(Revision: 11/14, I think the best part about this video is when they call me beautiful while they’re busy disassembling the cow. How sweet.)
Daniel Paulk (DP) beat me to it. We were drafting our Idul Adha posts the same night. I was listening to Ra Ra Riot, he was recounting the gory memories with Simon & Garfunkel. Because his posts are consistently thorough, intriguing, and well-written, I couldn’t help but skim his most recent post, along with other PCVs who have already written about Idul Adha, with the hopes that their perspectives haven’t clouded my judgement of my own experience. And like he mentions in his most recent and graphic entry to date, I want to caution you that there are some bloody [awe/gruesome] photos below. The thought about holding back photos of the bloody butchering of the cow carcass didn’t cross my mind, but I didn’t want to scare people away from following along… BUT, if blood and raw meat are something that make you ill, then I advise you to read on, but scroll to the very bottom for more humbling photos. If there was a sound bite of the cow as they slowly sawed away at its neck (totally not halal), that would trigger a completely different cautionary disclaimer. To lift your spirits, there’s a really adorable picture of one of the teacher’s baby’s at the end of the post, to erase the gruesome images of the cow I felt so kasihan (pity) for…enjoy!
If Idul Fitri was the sweet girl that brought lots of food, forgiveness, and other fine things to end the fasting month of Ramadan, then Idul Adha was her bodacious brother that brought death to thousands upon thousands of goats and cows all over Indonesia.
Biking through my village in the days leading up to Idul Adha brought mixed emotions. Rickety pick-up trucks frequented the streets, hauling goats and cows to their locations of proximate deaths, making me nervous for two reasons. Firstly, as the livestock butts hung off the sides of the trucks, I prayed random bouts of livestock excrement wouldn’t come flying at me as I biked, secondly because I knew better than the animals that they would meet their fates come Sunday morning, and that I’d be there to witness it. I had heard some horror stories from PCV’s who’d experienced Idul Adha festivities last year (one in particular in which a goat attempted to escape, bleeding to death, trailing blood throughout the schoolyard), so I had a loose idea of what to expect, with the advice not to look in the animal’s eye (oops). In our school calendar, I had seen photos of last years ‘celebrations’, and the images of freshly butchered meat on old tarp and banana leaves somehow found its way into my dreams that night. Both of my counterparts said they wouldn’t be around to watch the actual sacrifice as they felt too much sadness for the animal. Months ago, I had originally made up my mind that I wouldn’t watch the big slaughter, but Sunday morning came and I put on my adult-cultural-integration pants, ready with my camera.
6am: I arrive in time to observe all of the teachers and students praying bersama-sama (together), in the area where students usually play soccer barefooted. As they bowed down in unison and listened to our religions teacher read from the al-Qur’an, I sat on the stairs leading to the teacher’s room, staring at the sapi (cow) who had been tied up to the volleyball posts by ropes making a figure-8 around his neck and into his nose. There was something really captivating about the wrinkles in his neck, or maybe the droopiness and thickness had me hoping that the ‘professional’ was bringing a knife that was both large and sharp enough to make the sacrificing quick and painless, not one of those faux-multi-functional worn machetes that every Indonesian keeps handy for all occasions. In the weeks prior, the students had collected a pool of money, about Rp5,000,0000 (~$500+) to purchase the cow and pay for a ‘professional’ to come and do the honors. In the storage room, some female teachers were busy packaging goat satay to be distributed to all of the teachers, and during that time, a smiling goat head appeared. Once the praying was over, some teachers wrangled the cow, who caught on to what was about to happen, struggled and out of fear, excreted all over the volleyball court as he was led to a dirt area behind some classrooms, where stakes and a small pit had been dug to collect the pool of blood. OSIS, a group of student leaders, like a student government, gathered along with other bystanders composed of teachers and their children who were willing and berani (strong, tough) enough to watch the big ::universal hand gesture — index finger going across neck meaning ‘you’re dead‘::
All of this tension, anxiety was building up inside of me. As the men aggressively wrangled the cow onto its side, kicking and yanking it all over the place as it forcefully resisted, I wanted the big cut to happen already. By this point I had already handed my SLR to one of the staff members who was willing to get up close and personal with the situation because I still had my doubts of actually being able to watch.
Once the cow was in the appropriate position, everyone started to pray together as the ‘professional’ revealed his ‘knife’. I say ‘knife’ because it was seriously like the same 100 year-old dull excuse for a sharp object that looked like it could barely crack a durian. The praying got louder and I fixed my eyes on the cow’s neck, trying to soak up as much of this horridly unique situation… but once I realized how dull the knife was, and once the cow started yelping in pain as the ‘professional’ sawed away at the cow’s droopy, thick skin, I had to walk away, covering my ears, and I briefly felt my eyes well up. I felt proud that I was able to see and handle that much considering I didn’t eat meat for a while for animal rights reasons (that’s not why I’m still a vegetarian though). For the next 30 minutes, I couldn’t stop rubbing my neck, as the images of the sawing of the cow’s neck and yelping replayed over and over in my mind. I was really happy I had handed my SLR as I would have missed out on capturing the cow’s grim last moments… For the next hour, I kept my distance as the OSIS team and other teachers skinned and butchered the cow into more manageable pieces… others set up some old plastic rice sacks and large banana leaves for makeshift tarp along the walkway of our school. The cow and I would soon be reunited… the cow in various bits and pieces, a leg here, a stomach there. One teacher appeared from the area of slaughter with the testicles of the cow, dangling them between his legs and giggling, it was quite morbid and frankly disrespectful, in my opinion. As the meat arrived, everyone was all over it like flesh deprived zombies with their knives in hand. There soon formed an efficient assembly line of teachers and OSIS members, trimming out the fatty bits, cutting the meat into smaller — cook-able pieces, weighing and lastly, bagging. The meat would later be distributed to community members and those in need as Muslims all over the world celebrate Idul Adha to signify their obedience to Allah by distributing the meat as an expression of generosity, one of the five pillars of Islam. Idul Adha is meant to honor Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isma’il as an act of obedience to God. Luckily Isma’il’s life was spared last minute, as God provided Ibrahim with a ram to sacrifice instead. When I was in high school, I was on student council all four years, the proud publicity coordinator. Had the once per year task of skinning, carving up, and rationing bits and pieces of a sacrificed cow been part of the job description, perhaps the position would have been less desirable…And as I rode my bike home after the festivities, there were goat carcasses hanging up all over the place. Overall, I was quite impressed by how desensitized most people seemed by the entire practice. I know it’s something they’re used to observing, it’s a part of Indonesian culture and tradition. But as a small child, I think I would have been scarred, especially by the yelping. This post was a bit intense, and recounting everything and seeing the pictures makes me cringe and hold my neck like I did last Sunday. Let’s cool off now… the week before Idul Adha, all of my students and English clubs celebrated Halloween. It was wonderful. Cute baby time, to win your trust that the remainder of my posts will not be anywhere as bloody as this in the future: I’ve been in Indonesia for 7 months now. I never know what this country’s going to throw at me next, especially while on my way to the bathroom in my house. Sometimes it’s my host brother in-law, in his sarong, with a shotgun seeking out dirty rats… other times this really cute frog, and the other night, a goat head atop few of its limbs, just chillin’ on the floor. I didn’t flinch. That’s integration.