Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Mouton Business

The biggest Senegalese holiday of the year comes down to an animal: the sheep.

It is tradition in Islam to sacrifice a sheep for Eid Al-Adha, known locally as Tabaski. Still, I had never seen anything like this. For the first Eid, Korite, most families bought and killed a sheep. But it's a small affair. For Tabaski, it is no small affair.

About two weeks before Tabaski, sheep markets turn up at every corner. Herders bring sheep from around the country to sell in the capital, where they can apparently make up to 2 million CFA francs ($4,400) for ONE SHEEP! Imagine paying $4,000 for something you will eat in one day. But just as we have status symbols in Canada (clothes, cars, etc), the quality of sheep you bring home for Tabaski is a status symbol in Senegal.

You can also make money by buying and reselling sheep. Little boys are paid to wash and clean them. At the sheep markets, people sleep outside all night beside the sheep, and they even have guard dogs! When a customer comes looking, they whip the sheep to stad up tall and straight and they show them off like at a dog show.

One day Atoumane and I took a stroll around the sheep market that formed three metres in front of his door. He told me if you bring home a sheep that only costs 30,000 francs ($60), the neighbours will talk condescendingly. (Even though the smaller, younger sheep apparently have more tender and thus tastier meat). And they don't only buy one sheep. Both Atoumane's family and the family I live with bought three sheep each - far more than they would eat that day - but seemingly for the status and the fun of killing them. Also, once you reach a certain age, you are expected to kill your own sheep (or have someone kill it in your name) - I suppose as a way of personally marking the sacrifice Abraham made so many years ago.

For Tabaski, girls spend weeks preparing - getting their hair done and getting new boubous made, finding matching purses, shoes and jewellery - but all that is for the visiting of friends and family in the evening. (The fabric market was apparently open all night the day before Tabaski. I was there around 11pm and there were girls getting their nails done, people buying shoes, everything! It was packed!) But for many people, the climax of Tabaski is the prayer in the morning, and then the process of killing, skinning and cooking the sheep.

For both Korite and Tabaski, I missed the actual slaying, but Drew showed me a video and it was slow cutting of the neck, as if you were cutting thick bread that you really had to force your way through. Then they make a slit from the neck to the bottom and start skinning the sheep. They hang it on a hook and pull out its insides, letting the intestines flop onto the floor. Then they rip bones apart in order to break the meat up into smaller peices. As they skin and hack, blood spills everywhere. At our house, they killed at least 6 (for various families), and the whole driveway was covered in blood and various sheep parts: skin/head/feet/etc. I stuck to non-meat related preparatory activities - such as grounding the pepper.

What's neat is that if you walk around the morning of Tabaski, you won't find anyone on the streets. They're all inside preparing the sheep. But at every corner, someone is squeezing the poo out of intestines or dealing in some way with buckets of meat.

We ate lamb for the next 4 days - twice a day. On Tabaski, we even had lamb for breakfast. I told you last time about the intestines. This time, I learned that some people also eat the feet!

At Atoumane's, they had no hook to hang the sheep from as they cleaned it out. They used rope and a tree instead. He used the sidewalk to sharpen the knife, and I even saw his sister using the front tiles of the house as a cutting board for raw meat - yummy!

After the big day, I found sheep skins drying all over the road. That's another business - the reselling of the skin. 500 francs (just over $1) per sheep's skin.

All this to say that is really is an affair. It's funny. People look forward to Tabaski so much, but really most of the day is just preparing food. When they ask me whether we kill sheep in Canada, I laugh and say "no, we pray and then go out to a restaurant" - a concept they cannot understand!

After all the blood, people get clean and dressed up. Here's me with my big brother, Kalz.


Emily said...

Wow! This reminds me of the time the sheep was slaughtered at the house I was living at in Hyderabad.

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