IT’S SWINISH AND FORBIDDEN - BUT IT’S BUSINESS © Duncan Graham 2007
Febroary 18 marks Imlek – the start of the Chinese New Year. This time it's the Year of the Pig. But despite the animal's 2007 status there's no porcine reprieve likely. Contributor Duncan Graham reports from Surabaya:
They die before dawn in a squealing, grunting slaughter to satisfy the tastes of Surabaya’s non-Muslim community.
Every night about 130 porkers go under the knife in the biggest abattoir in East Java, known as Potong Hewan (literally ‘cut animal’). It was built by the Dutch in 1927, run by the city government and is right in the heart of the old city, close to the Arab quarter.
“This is a traditional slaughterhouse using the old methods,” explained veterinarian Wiryadining who has studied meat processing systems in Western Australia
“It was built when this was the edge of the city. Don’t expect to see anything modern like power saws and continuous chains. There are no plans to upgrade.
“We’re only working at around 80 per cent capacity. It’s a sign of the economy – chicken and fish are cheap. Few can afford beef. Pork sales are almost all to the Chinese and that market is stable.
“The place isn’t hygienic by Western standards, but the system works well. Indonesians like their meat fresh – not frozen.”
Export standards do not apply. Wiryadining, one of two vets employed, said she and health inspectors regularly checked all animals and processes. The killing and cutting rooms are roofed and partially walled – sometimes with tiles. But they’re not fully enclosed. There are no cool rooms or chillers, so all slaughter has to be done at night.
This isn’t just to take advantage of the lower temperature; this is a kill-and-carry operation, with the carcases carted by pick-up or pedicab directly to city markets. The meat isn’t wrapped and seldom covered.
Twenty minutes after walking into the abattoir a dismembered steer can be bumping its way to a dawn butcher’s stall, its red meat quivering, the blood still seeping.
By 7 am the yards are being hosed down and last night’s partly digested meal of grain and grass is drying in the sun for sale as fertiliser. All the gore and offal, skin and flesh has been dispersed across the metropolis. Content cats preen themselves among the flies, anticipating nightfall and more gluttony.
In Indonesia nothing gets wasted. The bones are ground down for fertiliser, the blood processed for chicken food. Even cows’ snouts are sold for a Surabayan delicacy called rujak cingur.
The cattle are mainly from Madura Island. About 200 are processed six nights a week starting at midnight. They’re so domesticated and trusting that they walk into a black barn of blood-splattered stalls and clanking chains, then submit to their throats being slit while a prayer is intoned.
The practice in many other countries is to first shoot the beast in the head with a captive-bolt pistol – but that’s not an approved Islamic process.
The swine come from a village near the central East Java town of Kediri, about 130 kilometres southwest of Surabaya.
The less docile pigs are herded into a dead-end alleyway and stunned before meeting the knife. This is done by a heavy electric shock, delivered through a long two-pronged fork pushed over the animal’s ears. The skin is scraped free of bristles using hot water to open the pores before the beast is gutted.
“The area where we kill and dress the pigs is completely separate and walled off from the rest of the slaughterhouse,” said veterinarian Endra Wijaya. “There’s no possibility of contact and the men who work with pigs never touch goats or cattle.
“Nine of the ten slaughter men are Muslims – the other is Christian. There’s no problem – provided they don’t eat the meat.”
Commented Wiryadining: “Women don’t work in this industry in Indonesia. It’s against our culture to have men and women working together – it’s not safe for women. Butchering is a man’s job in Islam.”
PEARLS OF WISDOM ABOUT SWINE
Although pigs are unpopular in many parts of the archipelago there are at least 8 million in Indonesia, according to an Australian study on animal health.
The dislike is because of the prohibition in the Koran: “Forbidden to you are dead meat, blood and the flesh of the swine …”
The Bible has a similar warning in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy) where there’s a long list of the clean and unclean. In the latter group is anything without a split hoof. That includes rabbits and pigs.
Jews also keep pig meat off the menu. It’s not kosher.
Modern Christians chomping over breakfasts of bacon, ham sandwich lunches and rabbit pie dinners rationalise that such rules, along with the Adam and Eve story are irrelevant in an age of reason.
But science has shown pig meat can be dangerous; it’s another nice but naughty food - deliciously and sinfully fatty and a contributor to heart disease. If not properly cooked the trichina parasites carried by pigs can invade your body.
“Spot on!” cry the purists of all faiths. “Our Holy Books knew what was right long before white-coated rationalists started squinting down microscopes.”
The film characters of Miss Piggy and Babe have no fan clubs in Indonesia. There can’t be too many citizens of the Republic who’ve been taught nursery rhymes and games about little pigs going to market, though some are alleged to be involved in pork barrelling and not a few averse to telling porkies.
For those unfamiliar with American and English slang, the first refers to using taxpayers’ money for political ends – the second is a euphemism for lying.
Pigs’ teeth are said to resist biodegrading, so some historians claim the arrival of Islam in the archipelago can be dated from the sudden absence of these remains in archaeological digs.
What’s a strict Muslim to do if starving and only pig meat is available? According to Muslim contacts the Koran is accommodating: If you’re driven to eat pork to stay alive (but don’t desire the meat) then Allah is forgiving and merciful.
(First published in The JakartaPost 19 Feb 07)