You never know what’s going to happen when you start a day of language. Yesterday I decided I’d hike down to a nearby hamlet to check out some sentences I’d created. I’ve been working on figuring out Kovol clauses, but there’s a little complexity to it which I think may be explained by calling them dependent clauses. Anyway I had some sentences I’d come up with to check out my ideas on dependent clauses.

I get 20 seconds away from my house and see a friend swinging his machete at a banana tree. “Good morning. What are you up to?” I ask, “I’m removing my pig’s balls” he replies. Obviously then I switch to Tok Pisin to check in a language I’m more fluent in if he said what I thought he said. Sure enough, that morning’s work was castrating his pig. I ran to get Rhett because I know he’s into these things and we settled in for the show.
First a ‘fence’ was made which looked like a little circular wicker drum. Some leaves are pointed out that will be used to “take care of the blood” – but not as I thought for wiping or absorbing blood to keep the workspace tidy. More on that later.

I’m wondering how it’s all going to work. I imagine the pig goes in head first? Is that going to work?

I ask my friend why he’s doing it and he says it’s to stop the pig running off. He doesn’t want it to follow a lady pig and end up at another village or somewhere else where someone might shoot it. Getting other pigs pregnant doesn’t seem to be an issue; it’s more about controlling its movements. There are 3 things involved in looking after pigs (apart from feeding them). First when they’re just born you cut their ears. A pig with uncut ears is a wild pig and everyone knows they can’t shoot and eat pigs with clipped ears because they belong to someone. Second for the males is the castration either when they’re a month or a year old. Third is blinding the pigs by popping their eyeballs with your thumb and jamming mud in there. That stops big pigs being too independent. If a big pig wanders off into a garden it can decimate a family’s food supply (and if your pig wrecks your neighbour’s garden you’re in trouble!) and so you blind it to stop it wandering too far.

Sure enough piggy goes in head first

Then it’s time for the event. Sure enough the pig is picked up and dumped head first into the basket and I burst out laughing. Its little legs are kicking around and it’s all quite amusing, but then the surgery starts.
The boys hold each of its legs and my friend unwraps a clean shaving razor to make an incision. Mr Piggy obviously isn’t silent about the whole thing and is squealing away. After the incision is made a sharpened bit of bamboo is used to… cut. It’s the scrambled eggs approach. Today I was working on a one-and-a-half-minute recording where the process is described and the verbs used were cutting, grating, drilling and removing.
The pieces are removed bit by bit and a lot of general mangling goes on.

Then comes the leaf we were shown. Leaves from this particular bamboo are ground up and cooked into ash and then mixed with water. It creates a black, alkaline paste that “burns” the wound to stop it getting infected. It’s applied liberally to the left-over skin and everything is tucked back in and it’s time for the other side.
The process made me feel pretty sick to be honest. It’s hard not to wince in vicarious sympathy.

I’ll spare you any further pictures

Then it’s time to let piggy out and I’m afraid it’s going to be ready to tear us all limb from limb, but poor piggy is just exhausted and can barely stand. He’s gently led over to where a nice banana-leaf bed has been made for him and he gets to rest it off. “He’ll be ok tomorrow”.

Piggy sleeps off the ordeal

In other news a baby village pig had died of sickness in the night. Coincidentally I’d met someone on the way back when I went to fetch Rhett. I said “He’s going to remove his pig’s ….” what’s the word for that? I used a stick to indicate the area of the pig lying at our feet and I received a refresher in the vocabulary. Then suddenly I realised: hang on, that pig’s dead!
Double culture whammy. They bury pigs that die of sickness, even if it’s a baby pig. Even though they’d really like to eat the meat, they’re too afraid of getting sick themselves from eating a pig that wasn’t slaughtered while it was healthy.

Baby piggy gets a burial

After all this I sat and got them to tell the story in Kovol. What happened, why did you do it, will you eat the dead baby pig? I’d love to ask questions like “aren’t you afraid your pig could get sick from its surgery?”, but I know talking about something is thought to have a chance of causing that thing to happen and so I don’t want to go there.

The minute-and-a-half story I got then took me 45 minutes to transcribe today. Then it was an hour and a half of playing it sentence by sentence and carefully checking my transcription followed by writing it up as an interlinear. I’m hoping to get some mileage out of this story. Already I found out there’s a verb for drilling through this, and that a piece of pig testicle is a nasi – which is also the name for a rat. I also learned that my story’s speaker didn’t just randomly drop the word for peanut (pabasil) into the story, but some kind of bodily fluid (pebasil).

Since I’m investigating clauses and dependent clauses right now, I quickly recognise that there’s a boatload in this text, So hopefully I’ll learn something, and maybe even have an aha moment where everything drops into place.

1 Comment

Mandy · 12/05/2022 at 5:08 pm

Wow Steve!! What a story!

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