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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Women of Papua New Guinea

posted by on May 1 at 12:22 PM

A few days ago, I’m inside of a Manhattan bar talking with a elegant lady from Singapore. She is telling me about her past and her family in an English that has the breath of a Chinese cadence and a touch of her colonial education. Expensive sunglasses neatly pull her black hair back. Her forehead is spotless, and her lips are thin and pink like Japanese paper. “And my parents,” she says without looking up at me but down at the crab cake she’s delicately dissecting a with a fork and knife, “they no longer live in Singapore. Business is not good there anymore and so they moved to Papua New Guinea. Though it’s better for my father’s dealings, it’s a very strange place to live. I mean, the people still have their tribal ways, and the women walk around suckling pigs.”
“Suckling pigs!” I repeat in shock.
She looks up at me—a moment before biting the piece of the crab cake pierced by her fork—and says: “Yes, it’s not an easy thing to look at.”
No diggity.

But, honestly, let’s think about this for a second or two. Why was I instantly disgusted by this practice in Papua New Guinea? What exactly is wrong with breastfeeding a pig? We heavily drink cow’s milk, and happily eat goat’s cheese. So what is wrong with giving something back to the animal kingdom for once? The problem is not the milk but the sucking itself: We suspect that the women are getting some sort of sexual pleasure out of this seemingly innocuous (and very public) sucking and licking. Why else would they do it? For sure, if the sensation caused by a piglet’s saliva and tongue was not pleasurable, then the women of Papua New Guinea would have long ago thrown them back in the barn. Their form of pleasure translates into our form of disgust.

Update: In the comments below you will find an explanation for this revealing image:

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They didn't mention this in Anthropology 100 ...

Posted by Gloria | May 1, 2007 12:29 PM

You know, back in the 80's, I don't recall hearing about this from my friends who started a rock band in Papua New Guineau.

On the other hand, it's surprising how Americans think nothing of worshiping cars and trucks, when any sane person would see more value in having a few pigs instead.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 1, 2007 12:46 PM

Did Mudede just say "No diggity"?

Posted by Jack | May 1, 2007 12:52 PM

I think the idea of toting around a live animal for sustenance is as objectional as any aspect of this. Although, I wouldn't be suprised if the practice wasn't unheard of during some part of rural America's history.

Isn't this the same culture that gave us Kuru?

Posted by Dougsf | May 1, 2007 12:59 PM

It's not that shocking, some of the people on the slog already have a picture of this .

It's in the liner notes for Tori Amos' album - Boys for Pele.

You can see it here -

Posted by Leeerker | May 1, 2007 1:19 PM

Ahhhh... I misunderstood. I thought the women were drinking FROM the pig. Huh.

Posted by Dougsf | May 1, 2007 1:57 PM

Do the women use the piglets to keep their teets producing milk for babies? That sounds more likely.

Posted by maria | May 1, 2007 2:05 PM

Dougsf's comment just gave me a pretty funny image. I could see myself walking around Capitol Hill with a pig in the air, row of pig titties smashed up to my face drinking me some fine Milk-o-Swine, with those cute little hooves slung over my back.

Posted by maria | May 1, 2007 2:17 PM

This has absolutely nothing to do with your thread, Charles. However I thought I'd just mention that Jhumpa Lahiri will be appearing at Seattle's Town Hall series on 15 May.

--- Jensen

Posted by Jensen Interceptor | May 1, 2007 2:35 PM

In some reading for Anthro 101, I came across this. Young women killed their firstborn. Won't go into the details on that. They then suckled a pig to see if they could raise it successfully. Gruesome but practical. If the pig grew up healthy, they were allowed to have children. The report didn't say what happened to women whose pig didn't thrive.

Posted by Katherine | May 1, 2007 3:17 PM

#8 Ha ha ha that's totally how I was reading it. Then I just kinda felt bad for the pig, poor little living juice box. Knowing it's the pig that's doing the suckling, that kinda just makes me shrug.

Posted by Dougsf | May 1, 2007 3:23 PM

Charles, just as the imaginative immersion in the world of CTHULHU has made me more gay, I think ZOO is taking you places, too. Careful. What's the protocol on suckling your pig in a coffee shop or restaurant?

Posted by Grant Cogswell | May 1, 2007 3:29 PM

Would you have to register your piglet as a "service pig" in order to bring it into the restaurant to suckle?

Posted by maria | May 1, 2007 3:49 PM

@13 - um. No, but around here, you'd have to cover it with a blanket. Americans are prudes.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 1, 2007 4:31 PM

oh, and Grant @12, I didn't know Cthulhu did that to you ... it made me more straight ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 1, 2007 4:35 PM

Perhaps it's this simple: Breastfeeding releases hormones, one which suppress ovulation, and another that stimulates milk ejection. That second one is also an opiate and causes uterine contractions. In other words, it's natural erotic high.

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