Zebu – it’s what’s for dinner!

Every so often, I get a little complacent and forget just where I am. I don’t feel like I'm a stranger living in a foreign world. I just feel like a normal person doing a normal job.

And then, to keep me in check, and remind me that I am indeed in a very foreign place different from the world that I’m used to, I get an email like this:

To: Village Residents (that would include me)
From: Housing & Camp Superintendent

Dear residents,

In line with Malagasy tradition we will conduct a ceremony at the village tomorrow starting at 8.30am. The ceremony is to bless the village and ensure that it will be a safe and happy place for the residents to live.

The ceremony will take place between house #707 and #709. Amontana road will be blocked to vehicular traffic from 8.30am alongside house #616 until 1pm in the afternoon. Please make sure that your vehicles are out of this area before 8.00am if you wish to use them during the morning.

The ceremony will involve the sacrificing of a Zebu cow that will be then cooked in a traditional Malagasy manner. You are more than welcome to attend if you wish however please bear in mind that the ceremony may be a little upsetting for anyone that has not seen a cow being slaughtered before.

If you have any questions please contact me.

Thanks & best regards,

Mr. So-And-So
Housing & Camp Superintendent

For any of those unfamiliar with what a zebu is, it’s a Malagasy cow with a large hump on it's back. They are VERY important in the Malagasy lives and culture. Awhile back, after someone died on the project site, three zebus were sacrificed to cleanse the land. The circumstances were a little tense, so I didn't attend.

And...I’m not quite sure on what occasion merits what amount of zebus to be sacrificed? But I know that in one village I went to, a cow was sacrificed each time a baby boy was circumcised and if ever incest occurred. (?????)

Now, the question.....I’m welcome to attend this celebration. Do I go? A large part of me really wants to go. I mean…it’s not every day that you see a zebu sacrifice (I’m ignoring the fact that I’m from Alberta, famous for its beef, and where hundreds of thousands of cows are slaughtered every day). I’m here to learn about the Malagasy culture (Ok. Really, I’m here to work, but while I'm here I may as well take in the Malagasy culture) so it seems like a bit of a waste if I don’t go and witness this cultural event. No one I know is getting a circumsition, and I'm an only child, so who knows when the next sacrifice will be?

But I am a bit nervous that it will put me off meat for a while. I already have troubles eating meat, and frequently have to try to ignore the fact that what I'm eating was walking around town one day last week, eating grass, living it's merry life.

I’ve asked a couple of nationals to make sure that it’s respectful that a vaza (Malagasy for foreigner) goes to see this. And I’ve even been told that we can take pictures. One national says it's against his beleifs because he is a strong Christian. He says there will still be some Christians will still participate in the ceremony, but he feels it's against his beliefs.

As for my beliefs...I'm just there to witness a part of a culture ceremony from my new home country. As long as the animal isn't tortured to death....I see this simply as an (unfamiliar to me) tradition to bring prosperity and good wishes to our new homes.

Ok. Decision is made. I'll let you know how freshly killed zebu tastes tomorrow.

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