Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wednesday, December 09, 2009 - No comments

From Bloodshed to Barbecues

**NOTE: Several of the photos below are pretty graphic. If you are squeamish about blood, don't scroll down past the text! (And if you are sensitive about the treatment of animals, please understand the cultural context within which these were taken.)

I arrived back to Turkey just in time for a good load of festivities as American Thanksgiving and Kurban Bayrami (The Muslim Sacrifice Festival) were a day apart this year. This prompted some amusing conversations as we explained the traditional Thanksgiving meal - I'm sure many of our neighbours now think we "sacrifice a turkey" in the same way they would sacrifice a cow. :) (Incidentally, some of our neighbours recently decided that a rooster would be a suitable pet for their three-year-old, so now we have a rooster that terrorizes our otherwise quiet complex, crowing at all hours of the night and assaulting dogs and children at will. Seriously, the thing is a beast. We'd been hoping someone would get creative with their sacrifice this year and offer up the offending bird, but alas, it still roams free.)

Kurban Bayrami has its roots in the Quranic story of when God told the Prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael, and then at the last minute provided a ram to die in his place. Every year, Muslims around the world (at least all who are financially able and who consider it their religious duty) sacrifice a cow, sheep or goat to commemorate Hazreti Ibrahim's willingness to give up his son. If you dig down a few layers, you'll find that this tradition is also perpetuated by the underlying belief that in order for Allah to forgive man's sins, their must be the shedding of blood. (This, of course, opens the door for many good conversations with our neighbours.)

In order to present a less barbaric face to the Western World (ie the EU and whatever tourists may happen to be roaming the city's streets) it is illegal to kill the animals in your own garden, so after they've been tied up and moo-ing or baa-ing all night, people drive their animals to the designated sacrifice areas (ie somewhere out of town, the neighbourhood carwash or an empty covered bazaar) where either they themselves or, more often, actual butchers will perform the ritual sacrifice. Sometimes, if they aren't too well off, several families will chip in together to buy an animal. The whole thing has an air of community and festivity about it, even despite all the gore. Prayers are offered, then the animal is tied up and swiftly killed, often with a loud reaction from the other animal-spectators who know their turn is coming. Following the removal of the hide and the draining of the blood, it is usually the women (who must have remarkably strong stomachs) who set to work at cutting up the meat and dividing it into portions - a third to be eaten by the family, a third to be shared with friend and relatives, and a third to be given to the poor.

I was pretty impressed with how the whole operation goes like clockwork. You've got a guy with a clipboard collecting the fees for the butchers, the guys who chant the prayers, the guys with the knives who do the dirty work, the guys with rubber boots and hoses who clean up the blood, and the guys in the "Deri Toplama Ekibi" truck ("Skin/Hide Collection Squad") cleaning up the remains. And by afternoon, the whole place has cleared out and you'd never know anything had gone down.

On the morning of the sacrifice, one of my roommates and I set off in search of the action. We found it a few kilometres up the road where there it seemed every field or open space had become the scene for the slaughter. It seemed that heaps of "city people" had come out to the village to make their sacrifices, cuz what are normally quiet-ish streets turned into a village-wide traffic jam. It was interesting, too, to see how many not-covered women had come out our way, too. It was obvious who was and wasn't from around there!

We made the rounds to observe, talk to people and get some photos. I've only ever experienced the Sacrifice Festival in Istanbul, and I found people down here were much more willing to chat and have their pictures taken. (Meaning no one was really concerned about whether or not I was a reporter or threatened to break my camera if I didn't leave...unlike last year....) We played the good students of culture that we are and asked a lot of questions about the meaning behind the tradition. What really comes across is the pride in carrying out an age-old ritual, and the sense of unity that comes from knowing that people all over the Muslim world are all doing the same, as well as joy in being able to share and celebrate with family and friends.

Following the sacrifice is a four-day holiday where there is much visiting of loved-ones, kissing of elderly hands, and sharing in tasty meals. We got in on some good barbecue action with some of our neighbours, and I must say, I am grateful to the cow who gave his life and became those kebaps!

Seeing it all up close really brings to life the OT requirement of animal sacrifice and the grave reality of the need for blood to cleanse us from sin and shame. It makes the gift of the final sacrifice that much sweeter, and the desire to share that glorious, freeing news with my loved ones here that much more urgent.

Here are some photos from the day:

Death row

Somber spectators

I wish I could've captured this old teyze just a few seconds earlier, lugging that big heavy cow head around and laughing the cutest laugh!

Post-sacrifice grill-out with the neighbours