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Poenamo
Book the Fourth - Chapter IX.
How we Shave a Pig


We paddled back to our meanwhile island home, carrying away with us the impression that the capital certainly still wore but a very infantile face, but, nevertheless, that it was fair to look upon, and we had a feeling of pleased contentment that with its growth it would still grow in beauty, and that its advancing years would never belie the fair promise of its youth, nor did they ever.

As we neared the island we received a most vociferous welcome from Tartar, who dashed into the water to receive us—a famous water-dog he was amongst many other wonderful qualities. Of course we found the flax lock of our whare even as we had left it, for we were still in advance of that civilisation which was to give us Pakeha thieves; but hereafter shall have to narrate to you how we became victims to that species of civilisation, and, strange to say, Motu Korea was the scene of the first great exploit of the kind.

The last month of spring had now arrived, and we found ourselves passing through a climate unrivalled in its beauty, and which gave a physical enjoyment of life that seemed to make the mere fact of living an ecstatic happiness.

Our importation of pig stock had obliged us to fence in our small garden, which we did with a dry scoria wall, and we worked away at small improvements, as it was our intention when we removed to town to try and get some one to come and take charge of our large and rapidly-increasing families of pigs, in order that the most should be made of our pig-run speculation, and that the fruits of our labours should not be thrown away when the capital created a market.

Meanwhile, until we should become absorbed as citizens in that capital, we had to eat and drink, and the stock of corned pork we laid in from Waipeha became exhausted.

We tacitly put off the evil day of taking the required steps to refill our "harness cask," but the unpleasant duty was at last forced upon us, as digging peppies out of the beach at low water had become quite intolerable, and, latterly, peppies had been the only addition to our potato fare.

It looked as if the nearer we got towards the "capital" point of civilisation the farther away we got from it in a social and domestic way.

At Waiomu, amongst our tattooed savage friends, we had all menial work taken off our hands; but now, with the young capital staring us in the face, we had to be our own everything. We had hitherto, with an equanimity worthy of all praise—at least, we most decidedly thought so—submitted to the performance of every kind of domestic work, but the climax had arrived now that it was a case of acting the— butcher.

There was no help for it, however it was either kill a pig or continue to go without meat, and we had now gone so long without it that we were beginning to realise the reason why Maories eat each other now and again, just to vary the monotony of their fish and vegetable diet.

So one morning saw us pushing through the high fern, with Tartar at our heels, to try and spot one of the fattest of those sixty porkers which had given me my first commercial lesson. The rich free soil of the island made the fern-root easily grubbed up, so that a hog, if full-grown, Soon became fat and kept so without any other food, and made pork of great delicacy, perfectly different to the same article at home.

After some little hunting about we succeeded in singling out the intended victim, and, pointing it out to Tartar, he soon had it by the ear, and held it until we came up and tied a flax string to the foot, when we drove it home to the place of execution.

Here we had prepared a nice bed of fern on which our victim was to be scraped—we had kindled fires under our largest pots for the boiling water—the scalding-tub was at hand, and all was ready.

There lay the knife, long and sharp, but who was to use that knife had never been alluded to by either of us. Each hugged to his soul the belief it would be the other, and not himself.

We threw the pig on its side amid much loud music given forth not only by the pig but Tartar, who added to the deafening row. I got my knees on the animal's head to keep him down, and thought I had played ane card.

There is the knife. Now is your time," said I.

For me!—I stick a pig. How do I know where its heart is? Come, go ahead—it is all in the way of your profession; don't be chicken-hearted."

Whereat I looked at the ugly long sharp knife, and roared, to be heard above the awful squealing—

"Can't do it!"

"Nothing for dinner!"

"Diiner be d—d !"

"Only one dig, and all's over."

"Dig yourself."

"Then we must dig peppies! peppies! peppies!" each "peppies" yelled out louder and louder.

Then came a furious struggle from the porker. We both jumped up—porker staggered away.

Somehow I had given him his quietus.

Ah ! beastly!" came from me as I chucked away the knife.

Bravo! You really did it splendidly—positively quite a scientific thrust. The poor brute is dead already—believe you gone straight to the heart. Don't look so woebegone; it's all over now."

Yes, the sticking was but something awaited us which proved a much worse job than killing the beast—the scraping it.

We lifted up our victim and soused it well in boiling water in the scalding-tub, turning it over and walloping it about in a wonderful manner, so that ever bit of the carcass should get a good dip in the boiling water, and then lifting it out we placed it on a bed of fern, expecting to see the hair come peeling off.

But, lo ! great was our disappointment, for hardly a hair, let alone a bristle, came away; it all stuck most pertinaciously to the brute, defying all our efforts to remove it.

The water certainly was boiling, I remarked.

"I thought so to, but let us pour some more over the brute; we have a spare supply in that other boiler."
And more we did pour, but not a bit would the hair come off.

Pleasant work it was, to be sure, with a strong hot sun overhead, the lifting the carcass into the tub again, then out again, in the vain attempt to properly scald it and get the hair off.

Ah, poor greenhorns! you may scrape and scrape, but the hair off that pig you will never scrape. By one process only can you now get that hair off; and that is—by shaving.

The water ought not to have been boiling. A bucketful of cold water should have been dashed in to take it off the boiling-point, and then had porker been submerged the hair would have all come away. We had what is termed set it, and thoroughly well set it was, and no mistake. But this was an experience which came to us too late, and that pig we had to shave, and a nice little job it was. The porker did not look at all sightly when we hung it up on the branch of a tree; it was not that beautiful white carcass that delighteth the eye of a butcher as he hangs it, lemon in mouth, in his stall. Alas! our poor porker looked as if it was rejoicing in a beard of a week's growth.

But this was our first and our last experience in pig-sticking—we never required to kill another. The eventuality was one I had not anticipated when learning up experiences in my "ain kintrie" by practical lessons for the future of an emigrant's life. I had, in anticipation of being thrown on my own resources as a sheep-squatter in Australia, taken a lesson before leaving home of how to kill a sheep and deal with the carcass, but I little thought then that pigs in Maoriland was to be my fate. The knowledge I had gained in the sheep line, however, stood me in good stead, and but for it we might have made a far greater mess before we reached the stage of hanging up the opened carcass of our shaved pig.

There is romance and reality in the early settlers life. The romance is ever prominently narrated, and travels far and wide and deludes many a victim, but the stern realities ever remain an unknown quantity, except to those who have to pass through the ordeal, and the remembrances are often painful enough.

'Tis well the future of our lives is a sealed book, or we should never have nerve to face in cold blood what comes to us in life as the "inevitable," and which we go through because we must and can't help it.

Had I known I should have to play the butcher in killing and scalding pigs ten to one I should have turned up an aristocratic nose at the very idea, and seen emigration further. Perhaps I was none the worse for having killed that pig, but certes I was none the better; and had I gone on having such work to do, certes some shade of refinement must have gone to the wall, but that one pig-sticking was the alpha and omega of that work, and right glad was I. Of rough hard work we had any amount before us, but we took to it pleasantly and with a will as part of the inevitable that was our portion.

But none the less did we rejoice that pig-sticking and shaving of the kind we had encountered was for ever a thing of the past.


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