KOKEE, Kauai — Nic Barca has an unusual theory of the sociology of Kauai Island. Much is explained, he feels, by realizing that the pigs are taking over.
They frolic on the shoulder of the main highway near Wailua in front of the ruins of the Coco Palms resort, running into traffic with abandon. They appear by the dozens, if not the hundreds, in a herd at a wildlife refuge outside Kilauea.
More and more, they are surprising hikers in the Napali wilderness by blundering out of the brush nearby. They are increasingly frequent visitors to back yards.
Part of the way Barca makes his living and sustains his food supply is by shotgunning them or dispatching them with bow and arrow. “Not long range, maybe 30 feet,” he says matter-of-factly.
He can be found frequently in the interior of the island, on steep hillsides, seeking out his prey.
Like most hunters, he is the soul of discretion in terms of precisely where he finds the pigs he kills. He won’t talk about that specifically. He goes to some lengths to compose photographs of his kills in ways that conceal the true locations where they were shot.
He is a wiry, 30-something with a quick wit, a hunting mutt named Tako and a girlfriend named Rebekah Magers, his sometime photographer.
But what sets Nic Barca apart from what he calls “the pig hunting community” on Kauai, is that he has become a scholar and historian of all things porcine.
Slowly, he’s writing a book on the pigs of Kauai and, to a lesser extent, those on other islands, as he puzzles through the process by which pigs have colonized nearly all of Kauai.
When he’s not hunting pigs, Barca is Googling them, searching for arcane historical tracts that may help explain how the first Polynesian pigs got to Kauai, but also how other distinct populations arrived later.
In many cases, the Polynesians and the interloper pigs have crossbred, he said. But in some cases the newcomers have maintained their own DNA lines.
He delights in poring over studies of pigs on Kauai that date to the 1800s — and even the late 1700s — looking for clues as to their origins, range and lifestyle habits.
A favorite is a pig treatise published in 1904 and 1905.
“There was the Wilkes Expedition,” he said. “It was the American exploring expedition in 1840-1841. They sent a detachment of people to Kauai and those guys hiked from Waimea to Hanalei.”
“They ended up noting that there was a bunch of pig signs up in the Kokee area. Soon after that, in 1851, you’ve got King Kamehameha, the third or whichever one, hunting pigs up there.”
“Then there’s an account of the governor of Kauai and he’s trying to find out what to do about these guys hunting pigs above Waimea and he thinks they belong to the king, like the goats and the cattle do.”
“And he’s wondering how he should go about prosecuting guys, punishing them. But it seems like once the pigs are there, people that live here just start hunting them.”
Barca’s first love wasn’t hunting.
“So I grew up fishing,” he says. “I was a hardcore fisherman from when I was a little kid all the way through age 16. And then I started hunting and I started fishing less and hunting more. And I kind of shifted.”
“Yeah, there’s pig to hunt. There (are) pigs all over the island. We go for goats too. The pigs are always the funnest.”
Pigs on Kauai, he said, have spent the last several centuries in a gigantic encirclement maneuver.
They probably came on island with Polynesian voyagers, perhaps initially getting a toehold near Waimea. From there, they have gradually populated the island, moving counterclockwise, and are now poised to finally close the envelopment by finally asserting their presence in large numbers in the Napali wilderness.
From time to time and place to place, more modern breeds have come ashore — mostly starting with the arrival of missionaries in the 1820s.
In some places, the interlopers and the Polynesians imports have inbred, with coat colors, stature and facial features visible today reflecting a couple of centuries now of cross population.
Barca has tried to do what no one else has, which is to compute the total pig population on Kauai.
“If you look at the square miles of Kauai and you apply the number of pigs,” he said, “if you took the densest population that you see in the mountains and you apply it to the entire land mass of Kauai, it’s something in the range of 55,000.”
But that, he concludes, just can’t be right.
“But when you take a more reasonable number, like 15 pigs per square mile, then it only come out to like 11,000 pigs on the island. In my opinion, it’s probably 11,000 to maybe 25,000, something like
When pigs were first becoming an item on Kauai, like other livestock, there is evidence that residents walled or fenced them to keep them close to their homes, not to keep them out. That set the stage for a whole sociology of pig-keeping.
Barca has started writing his pig book.
“I have like 200 pages of notes. I’m trying to transfer the notes to this outline,” he said. “When I first started, I’m like piecing them in there. Except when I’m going to the top of the notes, I’m referencing things very good. I’m finding myself going back and trying to reread stuff and get the citations right.”
“It’s such a pain in the butt. I keep adding more stuff, but I’m just kind of burnt out.”
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues
Not a subscription
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.