The Wild Boar Hunt

Life scene next to river bank with group of Marsh Arab men from Beidah area. PM 53-26-60/15921.347
Close shot of a wild pig in boat Marsh Arab area. PM 53-26-60/15921.284
S. Y. Showket with a wild boar. PM 53-26-60/15921.321
Marsh Arab man performing an unidentified activity. PM 53-26-60/15921.355

The wild boar was a common animal in the marshes. During mating season, wild boar migrated from the lowlands below the Jabal H’amrīn to the marshland region. A male boar could reach the size of a small donkey and was known to charge boats. As Muslims, the Marsh Arabs considered boars to be dirty animals and were thus discouraged from touching them. Despite religious beliefs, wild boar hunting was considered a main sporting event for Marsh Arab men.

One April morning, Henry Field, along with Sheikh Fālih’  and his fellow male members of the expedition, scrambled into fifteen boats to go on a wild boar hunting trip, later writing, “We waited for the other boats to pull up into a line. Sheikh Fālih’  then announced that the hunt was to begin” (Field 1955:246). On a reed island, they spotted two wild boars jumping and plunging into the water.

As a guest of the Sheikh, Field fired the first shot, hitting the boar. The Sheikh then fired his gun and killed it. Field wrote, “My boatmen quickly paddled me over to him. The sheikh put out his great hand, beamed with excitement, and shock hands with me. Here was a wonderful team, the foreigner and the sheikh killing a magnificent specimen together” (Field 1955:248).

At the end of the hunt, Field explained to Sheikh Fālih’  that he wanted the boar’s skin and skeleton as specimens for the expedition collection. Since Muslims consider the boar to be unclean, Field’s request created discomfort and doubt in the eyes of the Sheikh and his tribesmen.

We were out in an open space, perhaps a mile across, when from behind I could see the tarrada with Sheikh Falih approaching. He passed us, the sheikh sitting with his 8-gauge gun resting on his knee and the striped flaps of his awning folded back. He waived majestically.

The boatmen steadied the boat. I took a careful bead on the neck of the wild boar and fired a . . . slug. The head of the boar plunged into the water, then came up again, and he churned on into the reeds. There was no time for a second shot.

There was dismay and consternation on the faces of the Arabs. . . . There was some muttering that the beast was unclean and that it was a disgusting sight even for Christians, such as we are, to touch it.

Yusuf worked all through the night and by dawn the borax-treated skin was pegged out on the ground, drying. . . . Later in the day we would be able to pack it in a wooden case, and our first large mammal specimen would be ready for its long journey to Chicago.

—Henry Field (The Track of Man, pp. 246-249)