine and is a huge problem in some areas of the US today.

The introduction of pigs to places like my husband’s state of Hawaii have had disastrous effects on the native wildlife. Although Captain James Cook has been blamed for the introduction of pigs gone wild on Hawaii, recent DNA findings indicated the introduction happened hundreds of years earlier. The Hawaiians and Polynesians love their barbecued pigs.

Of course, if you’d rather take your pigs in a family-friendly way, famous animation pigs include Porky Pig, Pua (“Moana”), Pumbaa (“The Lion King”) and Peter Porker (“Into the Spider-verse”). None of them have the wardrobe and diva demeanor of the glorious Miss Piggy who might be as famous as the “Mona Lisa.” Below is a selection of movies and music featuring pigs.

  • “Animal Farm” (1999)
  • “Babe” (1995)
  • “Babe: Pig in the City” (1998)
  • “Barnyard” (2006)
  • “Charlotte’s Web” (2006)
  • The Dam Keeper” (2014)
  • “Dead Pigs” (2018)
  • “The Lion King” (1994)
  • “Moana” (2016)
  • “The Muppet Movie” (1979)
  • “Okja” (2017)
  • “Porco Rosso” (1992)
  • “Princess Mononoke” (1997)
  • “Sing” (2016)
  • “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse” (2018)
  • “Spirited Away” (2001)
  • “Toy Story” (1995)

Pigs have inspired music, too.

Black Sabbath: “War Pigs”

The Beatles: “Piggies”

Red Foley: “Cincinnati Dancing Pig”

Dave Matthews Band: “Pig”

Nine Inch Nails: “March of the Pigs”

Frank Zappa: “The Adventures of Gregory Peccary”

I’ll leave you with 恭喜發財 (gōngxǐ fā cái), a wish for happiness and prosperity and 新年快乐 (xīn nián kuài lè): Happy New Year! 


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