The Boar Hunt

Change de programme, announces Augustin in the morning as I arrive at their beach shack. The day was supposed to be a working day. I had offered them a day of labor in exchange for the many fruits they had provided us with so far. So the original program was to go up the valley and dig for water, to eventually bring down an additional line for irrigating the terrain to plant more fruit trees. Not too early though, maybe around nine or ten, was his answer when I had asked him what time he wanted me to be there. Here I was then, ready to face the nono flies in the brush with pick and shovel in hand. The nonos are to be still plenty, but instead of pick and shovel I’m wielding my digital camera to record he action. And action it is!

There’s a pig in the trap up at the waterfall, and we need to get there to kill it before the tourists arrive. That’s the new program of the day. The tourists have already arrived and are being unloaded at the beach. We stroll by them the four of us. You’ve already met Augustin, he’s the eldest at 50 years old. Richard is next in line and Tongi is the junior at 33. All three of them sport voluminous manes of Rasta hair and the mandatory tattoos all over their tanned and muscular bodies. They are proud descendants of the Marquesan kings and their extended family owns the entire Southwest corner of Nuku Hiva, wisely keeping it inaccessible to the noisy four wheel drives of Taiohae, only three miles away. Three miles as the crow flies, that is. If you can’t do the stint by boat you’ll spend a good four hours walking up cliffs and down crevices to come here, on a 9 mile horse path with breath taking views whenever you cross a crest between the steep and wildly sculpted ravines.

Those guys are obviously used to walking the bush. The pace is stiff and soon my heart is pounding happily in my chest and the air hisses up and down my throat. I had done the walk up to the world famous 1000’ waterfall a couple days earlier as a meager tourist. What took me, Beatriz and Maimiti a good two and a half hours now takes just over one. Four dogs come a long for the fun, every now and then noisily shooting off into the underbrush to chase some fluttery cock. Through the picturesque village of Hakaui, ancient but alive with powerful Marquesan spirit, the path then heads into thickets of young Mango shoots, coconut palms, and Pandanus trees on their stilty roots, for the second time we wade through the river, cool and knee deep in spite of the approaching end of the dry season, a freshly tilled patch of dirt to our right indicates recent pig activity, boulders big and small stick out of the vegetation and all along the path there is evidence of ancient human presence, skilled precise stonework builds long stretches of the path under our feet and numerous paipais, elevated stone foundations for houses of way back when this valley and the entire island was home to a dizzying number of people, stands of chestnuts trees now make the track meander around them, rocks were used in the olden days on their partially hollow trunks to send signals of alert up and down the valley, after walking the final stretch over a carpet of cotton burst out of the oblong seed pods fallen down from the trees, we arrive at our destination. We’re now again under an extended canopy of giant mango trees in the middle of what seems to have been a veritable township in the days of the hunters forefathers. Black lava boulders have been carefully shaped and fit into walls to build a patchwork of platforms that now under a gentle cover of golden mango leaves vividly tickles your imagination with fleeting scenes of noisy markets, disciplined schools and solemn worships. But there’s not much time for musing into the past. Amongst the ruins there are a couple of square pits, build into the ground lined with once again carefully arranged shaped stones, maybe eight by eight feet wide and about man deep. Those were the ancient Marquesans deep freezers, where the priests stored a mash of fermented breadfruit to safeguard the population against extended periods of scarcity. Their modern descendants had now put one of them to quite a different use. It is still covered as we arrive with rust-brown palm fronds held up by sturdy branches laid across the opening. Down in the hole a bunch of coconuts had been broken open to attract one of the mighty tillers of forests enough to come and sniff for the goodies with its soiled snout, eventually slip and tumble down into the hold.

I don’t have to wait for Richard’s “It’s down there” in a hushed voice to know. The dogs had been all jazzed up the moment we arrived and their ears are sticking skywards at their maximum extension. They are quickly told to cool it and one is even tied to a tree a distance away. I’m invited to have look down through one side of the cover, but when I’m staring at the dark faced beast in there to figure out how certain death looks in the face of a pig, Agustin’s slightly raised voice comes hurrying over my shoulder with “Don’t look at it like that! It might come jumping out at you!” In fact that was the major concern worthy of changing the program of the day. A flock of curious tourists ignorant just like me but with no one there to keep them in check and I’m sure you’re able to imagine the scene in classic Asterix style, with a bikini clad pale but sun burnt blonde and her hubby with snack pack flying closely behind being pushed plowing through the sunlit forest by a 150lb boar. That those beasts are fully capable of doing even more incredible things than jumping up a six-foot ledge we shall see in a moment…

Once you got it in the hole you’ve got to kill it, and killing wild things of this size ain’t no easy task. A brain wired for technology plus a mix of agility and sheer brute force have allowed homo sapiens since prehistoric times to feast on beasts way bigger than the one we’re dealing with here and a curious scent of prehistoric moods is definitely in the air. My three friends have purposely left their shotguns at home. The most modern weapon of choice today is Richard’s collapsible military olive bayonet, a gift from a cousin of his who had emigrated from this tropical almost paradise to much more civilized mainland France. It would soon prove to be inept for the job, the blade sheering off the handle once stuck between the shoulder blades of the furiously thrusting boar. From then on bush knives attached to branches with lashings of tree bark had to do. And of course the sling! For those of you interested in the practical side of all this, here’s a run down of the actual act of slaughter.

From one corner of the pit the blade of the bayonet is driven between the left shoulder blade and the cervix, but unfortunately not enough to pierce the heart. The sling is hung from the tip of a stick, run around the boar’s head and pulled tight. It is then pulled up further so now the boar stands on his hind legs and backed into a corner of the pit, clearly grasping for air. The blade of one of the bush knives on a stick is driven into the rip cage right behind the left fore leg, again targeting the heart. The nook is loosened and the beast collapses onto its side. Richard descends prematurely down into the pit, eager to rope the hind legs for pulling the corps out of the hole. Sadly the corps is not a corps just yet. Its life force quickly waning, or maybe just to leave its mark, the boar wields its three-inch fangs one last time. Richard’s thigh is within reach and receives a gash just above the left knee that later will merit nine sutures and provide sufficient story materials to keep future descendants of the Marquesan kings interested in proving their manhood by tackling the beasts in the forests. Richard is pulled out of the pit in a split second and much worse encounters of fangs and human flesh are avoided. After applying a tied bandage of a T-shirt ripped into strips around Richard’s thigh, Tongi pounds the boar’s bloated belly with a stick, just to make totally sure life has left it for good. It’s his turn now to descent into the pit, tie the rope around the hind legs and go for a full body wrestling embrace to help drag it up onto the forest floor.

Lying there lifeless and blood smeared the beast is now at full disposal of the humans. It’s picture time, heavy-duty digital picture time. Each one of the hunters reaches into his backpack and brings to light a plastic jar, in which in a tight and waterproof fit sits a camera of the latest model meticulously guarded in its pouch. Than they take turns in kneeling over the boar and in different gestures of dominance make clear who’s going to eat whom. “You haven’t seen the movie?”, asks Agustin. My negative he contests with an account of an Australian TV crew that came to shoot a documentary about their pig hunting activities. “It was all over TV for a while!”

 

The fire they set after carefully cleaning a circle into the dry leaves of the ground is not for chasing away the nono flies this time, also it helps with that too, albeit just a little. Once the flames are going strong Augustin and Tongi grab front and hind legs and start a wild fire dance turning the boar on each side to singe the fur enough to be able to scrape the hairy part of the skin off with the blades of their knifes. This transforms the corps from the original black forward and white tail ends to a quite uniform yellowish dead skin tone you might have seen in the local butcher shop when you were young.

The rope of the ruthless sling is then tied again around a hind leg and run over a tree branch overhead. Augustin and Tongi lift the scraped beast off the ground while Richard ties the bitter end of the rope to a tree to the side. Once it is let go it now dangles from one hind leg in the air at a comfortable working height. The other leg is then fastened in a similar way, spreading them slightly apart. Cleaning and cutting seems to be Tongi’s task of the day. Sharpening his knife every now and then he sets to work and with precise methodical cuts the fabulous anatomy needed to make this animal roam the forest just a day ago comes apart soaking the forest floor underneath in red. Bundles of guts and other organs sit soon in tree forks all around under clouds of black flies while the dogs to my amazement are quietly lying down for a nap. The head is cut off at the neck bound to become soon yet another trophy somewhere on a rafter. The remaining mass of muscle and bone gets sliced into four parts, each with a leg and a quarter of the trunk. Once everything is bagged into rice sacs those are roped shut in pairs and slung over the saddle of Tongi’s horse, which has been patiently waiting under a tree nearby.

The deed is done now and it’s time for the long way home. Toby with the horse up front, Richard limping closely behind, then me and finally Augustin with the dogs as the afterguard. Again the pace is breathtaking, the path is sometime a dance over rounded slippery rocks so my gaze slithers just a few feet forward of my toes and my thinking gets sticky in the humid heat. Little droplets of fresh blood on the leaves lead me first down the improbable road. Richard’s wound must be a bit worse than the skin laceration it seemed back there in order to lose that much blood. No, stupid, I bring myself up to speed, look at the white rice bags on Toby’s horse turning all pink. It is boar’s blood your looking at!

Richard went to town in the evening and the gash in his thigh needed nine sutures according to the professional medics. Most of the meat was to be salted and pickled for later consumption and I was rewarded for my presence at the slaughter with a slice of boar’s rib of my own. For someone with vegetarian habits it was quite a task to down that even once nicely cooked and I felt the spirit of wild pig tickling in my muscle fibers that night, dreaming of hunting down humans in the turbid darkness of a moral bog.

 

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2 Responses to “The Boar Hunt”

  1. Jacques Says:

    Ah Beat. This is ex-cel-lent.

  2. Paz Says:

    Sounds like a lot of adrenaline rush…but ultimately very sad.

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