Sunday, November 16, 2014

My Bayram Mission: Save the Goat

[NOTE: This post contains graphic photos of an animal sacrifice. Sensitive readers should exercise caution.]

As mentioned in a previous post, in early October we travelled to the village of Alaattin to celebrate the Kurban Bayram ("Sacrifice Holiday"). This is a four-day Muslim holiday during which the sacrifice feast is celebrated.

There are some stories that I vaguely remember from my vacation bible school days. The story of Abraham is one of them. As described in the Old Testament, Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his first-born son, Isaac, as an act of faith and submission. Abraham brought Isaac to the alter. But before Abraham brought the knife to his son, God replaced Abraham's son with a lamb. An animal was sacrificed in lieu of Abraham's son.

The story of Abraham is the same in the Koran, though Abraham is called "Ibrahim" and Isacc's son is named "Ishmael." During the Kurban Bayram, Muslims sacrifice animals to commemorate the Prophet Abraham and his devotion to God.

We acted out the upcoming animal sacrifice.
I am the unlucky animal. 

The Kurban Bayram is about community, visiting family and friends. It's also about charity, giving clothing and food (including a portion of the sacrificed animal) to the less fortunate.

For a few days leading up to the Kurban Bayram, we saw people at makeshift roadside markets purchasing their animals to be sacrificed -- primarily goats and sheep, but some cows, too. Here, a purchased sheep is stuffed into the trunk of a car to be transported home.

A live sheep was stuffed into the trunk of a car.

And for days leading up to the Kurban Bayram, I was plotting my mission to save all the poor animals that would be sacrificed. Options included:
  1. purchasing all the animals for sale at the market (I wasn't wealthy enough to pull that off), or
  2. setting all the animals free under the curtain of nightfall (this was a real possibility, though I'd have to face the consequences if my cover was blown).

I learned of another option -- I could claim that all the animals were pregnant!

During a past Kurban, one of Ferit's family members questioned whether a cow they were sacrificing was pregnant. The village vet was summoned to the family home, at which time the vet confirmed that the cow was indeed pregnant. Yeah for getting knocked up; as pregnant animals should not be slaughtered, the cow and her baby were saved!

For 500 Turkish lira (about $225 USD), Ferit's mom purchased a goat. Enter "Billy the Goat." 

Billy had the most beautiful blue eyes and the most beautiful blonde-colored fur. (If I had a goat as a brother, surely Billy would be him.) For the next two days, Billy would be tied up to one of the trees outside of Ferit's anneanne's house, until it was time for the sacrifice.

I was surprised that no one gave any attention to Billy. This poor animal would be sacrificed for the Muslim God, for god's sakes! Shouldn't the goat be treated like royalty in his final days? Being the animal lover that I am, I thought that Billy at least deserved some water.

I gave Billy the Goat some water so that he would be well hydrated for his sacrifice.
I should have given him some whiskey instead, to knock him out of his misery.

Let's circle our attention away from poor Billy for a little while and jump back to the first morning of the bayram.

We started off the day with a hearty brunch.

Ferit's cousin, Ayfer,
brought her homemade baclava to the festivities.

I cut bread for the brunch.
This was the only task an American with no cooking skills could handle.

We ate brunch around two trays of food on the floor.

The brunch was delicious. But had I known we'd be eating so much food all day long, I would have eaten like a bird instead of a horse.

After lunch, we visited the cemetery where Ferit Findik is buried.

"Huh," you say? "Your Ferit appears to be live and well."

Let me explain...

The Ferit buried at the cemetery was an older brother of my Ferit. The older-brother-Ferit died in a tragic auto accident in 1971, when he was five years old. My Ferit, who was born a year later, was named after the older-brother-Ferit.

We visited Ferit's grave at the cemetery in the village.

And we snapped family photos. What a good-looking family!
Form left to right: Ferit, Ferhat (Ferit's older brother), Arzu (Ferit's mom),
Dilek (Ferit's younger sister), and Feridun (Ferit's younger brother)

And then we started making our rounds, visiting all the family's houses in the village.

In Alaatin, where marriage among first cousins is both legal and common, everyone is somehow related to everyone else. Whenever I was introduced to a villager, I had a 99% chance of correctly guessing that the person was either an aunt, an uncle, or a cousin. It's somehow quite possible that a villager could be both an uncle and a cousin! Suffice it to say that Ferit has a lot of relatives and that we visited a lot of houses.

Based on my experience, I would say that the Kurban Bayram is like a cross between the American holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving. It's like Halloween in that you walk around to various people's houses. And it's like Thanksgiving in that you eat, you eat, and then you eat some more.

The host of every house we visited offered us tea and an array of food, including baclava and stuffed grape leaves. As it is only polite to eat the food you are offered, we ate, we ate, and we ate some more. I had enough baclava during Bayram to last me a lifetime!

The gang, visiting Ferit's aunt's house.

During our visit, Ferit's uncle
(who looks a heck of a lot like Santa Claus)
butchered the animal that his household sacrificed.

Shoes are removed before entering homes in Turkey.
As such, this was a common site at each house we visited.

We talked as we walked to the next house.

It was surprising to me, walking around the village, how often the word "Facebook" sprinkled the conversation. In such an "old-fashioned village," it seemed as though everyone was plugged into good ole' Facebook. At one point in time, a villager called out to one of Ferit's brothers saying, "Hey, you must be Arzu's son. I recognize you from Facebook!"

There was a chill in the evening air, and so Ferit's aunt's stove
was superb for heating up my cold fingers and toes.

The next day was "sacrifice day" for Billy. Since I hadn't been successful in setting Billy free the previous night (quite frankly, I was so stuffed with food that I completely forgot about Billy's upcoming sacrifice), it was my last chance to save the goat. I could either run away with Billy or try and convince Ferit's family that Billy was pregnant.

Errr...maybe I just shouldn't interfere with the sacrifice.

All along I wondered who would have "the honors" of sacrificing the goat. An uncle and another neighbor would lead the sacrifice, but it only seemed right that one of Ferit's immediate family members lend a helping hand. Fortunately, Ferhat, Ferit's oldest brother, stepped up to the plate. That's a good thing, because although I know my Ferit can viciously murder a mosquito, I don't think he has it in him to assist in killing a goat.

Ferhat, looking all manly in his butchering attire.

When it came time for the sacrifice, a hole was dug in the ground to collect the goat's blood. The goat was held down on the ground, with his neck positioned just above the hole. The knife was brought to the goat's throat, and with a simply slice of the knife, Billy's throat was cut. The blood began to fill the hole.

Ferhat held down Billy as one of the other gentlemen cut Billy's throat.

I've only ever seen an animal being killed in the "Faces of Death" documentary. So, this was my first in-person sacrifice. I was surprised at how the goat's body continued to convulse minutes after his throat had been cut.

After a little while, the goat's head was severed. Poor Billy's body continued to shake, even without his head!

Billy's head, next to the puddle of his blood.

After all of the blood had been drained from Billy, he was dragged over to a tree and hung up on a branch. The three men worked together to remove the fur, hooves, and entrails. After that, the meat was ready to be cut up into smaller pieces.

Ferit's mother holds Billy's severed head.
While the vegetarian in me finds this photo to be disturbing,
the intellectual side of me recognizes that the photo very well
summarizes the Kurban Bayram in Turkey.

I had expected the sacrifice to be a solemn and reverent affair, where everyone circled around the sacrifice, citing prayers and what not. But it really wasn't like that; whoever was around and interested in watching watched. This certainly made me question whether the sacrifice was fully appreciated -- not in theory, but in practice.

I was glad to learn that I wasn't the only one who wasn't a fan of the sacrifice. A few of Ferit's family members (who will remain anonymous) voiced that they believe the sacrifice is an outdated tradition. It seemed that no one in Ferit's generation (or younger than Ferit's generation) was "for" the sacrifice. As such, perhaps this is a tradition that will die with time.

After Billy was sacrificed, we sat out in the yard and had a picnic of sorts. While some of the men worked on cutting up Billy into edible pieces so that he could be cooked in a pot, some of the women (myself included) helped to prepare a to-die-for eggplant salad. (No pun intended, as Billy really did die.)

Billy is being cooked over the campfire.

What was once a breathing animal with a soul was now a dead pile of meat. Billy had been sacrificed to the Muslim God. And now Billy was being heated over the fire so that he could be consumed as calories. Poor Billy! 

As a good number of Ferit's family members needed to return to their homes to resume work and school, the third and fourth days of Bayram were spent doing non-bayram-related activities. 

In the end, my bayram mission was a failure; I did not save the goat. But I did have a wonderful first-hand experience of the Kurban Bayram.

P.S. The goat's brains were "fermenting" (for lack of a better word) in a bucket for a few days next to the shower. I had the great fortune of being able to shower in full sight of the fermenting brains. Only in Turkey, my friends. Only in Turkey.


  1. OK I KNOW that had to be hard for you lady. Immersing yourself is a culture I now see can be hard. I am glad you didn't try to convince Anneanne that billy was pregnant! Maybe we need to get you a black ninja suit for under the cover of darkness rescues!!

  2. Ah, the ninja suit is a brilliant idea! I love it! :)

    1. I will, keep an eye out during my Christmas shopping! I will look for functional and breathable given the climate, oh and cute!

    2. Wow -- I have my very own personal shopper! Exciting! :)

    3. One of my many hidden skills


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