Sun, 10 Oct 1999

Irianese tribespeople employ pigs in the field

By Neles Tebay

MOANEMANI, Irian Jaya (JP): Farmers in Indonesia plow their land with the help of water buffaloes. However, Irianese of the Mee tribe in the central highlands of the Irian Jaya province never use water buffalo or even tractors to plow their land. The Mee people have their own way of plowing: they use pigs.

Pigs plow the land in Bogobaida, Aradide, East Paniai, West Paniai, Damabagata, and Tigi districts of the Paniai regency; also in Ikrar, Kamu, Mapia, and Sukikai districts of the Nabire regency, where the people of the Mee tribe live.

Abraham Pigome, 37, is a farmer living in Itouda village, Kamu district, in the Nabire regency. Every morning, he takes a pig to the land he intends to develop. Arriving there, he takes a five meter rope, ties one end to one of the pig's feet and the other to a stake in the center of the designated area. He then leaves the pig to plow.

In the evening, he unties the rope and takes the pig back to its stable.

Abraham does not know who began this way of plowing or when it started.

"I do not know who introduced this way to the Mee tribe," Abraham said as The Jakarta Post visited him in his village, seven kilometers south of Moanemani, the capital town of Kamu district or 207 kilometers northeast from Nabire, the capital of the Nabire regency. "However, the use of a pig to plow the land has been a tradition here."

He said he learnt how to plow with pigs from his father. "When I was a child, my father used to ask me to take some pigs to the field early in the morning and to take them back to their stable in evening," Abraham, a father of four children said.

A pig plows the land without the supervision of the owner. "I do not need to stay there for the whole day. The pig plows without supervision," Abraham said.

"Therefore during day time I work on other things. Like yesterday, when after having taken the pig to the field, I went to the forest to collect firewood."

He also does not need to feed the pig during the day. "And in the evening, I only give the pig a little food because they eat a lot of worms (in the field) during the day", Abraham said, adding that the Mee tribe believes that worms are the best food for pigs in order for them to grow quickly.

In order to find the worms, the pigs have to dig the land. By doing so, the soil is plowed.

According to Abraham, a pig can finish plowing a piece of land measuring 20 by 50 meters in two or three months. The process is faster if there are more pigs.

The Mee people have never used water buffalo to plow the land as they have never seen one and would not know what they look like. They do not even know the word buffalo. They are also unfamiliar with any modern tools or machinery which are used to plow the land.

Abraham said that by plowing the land, the pigs crush the hard land, making it soft so that the farmers can prepare the seed bed and make the furrows easily. "If the land is not plowed by a pig, the soil remains hard, so a lot energy would be wasted," Abraham said, adding that the farmers rely on pigs and hoes in developing their land.

No wonder then, that to the Mee Tribe the pig is a valuable animal. It can cost up to Rp 2 million.

"The more pigs you have, the more money you can earn. Therefore, a man of Mee tribe should raise at least one pig," Abraham said.