Title: Exotic Intruders

Author: Joan Druett

Publication details: Heinemann, 1983, Auckland

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Joan Druett

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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Exotic Intruders

The kune kune pig

page 10

The kune kune pig

There were at least three kinds of pigs liberated in New Zealand by the early explorers. The 'Captain Cooker' was black, with a very long snout and a razor back, originally of the Tamworth variety, built for speed rather than for beauty. Then there was the Berkshire variety, a stouter breed of pig. These interbred readily, and then intermixed again with the domestic pigs that the colonists brought. Their offspring soon lost the domestic flavour, tasting more like venison than pork.

The third type introduced before organised settlement was most unusual—the little round animal called the kune kune pig. Dieffenbach in 1843 wrote, 'New Zealand pigs are a peculiar breed, with short heads and legs and compact bodies.' Obviously he was not talking about the Captain Cooker variety, which could never lay claim to a 'compact body.'

Kune kune pig

Kune kune pig

The kune kune was of the old Poland China breed, standing only 60 cm at the shoulder. Even in maturity it resembled nothing so much as a piglet after an excess of greediness. It arrived first in 1805, when Governor King presented 26 sows and 4 boars to a Maori chief in the Bay of Islands. The tribe adopted the undeniably cute little animals with enthusiasm, so that they became pets for their children and status symbols as well as a much appreciated food source. The Maoris gave the animals away at ceremonial feasts but were very crafty about it, gifting the boars to a tribe distant in one direction and the sows to people in the other, and thus retaining the breeding monopoly.

This pig, as well as being an asset to any Maori village, became the subject of a joke. When Dieffenbach expressed an interest in the small animals, he was told solemnly that when the pigs first arrived, the people mistook them for horses, and therefore, sadly, the first two were ridden to death before the error was realised. Dieffenbach was famous for his credulity, but it is amazing that even he swallowed this anecdote. A sense of humour was evident in the naming of the pig. The word 'kune kune' means 'fat round belly'.

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