Haiti’s Creole Pig and the Other Swine Flu Epidemic

creolepig

The threat of the spread of the swine flu virus reminds me-from my Caribbean perspective-of the eradication of Haiti’s Creole pig in 1982, the first time the swine flu impacted Caribbean lives. Former president Jean Bertrand Aristide can narrate the tale better than I could, so let me quote from him:

“The history of the eradication of the Haitian Creole pig population in the 1980’s is a classic parable of globalization. Haiti’s small, black, Creole pigs were at the heart of the peasant economy. An extremely hearty breed, well adapted to Haiti’s climate and conditions, they ate readily available waste products, and could survive for three days without food. Eighty to 85% of rural households raised pigs; they played a key role in maintaining the fertility of the soil and constituted the primary savings bank of the peasant population. Traditionally a pig was sold to pay for emergencies and special occasions (funerals, marriages, baptisms, illnesses and, critically, to pay school fees and buy books for the children when school opened each year in October.) In 1982 international agencies assured Haiti’s peasants their pigs were sick and had to be killed (so that the illness would not spread to countries to the North). Promises were made that better pigs would replace the sick pigs. With an efficiency not since seen among development projects, all of the Creole pigs were killed over a period of thirteen months. In a little over a year, the Creole pig was extinct.”

The eradication of the Creole pig was a moment of neo-colonial trauma for Haiti as a nation. The pigs, although not indigenous to the island, had evolved in a symbiotic relationship to the terrain from the ones dropped by Columbus on the island to feed Spanish colonizers. They had gained a cultural importance that transcended the economy and were used as offerings in Vodou ceremonies. They had a central role in depictions of the fabled ceremony in Bois Caïman that marked the start of the Haitian Revolution. In the Haitian peasant community, the U.S. sponsored eradication and repopulation program was highly criticized. The peasants protested that they were not fairly compensated for their pigs and that the breed of pigs imported from the United States to replace the hardy Creole pigs-which they quickly christened Le prince aux quatre pieds (the four-legged princes) because of their need for special feed, vaccinations, roofed pigpens, and clean water-was unsuitable for the Haitian environment and economy. Not as hardy as the tough creole pigs, they needed expensive feed and special cages out of the sun, since, as one Haitian told Joan Dayan, “they have soft stomachs, delicate feet, and thin skin.”Aristide’s assessment reads thus:

“One observer of the process estimated that in monetary terms Haitian peasants lost $600 million dollars. There was a 30% drop in enrollment in rural schools, there was a dramatic decline in the protein consumption in rural Haiti, a devastating decapitalization of the peasant economy and an incalculable negative impact on Haiti’s soil and agricultural productivity. The Haitian peasantry has not recovered to this day.”

In recent years, Haitian and French agronomists have bred a new variety of pig with the same beneficial qualities as Haiti’s Creole pig. An effort to repopulate Haiti with these pigs is now underway. Grassroots International, an organization committed to the repopulation of Haiti with the new Creole pig, encourages people to host pig parties to donate a pig to a family on Haiti. You can go to http://www.grassrootsonline.org/what-you-can-do/host-event/pig-party for more information, a video, and a party pack.

 The photo above is from the Grassroots International Photostream and can be seen at http://www.flickr.com/photos/9347373@N03/641047780

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