I will share my Experience first, and then give my Commentary later.
Today I watched a cow and 4 goats get slaughtered. The Arabic name is Qurban. According to the Qur’an the animal to be slaughtered could be a cow, a camel, a sheep or a goat.
When I arrived at school there was a big black cow tied to a tree at the edge of the flag ceremony field. I watched as a motorcycle arrived with a 3 foot by 3 foot platform on top of the rear part of the seat. This is a standard way to make a “truck like motorcycle” in Indonesia. 2 goats were sitting on the back with their feet tied. The motorcycle driver lifted each goat off and tied them to other trees near the cow.
The goats and cow were in great shape. I was told that this is a part of the ritual. The animals had no blemishes. They were big and fat and well groomed with perfect hair, no poop on them, fresh out of the bath. The students milling around commented on how big the cow was and also that it was black. They said this with wide eyes, “Oma, it is big and black.”
At 7:00 all the students were assembled on the flag ceremony field. A man who is not a teacher was telling the other men how to dig a hole near the cow. They made a depression in the dirt about a foot across and 6 inches deep. The tree that the cow was attached to had a post about 10 feet away and there was a cross beam about 5 feet off the ground.
One of the teachers called the assembly to order. The students were all standing in rows behind the male members of each class. Each class representative yelled at his class to make them stand straight then in unison they all saluted the teacher. This is the same formation they use every other Monday when we have a school wide flag ceremony.
The motorcycle arrived again with 2 more goats on the back. The students cheered. I was standing about 5 feet away from the animals in a row with the other teachers. As the goat delivery man was taking the goats to tie them to the next trees in the line, two of the goats tried to have sex. The students started laughing. The teachers ran up and pulled the goats apart and the teachers shook their heads. The goats were tied in a row about 3 feet away from each other. They were eating some grass while the teacher on the platform in front of the students made a short speech with a microphone.
The man in charge directed two of his helpers to rope the cow’s feet and pull them sideways underneath the cow so that the cow was now lying on its side. The helpers pulled the cow so that the rope around its neck was still attached to the tree and its body was pulled out so that its neck was over the hole that had been dug. A board was put under the cows head. The men began to stretch the cow’s neck adjusting the ropes so that there was about a 6 inch place between the rope that was being pulled to the front and the rope that was being pulled to the back. The teacher leading the ceremony began chanting and all 900 students and teachers were repeating “Allah akbar.” (God is great.) The man directing the stretching of the cow took a foot long knife and cut the cow’s throat. He put a sack in front of the cut so that the blood wouldn’t squirt on to the teachers. The blood began flowing into the hole in the ground. I watched as the heart continued to pump the blood out of the cow. I was standing 5 feet away from the dying cow.
Even when the head was severed almost all the way off, the cow still continued to jerk sometimes violently for about 15 minutes after its throat had been severed. I could see the cow’s windpipe had been cut in two. The cow didn’t make a sound other than thrashing around.
While the cow was still bleeding and thrashing and the crowd was chanting “Allah akbar,” the man teacher who sits next to me in the teacher room walked up to the first goat in the line. The helpers grabbed its legs and head and pulled it so that its neck was exposed. They lifted the goats head from the ground and put the board under it, next to the deeper hole that had been dug. My teacher friend took the big knife and cut the first goat’s throat. It bled out in about 3 minutes. The men threw the goat to the side and the 2nd goat was brought over to the blood hole. They held its legs and head so that it’s neck was over the blood hole and put the board under its head and my teacher friend cut the neck of the 2nd goat. The dead 2nd goat was thrown on top of the fist goat. The cow’s legs were still jerking. The two remaining goats were still eating grass. The students and teachers were still chanting being led by the teacher with the microphone.
The last 2 goats were killed the same way and their bodies thrown on top of the goat pile. When all the animals were dead, or at least the blood was only slowly trickling out of them, the assembly was dismissed and I walked back to the teacher room.
In front of the school office a large plastic tarp had been spread out with a table and black plastics bags with our school name on them. The names of the 4 teachers who had paid for the goats were listed on a large paper.
A man was carrying a hatchet over to the goat and cow kill area. The animals were being skinned. The men used the hatchet to cut up the animals. All the bones and the heads were cut apart. Some of the meat was hanging from the cross beam and some of it was on a tarp on the ground.
As the meat was cut it was put in a wheelbarrow and taken over to the table where female teachers and students cut it into approximately 4 inch cubes and put them into plastic bags and tied them shut. I had read that 1/3 of the meat goes to the family who paid for the animal, 1/3 goes to their community and friends and 1/3 goes to the poor. In class the day before vouchers had been handed out to some of the students. I saw that there were some parents who had the vouchers and were waiting near the final meat cutting and bagging area. They were smiling as they took home 2 bags of meat for each voucher.
It took several hours for all the meat to be cut and bagged. Teachers and students took their shoes and socks off and walked barefoot on the tarp while they cut and distributed the meat into different piles. During that time there were competitions in each classroom for middle school students who had been invited to our school and for our own best high school students who were competing with other Madrasahs (Islamic high schools) in my county. It was called an Olympiad.
Several hours later, I walked into the teacher room and saw that there were 2 bags of meat on my desk.
Repeat of the standard Peace Corps disclaimer – My thoughts are mine alone. I am quite sure that every Peace Corps person would have a different reaction to this day. I don’t intend to offend Muslims, Christians, Jews, Indonesians, or any one else. These are just my own thoughts. I love Indonesia and I’m glad I had the chance to see this Idul Adha day up close and personal.
As I was watching all this all I could think about was how Abraham was ready to do this to his own son. What kind of a God asks someone to cut the throat of their child and then at the last minutes says, forget it, you showed you were willing, now here’s a ram caught in the bushes for you to sacrifice instead. Christians, Muslims, and Jews – we all have this God! The idea of anyone, God included, asking you to do this to your only son, seems unfathomable to me. I know the New Testament God is the God of love, and killing is regulated so that you don’t do this to your relatives, but this experience woke up some part of my being that had been sleep walking in this life time.
I thought of the Aztecs cutting out the beating hearts of people. I thought about hunters cutting open animals they had killed. I’ve never actually watched something get killed. It was brutal. It took a long time for the animal to die. I suppose it was “merciful” in that it was done fast so they didn’t suffer as much. But it’s not quick. It was hard for me to see the difference between, now it is dying and now it is dead. I wanted to know, I wanted my mind to say, now this is no longer an animal. Now it is food. But I couldn’t draw the line clearly.
The chanting while all this was happening felt strange. I usually join in the Arabic prayers. I couldn’t this time. It was just too much. The people screaming, “God is great” when the animal should be screaming just didn’t seem right. The silence of the animals while they were dying was difficult. They were so compliant. I suppose they had no choice and the men were very efficient at getting them in the right positions but I wanted them to run away or cry out and of course they didn’t.
I was watching the sacrifice and the people around me and trying to distance myself from the voice in my head, but the voice was very loud. All animals that I eat have to be killed. Killing is brutal. For the first time in my life I had a gut level reaction in solidarity with vegetarians and Buddhists.
I took the meat home and I have eaten meat since I watched this animal sacrifice. I’m not a vegetarian. But I’m not a blind meat eater anymore. What we do to each other in the name of food, or religion or survival! May God have mercy on us! I’m glad I’ve joined the Peace Corps. I wonder what the world would be like if we really lived from the concept of Peace. Can anything live without killing something else? Even the bacteria kill each other.
This day of animal sacrifice has spawned a lot of questions and not many answers.