Sara Morris Swetcharnik

The Chuleta Saga:

By Sara Morris Swetcharnik

Chuleta's Beginning

Dr. George Hasemann, to whom these Chuleta stories are dedicated, was an anthropologist and archaeologist from the United States who lived and worked in Honduras for many years until his death in 1998. One day, we met with George and his family for a picnic at the zoo. We asked them about their famous pet peccary, Chuleta (pork chop). Gloria, George's wife said that he already had the wild pig when she first met him. Everyone else was afraid of Chuleta, she added with a laugh, but he loved George. George started to reminisce about his beloved pig.

At an archaeological field camp on the river Sulaca, George’s project manager had been saying that they should create a comparative bone collection with local, indigenous animals. A baby peccary was brought to the camp. "He was tiny," George told us, holding the heels of his palms together, "Just about this big – at the most, six weeks old." He convinced the field manager to wait until the peccary was larger before including him in the bone collection. When excavating a prehistoric site, he argued, they would be far more likely to encounter the fossilized bones of mature peccaries that had been eaten for dinner.


Chuleta Comes of Age

At first, Chuleta was as cute as any piglet and easy to keep. As he matured, he began to roam with the local domestic pigs along the village street. His adult characteristics – stiff bristly hair and tusks – were beginning to show. One day, an Iowa farm boy who had just joined the archaeology team was sitting having coffee outside a pulpería. Scott had grown up around pigs. As Chuleta walked past with a group of local swine, Scott drawled, "They sure have some strange looking pigs here." It was becoming evident that Chuleta was a chancho de monte, a real wild pig.

With time, Chuleta's differences from a regular pig grew more marked, especially those having to do with his maleness. The smell of a regular pig can be pretty bad, but the smell of an adult male peccary can be horrible. A virile peccary has powerful musk glands on its back, attractive to the opposite sex of the same species but less so to a female of the human species. Eventually, George's wife Gloria told him to decide between her and the pig. So George found a country "vet" who made his living castrating pigs and bulls for local farmers, and he asked him to come to their house and neuter Chuleta. But by the time the fellow showed up, George and Gloria were feeling badly about robbing Chuleta of his manhood. They told the vet that they had changed their minds but that they would pay him anyway. The vet, however, was very intent on doing the job he had been asked to do, as though it were his own abilities that were called to question. "I did not come here for the money," he said, "I came here to do a job." They argued for a long time before the vet consented to leave the pig alone.


Chuleta in Love

In the wild, adult peccaries are very shy, but in captivity they can become quite aggressive. George and Gloria knew that it would be difficult to have a grown male peccary as a pet, but they kept putting off Chuleta's day of reckoning. After the research team finished the field season, they all went back to their laboratory and head camp in La Libertad, Comayagua. Chuleta was moved into a fenced-in yard right outside Doña María's kitchen. He could not get out easily.

One week while George and Gloria were away in the capital city, Chuleta escaped from his yard. Returning, they discovered that the peccary had fallen in love with a common domestic pig, a sow that had been wandering the streets. They were snuggled together in her pen down the road and no one could get him away. The sow's owner and the other locals were afraid of Chuleta and had been waiting for George's help. George assured the worried townsfolk that it would be an easy matter to tie up and move Chuleta. Still, no one offered to help. So George, figuring that he was Chuleta's best friend, supposed it would be no problem to move the pig by himself. He rolled up his sleeves and picked up a rope, but he quickly discovered that it is not easy to tie up the feet and snout of a wild peccary in love. Chuleta slashed George's arms several times and then mashed a finger between his teeth. Exasperated, Gloria finally said, "You men! Enough of this nonsense." She walked back to the kitchen and got some of Chuleta's favorite food. Gloria waved it in front of the wild pig and proceeded to walk home. Chuleta got up and followed Gloria back to his own yard. She then tossed the chicken leg and tortillas inside the gate and shut Chuleta in.


Chuleta's Restaurant

From the beginning, Chuleta the young peccary had made himself at home around the kitchen with Doña María, the cook. They grew to like each other a lot. Chuleta would follow her almost everywhere. He would lie on his back with feet in the air for Doña María to scratch his belly. He was the fattest peccary that George had ever seen. When he grew older and more difficult to manage, he was confined to the kitchen courtyard where the research team had their meals.

Meals are always important to a pig. To a wild pig, territory is also very important. When the research team came for meals, Chuleta had to sniff and approve each one of them. No one could enter the courtyard without his permission. One morning, a Japanese intern arrived at breakfast immaculately dressed in white pants, about to take a trip into town. Chuleta did his customary sniff at the intern's legs, but he had mud on his nose. The pants got dirty. The intern, appalled, picked up an old chair and broke it over Chuleta's back. The startled peccary galloped off to a corner and sulked all day. The next day, as usual, the intern came to breakfast. When Chuleta emerged to inspect him, the long coarse hairs along the pig's spine bristled, his teeth clattered, he sounded a threatening grunt, and he flashed his fangs. The next thing everyone knew, the intern was hanging from a beam with Chuleta underneath slashing at his tennis shoes.

One day, three world-famous anthropologists came to inspect the project site. These were names of the sort that strike fear in the heart of aspiring young researchers. Two of the reviewers, David and John, were calm, cool guys. The third, Bill, had a personality that George likened to a grated onion. After a nerve-wracking morning, the reviewers were invited to lunch. As always, Chuleta had to approve everyone who entered his courtyard. George walked in first, and as Chuleta's best friend was duly approved. Then Chuleta sniffed David's pants and looked up as if to say, "OK, you can also come to lunch." Then John passed inspection. Then Gloria – another old friend – passed inspection. Next in line was Bill. Chuleta took one sniff and bristled. Bill backed up slowly to the fence and tried to climb it without turning away from the ferocious creature. Everyone was laughing so hard that no one thought to help him out. "What great instincts!" George exclaimed, relishing the memory as he told me the story, "Chuleta had never even met Bill before."

Chuleta defined mealtime manners in his own way. On one occasion, a member of the anthropology team who went by the name of "Boy Dixon" had been away and was unaware of a new tradition: at every meal, Chuleta had come to expect a treat of fresh watermelon rinds. Not that it was always appetizing to have the peccary around the table. According to Eric, another member of the team, who liked to disgust everyone by squeezing a pungent dose of odor out of the musk gland on Chuleta's back, on this particular occasion Chuleta had also found an open sewage line and rolled in it (a version of the story disputed by Gloria, who claims to this day that Chuleta – in spite of his other annoying habits – was a very clean pig). At any rate, when Boy Dixon finished his melon, Chuleta came over and began to nudge him for a treat. Boy yelled at Chuleta to get out of his face. Eric told Boy Dixon that the peccary would be content if he just gave him the rind. Instead, Boy gave the pig a shove. Eric intervened in the dispute and gave Chuleta his own rind. But as soon as Chuleta finished the morsel, he came back to Boy Dixon demanding to be fed. Boy kicked Chuleta, and Chuleta whirled around and imbedded his tusks in Boy Dixon's side, right in the roll of flesh above his belt, drawing blood. Boy, enraged and cursing, lifted a chair and went after Chuleta. But the pig stood his ground, clacking his teeth menacingly, growling and shaking in anger. George managed to break up the fight before it escalated into serious injury. But from that day on, whenever Chuleta saw Boy Dixon – with or without a watermelon rind – he would start trembling with rage all over again. Or at least that's what Eric says. Gloria says that Chuleta and Boy Dixon got along fine after that, but that Chuleta never forgave the Japanese intern.

Chuleta protected the yard area as his own, not only from humans, but also from other animals. No geese, no chickens, no dogs were allowed into the yard. Doña María kept Chuleta’s bowl constantly full. While the pig was sleeping one day, a small kitten came into the yard and over to his bowl and began eating his food. The kitten had been a gift to a neighbor girl and still had a bright red ribbon tied around its neck. Chuleta awoke, got up indignantly, shook himself, and walked over bristling and clattering his teeth. The kitten's tail went straight up, she hissed and swatted him on the nose. Chuleta then sulked back into his corner while the kitten ate everything in his bowl. The kitten continued to visit with full kitchen privileges.


Adiós, Chuleta

When the time came to return to field camp, no one was any longer contemplating Chuleta as a candidate for the comparative bone collection. But no one knew what to do with him. They were all fond of the peccary, but realized he was not suited as a domestic pet. "Well, hell – we'll just take him back with us to the main camp!" George shrugged, "He can free roam around the camp and maybe he will join a herd of wild pigs." George built a sturdy plywood partition to keep Chuleta in the back of the project jeep. But Chuleta wanted to be up front with George and Gloria and somehow passed through the partition. Then Chuleta got carsick and Gloria let the fifty-pound peccary climb into her lap. But what Chuleta really wanted was to be with George, so he kept trying to climb over to the driver's side. George kept pushing him back. Chuleta would then climb down onto the floorboard and under George's legs. So George would stop the car, put Chuleta back in Gloria's lap, and then the whole process would start over again. Finally, Chuleta got angry and started clacking his molars and baring his fangs. Trying to drive with an angry peccary was just too dangerous. So George stopped the car and let him out. The last they saw of Chuleta, he was trotting down the road.

Thereafter, whenever Gloria got mad at George, she would tell him that Chuleta probably just walked up to someone's house and was eaten for dinner.