When all this is over, said the swineherd,
I mean to retire, where
Nobody will have heard about my special skills
And conversation is mainly about the weather.
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Swineherd (1972)
I recently began some research into the grammar and spelling rules for the word “swineherd” and the phrase “swine herd.” I had previously noticed a tendency of the major search engines to take “swine herd” and make it “swineherd” in search results (and yes, they indiscriminately do the came with “cowherd” and “cow herd”). Type “swine herd” into Yahoo!, Google or Bing and you’ll mostly get results for “swineherd”.
Lets stop a second and define these terms as they are currently heard on the street:
- swine herd
- a group of swine kept together for a specific purpose
- AS: Disease can significantly lower profitability in a swine herd if health precautions are not followed rigorously.
- a person who tends swine, purposefully keeping them together by some form of constraint.
- AS: If pigs could vote, the man with the slop bucket would be elected swineherd every time.
Milling and rooting about and blocking the road ahead
I thought a blog post on the misuse and confusion of these two terms might be interesting. I also hoped it would afford me the opportunity for some fun word play with pigs at orthography’s expense.
As I delved into some pre-post research I realized I also needed to account for the hyphenated word “swine-herd” and what about “swineherder” and was there a “swine-herder” or swineherdship”…? Suddenly, a whole herd of variant swine words was before me, milling and rooting about and blocking the road ahead. And all those assembled variants seemed to become more like a boring exercise in spelling and grammar than a fun subject for a porcine pundit.
Photojournalism as an agent for change against social injustice
I was pondering this deepening complexity of my subject when I was delivered from the entire conundrum by Muhammad Murtada, a photojournalist from Bangladesh… As often happens to me, I find some of the most marvelous (and distracting) pig discoveries when I am looking for some totally different variety of pig information. And here was just such a situation.
A chance click on a “swineherd” search result along about page 5 of a Google search brought me to the Alexa Foundation’s web site and the remarkable images, taken by Muhammad Murtada, that you are enjoying here.
In 2010, Muhammad Murtada from Dhaka, Bangladesh was a third year photojournalism student at Pathshala, the South Asian Institute Media Academy. He was also the second place student winner in the Alexia Foundation’s 2010 student competition promoting photojournalism as an agent for change against social injustice.
Energy expended in misery and subjugation
Murtada’s winning entry, “Swineherd: the salaried gypsy with a domestic mind” gives us a view of the arduous lifestyle of present day Dalit swineherds in Bangladesh and shows the social discrimination that still exists in civilized society of the twenty-first century. In describing his entry, Murtada said:
As a part of my personal project about Dalit, I started to capture arduous lifestyle of Swineherds to show the social discrimination of our so called civilized society of twenty first century. I would bring them in focus through my photographs to the audience to make a social awareness to treat them as human and reduce the social discrimination.
What initially caught and held my attention here after I clicked the result link were the photographs, and not just the pigs that were a part of the subject matter. It was the artistry of the photographer – the black and white format with exacting exposures that gave the images such deep blacks and vivid textures, the carefully chosen and compelling compositions, and the presentation of a working life where energy was expended in misery and subjugation.
Fates and predeterminations
I was fascinated by the images and began to read the text of what was Murtada’s contest proposal and project description. And I realized, these were not images from some National Geographic Society expedition of 1920s, this was something happening right now. I made a few visits to Wikipedia to learn more about the Caste system in India and the Dalit people and the country of Bangladesh.
And suddenly here was this weighty reminder of the really incomprehensible vastness and diversity that still exists in our present world. Tweets and space shuttles and nearly instant phone connections from wherever you are to the antipodes… While someone is all teched up and online flirting with a soul mate or a security disaster, these men are herding swine, living in abject poverty and have surrendered irrevocably to the fates and predeterminations that literally control their lives.
Grateful for this adaptive advantage
It is a protective mechanism of our human brains that we do not always have to deal with this greater awareness of the world at large. There is likely a term used among psychologists and human behaviorists that describe this sub-conscious function of our brains that protects us the overwhelming prospect of thinking or remembering or feeling everything all the time.
I do not know the word that describes that function of our brain, but I’m grateful for this adaptive advantage of our evolution as sentient beings. I could not bear to continually have thoughts of what the swineherd subjects of this photo essay, might be doing or enduring as I make morning coffee or read my granddaughter a story or drive on a busy highway.
Points of departure beyond the kind distractions of indifferent days
We can, thankfully, sometimes not worry about every moment of our children’s day, about a dear relative living alone in a distant city, about the niece going off to college in another state, or about the swineherd whose bitter existence we just learned of here by a chance click of a Google result link.
And yet we also have points of departure in our lives that are beyond the kind distractions and anesthetics of indifferent days. We can all still be moved, we can all still care, and if sufficiently moved we can all choose to do something within our power and our means to promote changes in what bothers us. I often need to remind myself to step up or step out and not step back. This post is one of those reminders (and yes, I presume to remind readers as well).
I expect there are yet before me a plurality of these points of departure that will pierce through the bounds of each days protective dullness. I hope I react – give a little time or money, ponder or discuss or blog some issue, speak up, step up or somehow respond.
And as for resolving the grammatical issues between “swineherd” and “swine herd” on internet search engine results, well, you have been enlightened and informed, act accordingly. I have decided not to investigate the matter further. Instead I choose to write and mail a donation check to the Alexa Foundation.