Subject: Age: Dili's little piggies told to stay home

The Age March 22 2002

Dili's little piggies told to stay home

By Jill Jolliffe

The East Timorese are distinguished from their Islamic neighbours by their love of pigs, which normally amble at will around city streets.

Now they have been given their trotting orders as part of a clean-up of the capital before East Timor attains independence on May 20.

Domingos Gusmao, head of the livestock department of the Agricultural Ministry, said neighbourhood heads were summoned to a meeting in February and ordered to have the pigs fenced in before the independence celebrations begin in May.

"The government doesn't want them in the streets - it's a matter of hygiene," Mr Gusmao said. "We'll be reviewing the situation in a month."

The pigs are the latest casualties of a general Dili facelift. Street vendors have also been moved off main thoroughfares, leading to the demise of one of the best small fruit markets frequented by United Nations staff, offering a range of tropical fruit such as papaya, limes and mangoes.

Because they were imported to the island territory by the Portuguese, pigs do not form part of the Timorese animist pantheon of beasts attributed with magical powers, such as the crocodile and rooster, which are worshipped in some parts.

However, they are regarded with particular esteem, and respected for their intelligent, affectionate personalities.

They and their large litters have free access to households and gardens - but also have a worrying tendency to wander in Dili's growing volume of traffic.

To the foreign eye, they may seem to be ownerless, but every single porker's whereabouts is known to its owner.

Considered as unclean scavengers by the Islamic and Jewish religions, here they are valued for their recycling skills. They can expect a tasty dish of fruit and vegetable scraps to await them in most of the compounds they visit, which probably accounts for the gigantic proportions of many Dili pigs.

They constitute a vital ingredient in Timorese cuisine and are a key component in bridal dowries.

There are even special art forms and rules of etiquette dealing with porcine travel requirements.

For bus trips the smaller variety are usually tucked under the owner's arm with their snouts bound with a decorative raffia muzzle.

According to Mr Gusmao, 74 per cent of the population of East Timor raise pigs and there are 303,673 throughout the country.

During East Timor's 24-year occupation by the Indonesian military, life wasn't so easy for the pig but, Mr Gusmao said, "our estimation for them never wavered".

Having experienced their finest hour for many years since the 1999 troop withdrawal, they will sadly be unable to participate in the street parties marking East Timor's independence as it becomes the first new nation of the 21st century.

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