Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ala ka Tabaski Numan Numan di An Ma!!!


According to the Islamic calendar, from the 10th to the 13th of the Dhu al-Hijjah approximately 70 days after Eid al-Iftar - the small feast celebrating the end of fasting during Ramadan - comes Eid al-Adha, the great feast celebrating the New Year and the piety of the first prophet Abraham.

If you paid attention in Sunday School, you would remember that the story in Genesis of how Abraham was herdig his flock of sheep up a mountain one day and all of a sudden a bush erupted into flames, and this burning bush told him that he must kill his son Isaac in order to demonstrate his absolute devotion to the Almighty. The first monotheist obediantly returned to the mountain with Isaac and was prepared to slay him as ordered - when at the last moment the angel Gabriel descended and told Abraham that the slaughter of his son was unnecessary, for his piety was indeed proven. Instead, Abraham slaughtered a sheep.

The Muslim faith has made a minor adjustment of Abraham's name to Ibrahim, and the Hadith emphasizes his relationship with Hajar and their child Ishmael, attributing to them a number of additional feats - namely the constructon of the Kaaba and the founding of Mecca. Though Islam teaches this parable of Ibrahim's devotion virtually unchanged from its portrayals within Judaism and Christianity. Within Islamic practice, Ibrahim's example is re-enacted each year as the patriarch of the family slaughters a sheep himself.

First, the whole family wakes up before dawn and dresses in their very best clothing to pray with the entire Muslim community in the mosque - or since attendance is so much greater than usual - at an outdoor square. Even in a country as poor as Mali, it is customary for those families who can afford it to purchase a brand new outfit of the finest fabrics. And at dawn they recite the Takbir:

Allāhu akbar, Allāhu akbar, Allāhu akbar الله أكبر الله أكبر الله أكبر
lā ilāha illā Allāh لا إله إلا الله
Allāhu akbar, Allāhu akbar الله أكبر الله أكبر
wa li-illāhil-ḥamd ولله الحمد

Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest,
There is no deity but Allah
Allah is the Greatest, Allah is the Greatest
and to Allah goes all praise

Once the solemnities of Eid al-Adha are complete, by around 10:00 the families return home to get busy with the re-enaction of Ibrahim's sacrifice. If they haven't raised it from birth, they have bought a sheep weeks if not months ago and have been fattening it up ever since. Like turkeys before Thanksgiving, the price of sheep skyrockets during the weeks leading up to Tabaski. Not every family can afford a sheep though, so is acceptable to sacrifice instead the next-most-valuable animal at their disposal; probably a goat, or in more desertous regions a camel.

I graciously accepted my homologue Sidiki Sogoba's invitation to join him in the ritualistic slaughter of his family's sheep. Not only was this the first time that this Jewish infidel has ever participated in an Islamic sacrament, but it was an educational opportunity to learn about how one takes a living, breathing animal and turns it into lunch and dinner according to the code of Halal.

Much like the Jewish laws of Kashrut, Halal emphasizes cleanliness and mercy for the animal as central attributes of a pious slaughter. First Sidiki and I thoroughly washed our hands with soap. Then Sidiki recited a litany of prayers to sacrifice this sheep in the name of Allah. And with his sharpest knife he slit the sheep's throat so that it would die as quickly as possible with the least amount of suffering. Then we waited a while for all the blood to flow out of the aperture, for the consumption of blood is strictly haram.

I am told by the web-savvy lady to my left that I should not post any pictures of the act of slaughter, for that would classify as pornography and put the future of Zacstravaganza in legal jeopardy.

"You mean people get off to this shit?!?! That's fucking weird."

"Well Google Analytics says that the 4th-most recurring search term which has brought people to your blog is "Bobaraba AND Big Butt", which can only mean that a significant number of horny Malian men who hang out at Internet cafes looking for some bootylicious videos to download to their iPhones have mistakenly stumbled across your site!"

"Well, they must be pretty disappointed when they find out that I'm a white boy and that I have no pictures of butts here - just what comes out of them!"

"This might just be a coincidence, but still, if I were you I wouldn't put any actual pornography on your blog..."

So I will leave the pornography of carnivorous violence to be portayed by your own respective imaginations. here is our sacrifice to Allah, after the immediacy of the spectacle of Ibrahimic imagery:

All of Sidiki's children are rapt with the occasion. They look so serious not because they are unhappy, but because so few Malians have a full set of teeth that the local custom is to put on one's sternest face for photographs.

Sidiki cuts a hole underneath the skin around the sheep's butt and starts blowing so that the skin and fat will expand and hence become much easier to remove.

Now the skin can be peeled off as effortlessly as orange rinds.

We skin all the way to the sheep's neck and knees, where the extremities are all chopped off. The sheep's head will be cooked as a special treat, but the hooves have so little meat on them that they are enjoyed by the dogs. We hang the central carcass neck-side down under the gwa to let the remainder of the blood and the icky digestive juices to fall out. Not wishing to have my Tabaski best soiled with bile, I stand back.

Then its time to remove the internal organs!!! Though these aren't going into the garbage or the gravy - we're having the heart, the lungs, the liver, the kidneys, the stomach and the intestines for lunch!!!!

I enjoy munching on the liver and kidneys, and the heart is extremely rubbery yet delectable. However, I absolutely refuse to eat the digestive organs. You only need to take one look at the tripe and intestines to understand why.

But for those of you who have never butchered a sheep before, here Sidiki is pulling out the long intestine.

Just an hour ago, this intestine belonged to a living sheep who was happily munching on grass. So upon the time of that sheep's sacrifice, that grass had been digested and was traveling along the intestine for nutrient intake until evacuation. So Sidiki has to cut up a bit of intestine and blow out all the liquid shit.

All of the organs are thoroughly cleaned - especially the intestines. And then Sidiki's little brother and my namesake Madu Sogoba chops them up into bite-size pieces. Notice how enraptured little Aminata is at a bowl full of more meat than she has ever before seen in one place at one time.

Then Sidiki' second wife Haoua cooks all the organs into a peanut butter sauce to be served over rice. These Sogobas eat exclusively millet with oil and dried bottom-feeder fish about 350 days a year, so she is making a concerted effort to get the job done perfectly.

I apologize that I don't have any pictures of the finished meal - my hands were so sticky with peanut butter sauce that I didn't dare touch the camera. Like the act of this sheep's killing, its consumption must also be portayed only in your imagination. But let's just say that it was as delicious a sacrifice unto Allah as the slaughtering of that sheep was a spectacle worthy of adaptation into a Jerry Bruckheimer production.