I was reading about polo in India and the role played by the British military in bringing polo from India to England, and thence to the United States, when I came across another British sport in India that involved a spear rather than a mallet, and an enraged boar rather than a ball.
Pig sticking certainly doesn’t have polo’s cachet, but for a time it had its own journal, Hog Hunters’ Annual, and books devoted to the subject, including Sir Robert Baden-Powell’s Pig-Sticking or Hog-Hunting: A Complete Account for Sportsmen and Others (1889), Reminiscences of Twenty Years’ Pigsticking in Bengal (1893) by “Raoul” and Modern Pig Sticking (1914) by Major A.E. Wardrop.
A watercolor by Snaffles
Pig sticking even had its own Super Bowl – the Kadir Cup – its own toast – “To the Boar!” – and its own songs, most probably sung after several toasts. A number of artists illustrated the sport for magazines and prints, most notably Charles Johnson Payne (1884-1967), who signed his sketches “Snaffles.” The sport thrived in India from the early 1800s until just after World War II. Its essence was described by Major General J.G. Elliott in his Field Sports in India 1800-1947:
“Armed with a nine-foot lance, the pig-sticker rode a galloping horse in pursuit of wild boar which had been flushed out of the bush by beaters. The aim was to stick the boar immediately behind the shoulder, so that the spear would pass through the lungs and out at the breast.”
The sporting aspect came from the marked reluctance of the boar to cooperate. The boars of India grew up to five feet in length and three feet at the shoulder; Elliott wrote of one bad boy who measured 44 inches at the shoulder and weighed more than 400 pounds. Such boars ran as fast as a horse, could make a 90-degree turn at a full gallop (a practice known as “jinking”), and came armed with curved tusks up to 9 inches long, sharp teeth and a profoundly irritable disposition. When unable to outrun its pursuer, the boar turned and charged.
In the middle was the horse, who could be cut, even killed, by the boar’s tusks. And once speared, boars were known to struggle upwards on the lance to get to the wide-eyed man at the end.
“The Pig Takes a Toss,” a sketch from the Kadir Cup of 1923 by Lionel Edwards (1878-1966)
The boar aside, the pursuit itself was dangerous. Elliott notes, “The horse had to be able to remain upright when galloping full tilt through thick grass six to nine feet high, over ground as hard as rock, seamed with large and small nullahs [steep, narrow watercourses, usually dry] and the occasional sunken buffalo wallow… Old, disused wells, completely overgrown by long grass, were a constant hazard… in 1890, a Colonel Napier fell into one and broke his neck.”
Watercolor by Sir Robert Baden-Powell
Baden-Powell offered this advice to riders:
“So, considering the extra dangers inherent in pig-sticking it would be well for the beginner to cultivate what art there is in falling, for all things are possible to the hog-hunter who knows how to fall. The main thing is under all circumstances to keep hold of your reins, for three reasons : first, because it is at least a nuisance to be left horseless in the presence of an angry boar ; secondly, because it may sometimes save you from being dragged, if your foot catches in the stirrup; thirdly, because the act of hanging on to the reins often gives the body a cant up at the critical part of the pitch and so saves a broken collar bone.”
Cigarette trading cards
Pig stickers, much like polo players, sought horses suited to the task. Captain Scott-Cockburn wrote of his favorite mount:
“Carclew really loved a hunt. At the cry ‘woh jata’ (there he goes) I could feel his heart thumping between my legs; once a boar had been singled out he would follow him as a greyhound will a hare. In the open he would place me right to spear within a minute. In thick tamarisk or grass it was no more necessary for me to steer him than in the open. Whenever we lost a pig it was either in impenetrable thorn, or when the cover was over my head. I think he must have accounted for a good third of the 500-odd boar on which I got ‘first spear.’ In ten years’ hunting, he was never cut by a pig nor missed his turn.”
“Tent clubs” served to organize the hunts, and their activities were reported in The Oriental Sporting Magazine. The killing of female hogs was frowned upon, and pregnant sows always received a pass. Any member of the Calcutta Tent Club who accidentally killed a sow was fined 12 bottles of champagne.
Photo from an 1895 magazine article; the only image I’ve ever seen with women, and it could be me, but they don’t appear to be too pleased. And below, a second image from the same article.
The beaters were the final, and indispensable, members of the cast. Elliott wrote:
“Barefoot, clad only in a loincloth and pagri [turban], and carrying a stout pole, a hundred of them in line would beat through the high grass until a rideable boar emerged with a savage ‘woof-woof’ from a thicket. And all for a few annas a day. There was, however, another attraction. Fox hunting has been described as the ‘unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable,’ but pig sticking has the edge as pork was considered a great delicacy by the beaters.”
“The Line of Beaters” by Sir Robert Baden-Powell
The day’s hunt, in a field where temperatures might be over 100˚F in the shade, would end at mid-day with a quick lunch, “plenty of cold beer,” and a long nap before an evening visit to the horse lines and then dinner in the mess tent where the men would talk about pig sticking.
The Kadir Cup
The sport had its competitive side. First held in the 1870s, the Kadir Cup was a competition for “first spear” and hosted more than 50 entrants annually. Groups of three were drawn and when a pig was flushed the men galloped off, each trying to spear the pig and draw first blood. The first to do so showed his spear to the umpire and went into the next round. At day’s end, the winner received the entry fees and with the money bought a replica of the trophy.
The most famous winner of the Kadir Cup, in 1883, was Sir Robert Baden-Powell, a Lieutenant-General in the British Army in India and Africa, and the founder of the Boy Scout movement. In a chapter on pig sticking in his autobiography, Lessons from the Varsity of Life (1933), he wrote:
“Yes, hog-hunting is a brutal sport – and yet I loved it, as I loved also the fine old fellow I fought against. I cannot pretend that I am not inconsistent. But are many of us entirely consistent ? Do what we will and say what we like, although we have a veneer of civilisation, the primitive man’s instincts are still not far below the surface.”
Hog hunting in India came to an end after World War II, as cavalry gave way to mechanized warfare and the British departed. The sport is still pursued in other nations.
A particularly appropriate Snaffles sketch from Hog Hunters’ Annual