Prey into kin: the cosmological role of the pig in the Kelabit Highlands, Sarawak


en Anthropozoologica 56 (11) - Pages 167-180

Published on 06 August 2021

This article is a part of the thematic issue Suidae in ritual contexts in contemporary times

In this article I explore the role of both the wild pig (baka) and the domesticated pig (berak) among the Kelabit of Sarawak, focusing in particular on their pre-Christian cosmological role. The wild pig (mainly Sus barbatus Müller, 1838 but also Sus scrofa Linnaeus, 1758), the main source of wild meat in the area, used to be associated with the spirit world, particularly with the Great Spirit. The domesticated pig (Sus scrofa) was, in pre-Christian Kelabit belief and practice, important in communication with the spirit world. I suggest here that the pig is transformed into kin to humans through being fed rice, and that this may be seen as the basis for its appropriateness as a way of communicating with the spirit world.


Cosmology, rice, house, prayer, kinship, gender.

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