The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Facing death calmly      

They’re on death row with no hope of reprieve.  Appeals for clemency to the courts, even the President, will certainly fail.
Yet the condemned spend their final days on good terms with their friendly jailers.  They live well though their predicament is dire. 
Apart from sexual frustration there’s no sign of rebellion and despair: This is what happens when the tribe fails to record the past so cannot imagine the future.
If just one could read the signs and remember, then the captives would surely rebel, smash down their cells and dash screaming into the streets.
There will be screaming when they finally realize the betrayal next week. (15 Oct)  The hands that groomed will whet bright steel on the sidewalk and then, with a brief prayer, slice open the throbbing throat over a gore-soaked pit.
Idul Adha, the story of Ibrahim’s (Abraham) test of faith by sacrificing his son, is shared by Muslims, Christians and Jews.  In the secular west it’s just a myth, but in Indonesia God’s substitution of a ram for Ishnael (Isaac) is re-enacted every year.
It’s also big business, with the benevolent rich buying animals whose meat is given to the poor.  In Sawojajar a pop-up market has appeared to satisfy the trade. Mostly it’s Billy goats and young bulls. Rams are rare in East Java.  Religion can be flexible.
Indonesians have a reputation for cruelty. Two years ago live cattle exports from Australia stopped after a public outcry when scenes of gratuitous brutality in Indonesian abattoirs were telecast.
The Indonesian government retaliated by banning imports.  Beef prices rocketed and consumers suffered; few understood that in the West those walking on four legs also have rights,  
These include a humane death, and by Australian standards the Indonesian ritual is unacceptable, even when done with care.
The animals are conscious (not stunned by shooting or electrocution) when knife saws flesh and clearly feel dreadful pain. They smell the execution ground and hear the screams.  Their terror is primitive and raw.
Yet the killing – in the yard of a nearby mosque - is conducted calmly, swiftly and efficiently.  In the slaughters witnessed by this writer there’s been no bashing or goading. 
Squeamish Westerners would throw up their gluten-free muesli at the sight, but the tougher Indonesian kids come from afar (and a different tradition) to see the public butchering, learning more about anatomy than a year of schoolroom biology lessons.

Lucky year

Goat trader Poniti (see above with her husband)  reckons 2013 will be a fine year for sales.  Since she started in business in 1996 she’s noticed that uneven years deliver most profit.
She also knows that smart operators open early to display their wares, so she’s the first to trade in Sawojajar, picking the best spot ahead of her four rivals.
Poniti  has 88 Billy goats and one ram under canvas and had already sold 15, each daubed with the buyer’s number. Another 100 are at home waiting for their transmigration orders once new yards are set up.
Prices range from Rp 1.5 (US $130) to Rp 3 million (US $260) depending on the animal’s size and condition.
“I like the goats and feel a little sorry they’re being sold for slaughter,” Poniti said.”But that’s business. It’s cost me Rp 10 million (US $ 870) just to bring them (from Sumber Manjing, a two hour drive west) to here and build the pens. 
“The location’s good, right among the houses and near main roads.”
With her husband Pardi, 50, and relatives to keep the animals fed and watered, Poniti, 42, camps with the goats to prevent theft.  The family eats and sleeps alongside the pens, and uses a tributary of the Kwansan River as bath and toilet.
The traders have set up opposite a primary school, so  has become a little zoo where homeward kids linger to giggle and gape at the animal antics.
The government has shut down Internet porn sites but it can’t legislate for beastly behavior. Anyone claiming same-sex pairings don’t exist in nature hasn’t visited a goat yard. When they’re not eating or sleeping the randy Billies are desperately trying to mate with each other, and when ththe tether is too short, the water barrels.
Visitors are given the evil eye – it’s no accident the devil is often portrayed as a goat.  And if the liquid lascivious glare doesn’t repel the odor will.
None of this disturbs Poniti. For her it’s all the sweet smell of money.
(Breakout two)
Picking and choosing

He doesn’t know it yet, but the chocolate-coated Billy in row one will soon be feeding children in a local orphanage.  Two of his mates, yet to be selected, will feature on plates in a mosque and school.
The buyer, retired Forestry Department official Suyono, 66, brought his two-year old grandson Mohammad Anom to inspect the offerings and learn about life.
“Sometimes I go to the villages to buy goats because they’re cheaper and there’s more selection,” he said.  “But these people will deliver and I can select without going away from home.
“I’m looking for big animals that are well covered and brawny.”
While Grandpop chatted, toddler Mohammed made friends with the only ram on offer. 
The little woollen fellow responded gently. The child found him safe to pat.  It was a touching scene, literally and metaphorically. So a good moment to leave the story before it all turns to blood and tears. As it will.

(First published in The Jakarta Post 14 October 2013)

No comments: