Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Swine and Peccary: Shift Happens

Wild Pig
The earliest reference to swine in the Book of Mormon text is among the Jaredites, where they are said to have been useful for food (Ether 9:18). Later, swine are mentioned, but never said to have been eaten by the Nephites who lived under the law of Moses (at least in times of righteousness). Of course, after the coming of Christ, there would presumably have been no prohibition against eating foods forbidden under the earlier law. These later references to swine are proverbial and entirely negative. The wicked among the Nephites are said to have returned from righteousness to wickedness "like the sow to her wallowing in the mire" (3 Nephi 7:8). Jesus' warning to his disciples in the Americas parallels that in Matthew's Gospel, "neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you" (3 Nephi 13:6).

If the Jaredites brought Old World species of swine to the land of promise no archaeological evidence for this has be identified thus far. Some readers of the Book of Mormon have suggested that Old World migrants applied the term swine or its equivalent to other species they found upon their arrival. One very good candidate for the swine mentioned in the Book of Mormon is the American peccary.

Wild Pigs (Texas) These are descended from pigs introduced in Post-Columbian times
This naming practice, known as loan-shift, is familiar to scholars who study ancient cultures and their interactions (Lawrence B. Kiddle, "Spanish and Portuguese Cattle Terms in Amerindian Languages," in Herbert J. Izzo, ed., Italic and Romance: Linguistic Studies in Honor of Ernst Puigram. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1980, 273-74).

Collared Peccary or Javelina (Saltillo Mexico)

Recently, some critics of the Book of Mormon have scoffed at the idea that migrants from the Old World  to the new may have applied names they were familiar with new animals they encountered. Such criticisms are uninformed.

Shift happens.

Peccaries are not true pigs in terms of modern scientific classification, but they resemble them greatly in both appearance and behavior. The Spanish Conquistadors, explorers, and historians considered them pigs. Lyle Sowls observed:

When one travels within range of the peccaries, one hears references to “wild pigs” or “wild hogs.” In Spanish-speaking countries these are “los puercos,” “los cerdos,” or “los cochinos,” while in Portuguese-speaking countries the country people talk of “porcos.” German settlers in South America refer to “the schwein.” All of these names have been given to peccaries by people who first knew domestic hogs and equated them with peccaries in the New World (The Peccaries. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1984, 1).

Collared Peccary or Javelina (Saltillo Mexico)

Two known species of peccary that can be found throughout Central, and South America are the white lipped peccary and the smaller javelina or white-collared variety. Both of these species are at home in the tropical regions of the Tuxtlas Mountains of Mexico which some Latter-day Saints have suggested may have once been inhabited by the Jaredites. In his abridgment of the Jaredite record Moroni refers to "all manner of . . . swine" (Ether 9:18) suggesting that for the Jaredites at least there may have been more than one kind.

Collared Peccary or Javelina (Saltillo Mexico)

White-lipped Peccary

The collared peccary is known to live in herds of up to 20--30 animals. It has "characteristically hog-like jowls, protruding snout, thick neck, and delicate skinny legs. Gray to black hair covers its heavy-set body, with longer stiffer hairs cresting the spine. A collar of pale hair rings the neck. Like pigs, it grunts, or when frightened makes a doggish bark . . . They roll in the mud or dust to cool and clean off (Victoria Schlesinger, Animals and Plants of the Ancient Maya: A Guide. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001, 157-58).

One interesting characteristic of the peccary is the pungent musk gland it has on its back. This enables it to emit an unpleasant odor when provoked. Once killed, it is necessary to remove this glad from the carcass or the musk will render the meat inedible. If this is done, however, the problem is is eliminated

In spite of their gentle appearance, wild javelinas can be fierce when they feel threatened or cornered. One observer in northern Mexico observed, "Many dogs are killed by Peccaries, being torn open or gashed by their long, sharp-edged canine teeth. When about to attack, the Peccary lowers its head, champs its teeth, and advances sideways with its mouth open and under jaw turned to one side, ready for an upward lunge to rip up its enemy" (A. Starker Leopold, Wildlife of Mexico. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1959, 497). One thinks of the Savior's words "lest they turn again and rend you"!

White-lipped Peccary
The White-lipped peccary behaves much like the Collared Peccary, but favors swampy regions with thick vegetation. "This animal is more gregarious than the collared peccary, and hundreds of individuals may travel or wallow together; when this occurs, the low rumbling noise made can be heard for almost a kilometer" (Brian D. Dillon, "Meatless Maya? Ethnoarchaeological Implications for Ancient Subsistence," Journal of New World Archaeology 7 [1988]: 63). Both species are also omnivorous like domestic hogs. 

Peccaries, as an important source of meat in ancient Mesoamerican were likely hunted and eaten from at least Olmec times (1200-400 BC). They were also valued for their hides.In recent recent decades, however, some scholars have become convinced that peccaries may have sometimes been tamed and husbanded for use. According to Sowls, "the collared peccary tames quickly if removed from the mother and handled at an early age. This readiness to taming has been described by many writers" (Sowls, 105). Dillon, based on ethnographic evidence, concluded that the taming of peccary was likely a Pre-Columbian practice and that these and other animals may have been kept in stone enclosures which have been identified at some Maya sites (Dillon, 64). Kitty Emery thinks that both white-tailed deer and peccaries were husbanded by the Maya for food and other uses and finds support for this in analysis from soil samples (Kitty Emery, "Fauna," in Susan Toby Evans and David L. Webster, eds., Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia. London and New York: Routledge, 2010, 257).

Given its resemblance to wild pigs in its appearance and behavior, as well as its usefulness as resource for food and other commodities, it requires no stretch of credulity to see peccaries as an appropriate fit for the swine mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

White-lipped Peccary

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