A few things I didn’t get to say about the Idul Adha festivities yesterday…
I was texting about witnessing animal sacrifice with a few different people–Kate and Sarah Kate and one of the new Fulbright English Teaching Assistants.^ I find it strange that after over a decade of vegetarianism and pretty intense concern for animal welfare that I’m obsessed with going to witness the slaughter every year when Idul Adha comes around. I can’t not go see it, and I always take a bunch of pictures and get real up close and personal with the “gore”… without even flinching. I guess it just surprises me that it doesn’t shock me more?
There’s something beautiful about watching people watch what happens on Idul Adha. It’s not like all Javanese people are always respectful* of the animals all the time, by any means–I’ve seen people playing around with decapitated animal heads and making what I experience as inappropriate jokes considering a life was just taken–but it’s easy to respect the fact that they’re fully aware of and willing to witness what happens to animals when they become human food. I think being up close to it on a regular basis desensitizes people in some ways, and even though keeping an extreme distance from it as most Americans do ultimately serves the same purpose it seems somehow more ethical to face reality rather than avoid it. It’s nice to watch people be willing to at least recognize and acknowledge what happens.
I used to make myself feel guilty for being kind of obsessed with documenting and witnessing animal slaughter, like wow, that’s so gruesome and violent–why are you so into this? What sort of dark side of yourself is coming out here? I’ve come to the conclusion, though, that what attracts me to it is the ritual of it all and something more, well, what I called “basic instinct” when chatting with Kate and SK. It’s fascinating not because it’s violent but because it’s just… natural. Killing is just as much a part of life as dying and death are; as part of a complex system of predators and prey, the concepts of killing / being killed are ingrained somewhere deep within us and always were since before we could know of them. And I don’t think I can understand what pulls me to witness only by examining the thoughts that run through my head. It’s not (only) a gruesome fascination or an expression of the human proclivity for violence but must also be something more biological and instinctual; my body wants to know. Visceral: relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect.
I can’t decide if I’m stating the obvious or actually getting onto something good. Maybe it’s time to rest for tonight… maybe more in the future on this topic.
^There are two in Malang! Hope to meet them soon!
*Of course, the process for and concept of showing respect varies from culture to culture… I think Americans tend to respect animals because they anthropomorphize them (and this habit can be traced to our affinity for keeping housepets), which is different from showing respect by using the whole body of the animal (if not “treating it right” as an American might think an animal corpse should be treated).