Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Fear of Pigs

For about the last year, I've been reading lots of memoirs and journals of explorers from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.  I'm currently reading on my Nook Memoirs of a Buccaneer: Dampier's Voyage Round the World 1697.  As I've written before, I find it fascinating to read first hand accounts of such travelers.  While their descriptions are of course tainted to varying degree by their biases, flawed recollections or lack of understanding of some of the things they witnessed, they are still some of the best sources of information we have of the lands they visited and the peoples they encountered during an age that did not have cameras.

Once I read a little about William Dampier, a sometime pirate and self-styled naturalist who sailed to many places around the world and wrote in keen detail about the peoples, climate, animals and plants of the lands he visited, I knew I had to read his memoir.  In some respects, he was a sort of proto-Charles Darwin.

One recent passage that caught my interest concerns his ship's stopover in Mindanao, a heavily Muslim part of the Philippines that at the time was not under Spanish rule, where Dampier describes the Mindanaoans religious practices.

"A main part of their Religion consists in washing often, to keep themselves from being defiled; or after they are defiled to cleanse themselves again.  They also take great care to keep themselves from being polluted, by tasting or touching any thing that is accounted unclean; therefore Swines Flesh is very abominable to them; nay, any one that hath either tasted of Swines Flesh, or touched those Creatures, is not permitted to come into their Houses many Days after, and there is nothing will scare them more than a Swine.

Yet there are wild Hogs in the Islands, and those so plentiful, that they will come in Troops out of the Woods in the Night into the very City, and come under their Houses, to romage up and down the Filth that they find there.  The Natives therefore would even desire us to lie in wait for the Hogs to destroy them, which we did frequently, by shooting them and carrying them presently on board, but were prohibited their Houses afterwards."

Dampier then follows this with another amusing story.

"And now I am on this Subject, I cannot omit a Story concerning the General [Dampier is referring to a man called Raja Laut, who was apparently a general of the Sultan of Mindanao].  He once desired to have a Pair of Shoes made after the English Fashion, though he did very seldom wear any: So one of our Men made him a Pair, which the General liked very well.

Afterwards, some body told him, that the Thread wherewith the Shoes were sowed, were pointed with Hogs-bristles.  This put him into a great Passion; so that he sent the Shoes to the Man that made them, and sent with him withal more Leather to make another Pair, with Threads pointed with some other Hair, which was immediately done, and then he was well pleased."

Given the popularity and prevalence of pork in the diet of Filipinos (as someone who is married to a Filipina, I can attest that no Filipino party is complete without a pig roast), I wonder how long it took the Filipinos who converted to Islam to abandon pork and if there was some resistance to it.