There’s a First Time For Everything

By Will

Warning, this post contains some mildly-graphic photo at the bottom

Last year, while we were celebrating  Zidane’s journey to manhood, we missed out on joining our community for one of the biggest Islamic holidays of the year, Idul Adha (or, Eid al-Adha).

Idul Adha, in short, celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, to God before God stopped him and allowed him to sacrifice a lamb instead.

For more details: Wikipedia.

Muslims around the world celebrate the holiday by slaughtering animals (goats and cows are popular here) and then dividing the meat between the community, as well as giving it to poor families.

Despite a desire to preserve my streak of 31 years without witnessing an animal slaughter, I felt a need to join my school’s celebration to partake in the cultural aspects of the holiday. Plus, after becoming a full-time meat-eater again in the Peace Corps, I should at least be willing to see how that satay ends up on my plate, right?

The day began early when I joined my school at 7am, following the special prayer ceremony that most students and teachers had at our school’s mosque. We then waited for about an hour for the cow to show up. Unfortunately for me, he was a nice looking cow and I started to feel bad for him. Unfortunately for him, he was about to be slaughtered.

Finally, the official slaughterers/butchers arrived. The cow was put in slaughtering position, a special prayer was said, and a man with a long sword’ish looking knife cut the cow’s throat. Immediately there were some pretty awful noises coming from the cow and quite a bit of blood set flying. I felt a little nauseous, but that was the worst of it for me. For the cow, too, I suppose.

Once the cow was dead, the slaughtering team set to immediately skinning and butchering the cow. This was pretty amazing to watch as they performed with such precision. They have quite a bit of practice, I think our cow was their 10th that morning.

As they cut away the major parts of the cow, they were passed onto some male students who then butchered the meat into smaller pieces. Those were then passed to female students who further cut the meat into even smaller pieces, which were then weighed and bagged so that the school community all received equal amounts of meat.

The most incredible part of the whole process is what was “left” at the end of the process. Every part of the cow was used and when the slaughterers/butchers headed on to the next school or mosque, they took all that remained—the skin of the cow to be sold for leather.

Some of the first pieces of butchered meat were immediately cooked into a soup, which the teachers and student leaders ate less than an hour from when the cow was still alive. A pretty wild experience.

I ended up bringing home a half-kilogram of beef, which Amy and I turned into wonderful steak fajitas that night. The next day, Amy’s school had a similar (though more private) ceremony and we used her beef to make steak and french fries.

One of the really interesting things to observe during the day was how much community was emphasized. Not only were the Muslim students and teachers at my school involved, but so were the Christians. And some had a leading role in the butchering process. This is but a small glimpse into the strange entwinement of religion, culture and life in this part of East Java.

All-in-all, I’m glad I got to finally experience the holiday and all that went along with it. However, I don’t have much regret about not being around for it next year (aside from the fresh beef…man, it was delicious)!


4 thoughts on “There’s a First Time For Everything

  1. Looking at the photo of the pre -cow cow…looks like a bull to me..
    But thanks so much for the ritual, I am impressed by how Muslims are so devoted to their practice which has cross-ties with Christianity.

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