Arkay Sonney intro

The Isle of Man has many fairy tales unique to its culture. I was trying to focus on some lesser-known tales, and trying to keep a nice selection of different subjects, not just animals or just small, perky humanoid creatures, but some of each. I’m not really a specialist in ‘fairy lore’ but many of my friends are, and this project will hopefully bring them some chuckles.

Today, ‘Arkay Sonney’ translates from modern Manx to English as ‘hedgehog’. Literally, it means, ‘lucky piggy’. In older tales, it described the mystic pigs that bestowed good luck on those who could catch them. They were described as small and hairy, (hairy pigs?) and very quick. They are mentioned in a book of Manx Fairy Tales, written by Sophia Morrison in 1911.

My roommate and I went to the internet to find out what sort of pigs would be common to the Isle of Man. Pigs aren’t always the same, and I assumed that the mystic pigs would be some sort of fantastic version of domesticated pigs brought to the island at some point.

We quickly found that there actually had been a unique species of wild pig on the Isle of Man, called “Purrs” which went extinct in the 1700’s. They were described as grey or grey-brown, with black spots. They were small and lean, very fast, and “much like the wild pigs of the African coast of Guinea.” A story contained in a collection of tales from the Isle of Man, written by Joseph Train in 1845, describes the ‘Last of the Purrs’ as the last wild boar becomes a fantastic monster that raids nearby farms for livestock to eat. He is chased from his cave by locals and their fiercest hounds, and driven over the cliffs to his death on the rocky seashore.

I was very interested in these little, wild pigs of the Manx mountains. But what did it mean that they looked like wild pigs specifically from Guinea, rather than the wild pigs of Europe?

The University of Michigan has an Animal Diversity website, which includes descriptions of the various breeds of wild pig on the coast of Guinea. The pigs of the coast of Guinea, to include bush pigs and Red River Hogs, are small, fast and hairy. They have the most amazing (for pigs, anyway) long hair and long, elegant tufts on their sweeping, pointed ears. They have upright bristles on their backs and long, pointed snouts. Red River Hogs have dramatic, white patterns on their faces.

So, now I have a description of the mystic pigs for my art as small, hairy/bristled, grey or grey-brown, long-nosed, with black spots, and perhaps some facial markings and long, tufted ears.

This should be fun.

KJN

 


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