Traditional Slaughtering of a Bull

At the Eid festival I meet Hashim. A young guy in his 20s chatting with his friends.
We have the very usual small talk about the very usual topics that come up between young Africans and young Europeans.

Where are you from?

What is your name?

What is your favorite football team?

Do you want to come to my house when we slaughter the bull?

yes. yes I want to see. No! I don’t want to see!

Being curious by nature is sometimes really difficult. But I went.

I am astonished how open and welcoming the Muslim community is at this very important holiday.

I got used to the welcoming attitude during the day and in normal situations such as buying things on the market or going with the trotro. But being invited to such an outstanding happening made me feel proud and glad that there is such a hospitable community.

What I am about to see is new to me. It is beyond the things I have seen so far in my life.

Yes I saw it on TV. Yes I know: If you eat meat, animals die. Yes I know…but still.

We walk down a sandy road and enter a compound not far from where the big prayers were held.

On a tree to the right hand side he is closely tied. His head down. Quiet.

Obedient like he is. Not kicking or rebelling against his fate. But his eyes are wide opened, white and full of terror.

As if he knows what was going to happen. As if he could already see how it will end.

Five strong men tie his forelegs; tie his hind legs. Tie them together.

One swift kick to his tendon and his legs fail him. The short muscle reflex is enough to bring him down.

A pressed wheeze from his nostrils. Wide open eyes!

Four grabbed the rope around his neck, one grabbed his tail.

‘One–Two–Threee!’

they dragged him out of the compound and on the street.

On the other side they dug a hole. For blood and shit and anything that is not edible.

A short break. discussions about the procedure and wild gesticulation with sharp machetes and knifes in hand.

I stay away from the group and observe.

One guy is a butcher, the other four have no idea what they are doing.

Excitement and chaos are mixed on the human side.

His eyes have rotated inside his skull as if he is centering his vision in himself.

Finding peace before his execution. No wailing or complaining.

He is just lying  there. White eyes wide opened. Foam and saliva running down his nostrils.

The machete is long and sharp and the view in the butchers eyes is a mixture of determination and indifference.

When I was walking over Madina market the days before the Eid I was wondering why everybody had machetes and they were so carefully sharpened. Now I know.

They over-stretch his neck and pull the fat and skin of his neck very tight.

One hand on the handle and one giving weight on the blade the butcher starts sawing through skin and flesh.

Mooing and  moving in cramping pain the head of the bull was raising for the last time.

His throat is gashing wide open and blood is pulsing out from his neck.

His heart is pumping

His lung is breathing

But nothing can safe him now. With every liter of blood that pour on the ground and builds a red lake on the brown sand of the road, his life is flowing away from him.

When he breathes out, the skin of his neck covers the part of his wound where the windpipe ends in his lungs. It creates a disturbing sound of suffering that has burned itself deep in my brain.

A helpless accusation. coming deep from within.

His ability to communicate is literally cut away from him. You can see and hear that he wants to cry out in disbelieve over his sudden suffering and nearing death. But his breath doesn’t reach his vocal chords.

The only sound that is left of him is flapping skin on bloody flesh. Slowly reducing in strength and vigor.

Death is certainly close.

His suffering will have ended by now and I hope, I tell myself, that he left this world with the feeling of a warm shower filling his lungs and legs and that the supernova of stress hormones eased his pain to the degree that made it easier for him to let go and accept his fate.

The men drag the carcass back to the compound. I stay there in front of a lake of blood and foam and saliva. The silence was unnatural and the mayhem i see with my own eyes is of a level I have never seen before.

The reduction of a living animal into a pile of flesh and bones is an impressive incidence.

It will have long-lasting effects on myself. For that I am sure.

At this moment I am thankful that I could witness what i saw. My heart was bleeding and I felt sick in consequence of the unnecessary suffering of such a precious animal.

I am glad that I have my camera with me. During the whole time I took about 150 pictures and basically watched through the lens, bringing some distance between me and what was happening. Bringing it to an abstract level and through that making it easier for myself to see.

Let the animal lover fall silent. He can’t do anything right now.

Let the scientist observe. For it is for him to see what is happening here in the context of the community and local culture.

The rest is quicker business. Easier to explain. Technical, because it is about the decomposition of a dead cow.

A tarp is put on the ground and the animal rolled on its back. Knifes are brought.

The first cut opens the bull from the breast to the far end. The outer skin of the penis is cut away and the belly is opened.

The organs look like they are out of a picture book. Clear colors and well-formed, barely any blood. Blood vessels covering the different stomachs. and organs. Everything comes with a little yellow touch from the fat strings attached to it.

The tripe is cut to give away the inner organs. The different stomachs are cut out to release the dung and wash them for later preparation.

Intestines are sorted in edible and non-edible. The latter one staying reasonable small. Only the skin is thrown away.

An Axe is brought and the head severed. The carcass is cut in half at the waist and chunks of meat are cut out of the body.

What once was a living animal became meat in a matter of 30 minutes by the hand of men.

Throughout the whole process kids are watching closely. Small boys confused by what they see. Knowing that is a celebration for the community and that by tradition two third of the meat goes to the poor and needy. Still he sees the suffering and the blood and the violence.

Stand still and watch, for that one day it is your turn to hold down a bull; To end the life of one of this precious animals.

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