by Desmond Christy
The Guardian - London October 24 1997
In 'A Pig's Tale' (Channel 4) an old Haitian woman was asked how she was. She replied: "I'm struggling on as best I can since I no longer have my mother's breast to suckle". Life in Haiti has never been easy, even when Mum was around. The gods - monotheism doesn't apply in these parts - have always had a down on Haiti. But at least they had not harmed the little black Haitian pigs. I'm sure they thought that living under a vicious dictatorship was enough to be getting on with.
But 17 years ago the gods - or so it may have seemed to Haitians - sent African swine fever. And then they sent something much worse than African swine fever - Americans bearing gifts. The United States - and its generous pig farming industry - decided to back an aid programme that would eradicate every Haitian black pig, regardless of whether they were ill or healthy. They even used helicopters to chase and kill the feral pigs.
Living up the road from Sainsbury's and Tesco, we need a little help in imagining what this meant to the people of Haiti. "The creole pig was our whole life," a Haitian man told us. "It was the pig that birthed us, the pig that raised us, the pig that buried us." Pigs were the island's honking bank accounts. Pigs paid to put kids through school (six out of 10 of the island's children still cannot read), paid for your wedding, and paid for the scrap of land you wanted to buy.
In 'A Pig's Tale', we followed Juste, back from Brooklyn and wondering what happened to all those pigs, and Edgar, a Voodoo priest, also wondering what happened to all those pigs. Edgar needed a pig to sacrifice to a spirit called Erzulie Dantor. Did the Americans miss any? Was the $30 they gave you to snitch on any neighbour hiding a pig enough?
A few have survived, it seems. Edgar found one and gave it to Erzulie Dantor. Knives, dancing, chanting, blood. Juste found that even 60 healthy pigs kept on Turtle Island had been slaughtered.
Still, the land of the turkey had another gift. Iowa sent some of its porkers. Giant beasts used to an American standard of living. Haitians soon wised up to the beasts that were overfed, and over there: "These pigs needed better living conditions than we Haitians"; "You had to build them a house out of concrete, which no peasant could afford for himself"; "We had to get them to a doctor practically every week. But when we were ill, we could never get a doctor".
Maggie O'Kane of the Guardian, who wrote and narrated the commentary to this terribly memorable film (directed and produced by Leah Gordon and Anne Parisio), told us that the aid workers wrote in their final report that perhaps they had made a mistake in eradicating all the pigs. There was no real need to destroy all those pigs. Cuba had experienced a similar outbreak of African swine fever but it didn't destroy all its pigs.
We watched as Haitians scavenged on rubbish heaps where once the creole pig had looked for food. Maggie O'Kane sounded as though she was trying not to lose her temper. The imperialist pigs - I mean, of course, those overfed creatures from Iowa - had triumphed again.
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