Saturday, February 23, 2013

Kan Te Ko (lead male pig)

In my book Good Morning Yesterday, I wrote about an itinerant service from the kampong days known as Kan Te Ko. I am reminded of this interesting profession when I saw a photo by Andy MacDonald posted at Tom O’brien’s Memories of Singapore.

Here’s an extract from pages 67 to 69 my book;

So far I have told you about itinerant services provided by food vendors, tinkers and koyok sellers who visited our kampong. But there is one more which is sure to tickle you, and that is the itinerant farmer who provided a service called ‘kan te ko’. Kan te ko which literally means, “to lead (male) pig”, is best translated as stud service. Basically this man – let’s called him KTK for short - will visit the pig farms with his ‘stud’ and impregnate the sows for a fee of $3 per sow. Apparently results were guaranteed; otherwise they would be happy (not sure about the poor animal though) to do a repeat job. Farmers were also advised to feed their sows with eggs to increase the chance of pregnancies.

(According to my friend James Seah) Whenever the KTK arrived at the village to provide this ‘baby-making service’, all the young girls who were unmarried were not allowed to watch. The curious girls were told not to ask why the animals were making so much noise. My friend Yeo Hong Eng who grew up in a farm in Kampong Tanah Merah Kechil shared this interesting information with me.

"My father used to rear several sows. When the sows were ‘in heat’, they would become agitated and want to break out of their sty. My father would send for the KTK. This farmer would tie a light rope on the shoulder of the boar and drive him with a small stick to our pig sty. There consummation would take place. Sometimes the KTK had a hard time trying to get the pig to walk as directed. When passing by a muddy pool, it would wallow in the mud first in spite of coaxing and beatings. It would only get up when it was satisfied with the bath. A bigger boar could be so stout and strong that instead of the farmer dragging the boar, it was the boar that dragged the farmer.Farmers often met and shared their experiences. Some lamented having so many sows and having to spend a fortune for the stud service. But the ‘service provider’ also had his business risks. Sometimes the sow had a false alarm and refused to consummate or the heat was over and the sow was not in the mood. In such cases the sow owner had to pay a reduced fee of $1.00."

Of course the KTK was a job that no woman would not want to take up. But sometimes when the man of the house was unavailable or sick, she had no choice but to stand in. Like the night soil carrier, this profession became extinct in Singapore. After the Primary Production Department was set up, technicians bearing syringes of Berkshire sperm from Australia took over the job. Subsequently, pig rearing was disallowed in Singapore.

UPDATE (24/2/2013)

Reader Lye Khuen Way’s comment about seeing the carcasses of drowned pigs in the Alexandra Canal, during the floods of the 1960s, reminds me of some photos that I have seen at the National Archives’ Picas website. Dated 03/12/1978, these photos describe the plight of pig farmers at Braddell Road, which was quite near to the kampong I grew up in. These photos come with the following description.

“The rains held off as flood waters receded in all parts of Singapore. The flood had caused heavy damage to property, livestock and poultry. The worst hit area was the farm belt stretching across Woodlands, Braddell Road, Potong Pasir and Changi. At least 2,000 pigs and a large number of poultry have perished as flood waters swollen by heavy rain, swirled through the farms on Saturday and Sunday morning.

Picture shows pigs stoically await rescue in their pens as rising water level slowly creeps up to their snouts. They are the luckier ones to be rescued although they will probably end up in a frying pan. Scores of others drowned in the floods."


Lye Khuen Way said...

Thanks for a quick intro to animal husbandry - Old Singapore style !

Remembered back in the 60's when the Alexandria Canal when swollen with rain would once in a while gave dead pigs floating down stream.

Another unforgettable event was one flooding that caused sewage to bubble up from the manholes at the back of the SIT/HDB flats where I stayed.

We had very lush green grass for weeks after that ! The smell was also unforgettable.......

korina said...

Hi Chun See. it's Paul Warner again.I remember the pig farms in Jalan Kayu and the smell was quite bad when the wind blew in a certain direction into Seletar Air Base.
Also I remember the December '78 floods. I was an alterboy serving at St Vincent de Paul Church at sunset mass on a Saturday when my mum and I had to walk home because no SBS buses were running.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I have never been here but it seems to be interesting:) The photos are... how to say that... when you see them, you "have to" start thinking about what the important things actually are if you know what I mean...