Bush pigs! The young boys who had gone into the gorge to flush out game scrambled to get out of the way. Twice the pigs tried to run out of the high grass, but seeing hunters ready for them, turned back into cover. Then, a huge hog burst out of the grass right in front of me. The Ik to my left threw his spear, missing, and I did the same. The boar veered sharply back down into the gorge. About that time, a smaller pig took off up the hill on the opposite side. One hunter launched his spear and missed. A second hunter found his mark; the spear pierced the pig high and toward its hindquarters, coming out the other side. It kept running but then tumbled down another steep embankment out of my sight.
Once the small pig was ‘in the bag’, or as the Ik say, had ƙaa akak ‘gone into the mouth’, the other hunters shifted their attention to the two pigs that got away. Before I knew it, I was nearly the last man on the ridge. I took off after the others, huffing and puffing in the mountain air. As I crested the next ridge, the hunters had already begun surrounding a stretch of riverbed in a wide gorge. Apparently, the big boar had tried to hide himself in the overgrown riverbed. It took no more than five minutes for the dogs to find him.
By the time I reached the scene, the dogs had cornered the boar against the steep riverbank. Ik dogs are small, about the size of a beagle, so are not capable of bringing down a pig of this size. But they are brave! (When an Ik dog makes its first and second successful kill, it gets the tip of an ear sliced off as a badge of honor (see photo)).
In the midst of shouting, barking, squealing, yelping, and snorting, I tried to position myself to video the climax of the hunt. The old boar managed to flip a young dog on its back and was trying hard to disembowel it with its four-inch tusks. The dog was yelping bloody-murder, for good reason. A quick hunter threw his spear at such close range it never really left his hand. The spearhead punctured the skin just behind the shoulder, in the vitals. This weakened the ol’ hog but didn’t finish him. It took another spear, an arrow, and about ten whacks with the dull side of a machete for him to give up his ghost!
In all the drama and chaos, no one was quite sure which boar this was of the three we jumped, nor who was the first and second killer (the killers get the lion’s share of the meat, so it’s an important determination). What ensued was a five minute argument that was finally settle by someone up on the hill who had seen everything.
In the blink of an eye, the whole valley was vacated as most of the hunters took off after the ‘one that got away’. I was left with four Ik who immediately set about to butchering and quartering the boar.
An older Ik instructed the younger ones on how to properly divide the cuts among the killers, the elders (who always get the choicest parts), and the rest of us. Another Ik went to get bark from the milk-leaf tree to string up the meat cuts for the journey home (see photo).
We waited for over an hour as the larger group searched in vain for the third pig. They even left the first killed pig undressed for us. The four Ik with me made short work of it, without any complaints (see photo).
Exhausted, I lay down on the charred-grass ground. Somewhere in the distance, a turaco let out its eerie cry that sounds first like a human, then like an ape. Finally, after getting rained on, we heard many voices echoing through the hills as the hunting party approached. They hadn’t found the pig, but they did get a warthog (see photo).
On the way back we stopped at a rather stagnant waterhole, where dogs and men drank side by side (see photo). I bowed out of this opportunity, but the Ik have been getting water from places like this for centuries.
Tired and worried for my wife, who had expected me home five hours ago, I asked a hunter if we were going home. He said ‘no’. First we have to ɟues ‘roast’. Well, at least that will satisfy my hunger! About a half-an-hour’s walk from home, we plopped down our loads in a flat place between two boulders and began collecting firewood. Two bonfires were kindled, and meat of all shapes and sizes was thrown onto them (see photo).
After quite an amount of meat was consumed in a rather unofficial manner, the official procedure began. All the hunters divided themselves into four groups, according to their age-sets: young boys, young men, middle-aged men, older men, and well...me, that guy that didn’t fit any category because of being a foreigner. By the same token, I was offered honored morsels reserved for elderly men only. Most of what I ate was good, though a bit of salt would have really improved it: liver, spleen, heart, skin with fat on it, ribs, etc. The last piece, a bit of undercooked liver with a very strange taste, nearly made me retch. After chewing and spitting out a thick, pinkish-purplish stream of liquified underdone liver, I decided to call it a day.
By then most of the others were satisfied, we packed up one last time and made the hike up the hill to our ridgetop manyattas. As we rounded the last bend in the trail, I asked the hunters to file past me so I could film their triumphant procession. They happily obliged. I too was happy. Happy because I had witnessed what few people witness today: The Old Way. The way humankind eked out their survival before they had knowledge of domesticating plants and animals, before being a carnivor became unfashionable. As far as I can tell, the Ik are excellent hunters: quick, unified, effective. They create solidarity among the men and provide protein for their families at home. But as the modern world encroaches more and more on this land, the Ik will need to adapt to changing times. The advent of the gun has nearly wiped out the once teeming wildlife of this area. It used to be that the Ik could hunt and trap to their hearts’ content without any appreciable impact on the wildlife. But today, this is less true. Eventually laws will need to be put in place to protect the dwindling animals from extinction. And then, a very old way of life will be over.
Blood and blade, tooth and nail...this is The Old Way.
Don’t forget. Animals still die so we can eat meat.