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Fear and Loathing in Indonesia

Tomorrow is Idul Adha, which is the Muslim feast of atonement. It's a holiday like no other, although you'd think it was rodeo time in Texas with all the livestock rolling around town.

During Idul Adha, those with means buy a goat, and those with more means buy a cow, and the animal is scrificed at the local mosque as an offering for the forgiveness of sins. The carcasses are then carved up and the meat doled out to needy families.

To that end, there have been trucks bringing loads of animals into the city for the occasion. I've seen dozens of trucks with a cow or two in the back and three or four guys keeping a hand on them. I've seen goats bound up and slung on the back of a motorcycle on its way to a mosque.

Tomorrow what will happen is that the penitant will present the animal to the imam at the front of the mosque. There is a round of praying and asking for forgiveness. The animals throat is then slit and the blood is poured out as sacrifice for sin. Richer folks may offer up more than one animal, and of course, cows being more expensive, a wealthy man will bring the larger animal for sacrifice.

Later the meat is divvied up and given to poor families and individuals, so that the sacrifice serves two purposes. Given that Jakarta has over 12 million people, and about 80% of them are Muslim, you can imagine how much meat is available for those who need it.

Blood sacrifice is one of the oldest forms of atonement that I am aware of. Of course, the Muslims still practice it. The Jews seemed to have stopped around the time the Secdond Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70. Christians, especially Catholics and Episcopelians, still practice blood sacrifice, albeit in a symbolic form, by slaughtering and then cannibalizing their own God.

The practice is curious to me. Of course, there's the aspect of ingesting the Life Force of that which is eaten. Many ancient hunting societies were keenly aware of the fact that they were taking the spirit of the dead animal into themselves. i can imagine expanding that idea into one where the Deity is pleased by receiving the animal's spirit in sacrifice, and even more so by the aroma of the burning flesh. Lord knows I like a good steak myself.

Last year, I told someone back home about the practice. His only response was, "Barbaric." No more so than many religious practices I can think of in Western religions. The Jews have a whole list of rules about sacrifices in the first few books of the Bible. There's a list of sins and then a proscribed remedy, giving what animal, if blood or burnt, how much should be donated to the priests, et cetera. In fact, Jesus' whole rant at the Temple was against the crass commercialism that had grown up around the practice.

As far as I can tell, the Buddhists are one of the few religions that not only did not practice live sacrifice, but strictly forbid the killing of animals for any reason.

The Aztec and Maya of Central America went a step further and carved out the beating heart of human sacrifices, drained the blood down the pyramid steps and then cast the bodies down the steps to pile up at the bottom. There is a rather graphic re-enactment of the practice in Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, which I found to be a fascinating film. Having been to several Mayan cities, including Tikal, I can easily visualize the scene.

Dan Brown dealt with the subject extensively in his latest novel, The Lost Symbol. The concept of freeing and absorbing the life force of other creatures has roots deep in European culture, as well. The majik arts and occult practices have used killing as a means of gaining spiritual strangth for centuries.

So, the slaughter of goats and cows is now shocking, really. In the abstract, one might think that it is a brutal and arcane ritual, but to witness it is to remove the mystery. It's no different that what is being done all over Texas right now, during deer season. The difference being that here it is a ceremonial begging for forgiveness. In Texas, it's a ritual form of spraying hot lead and testosterone all over the place.

An interesting anecdote from last year's holiday. A noted politician had purchased a cow for his sacrifice. When the animal was butchered, its liver was eaten up with paracites, which led to rampant speculation on what sins he had committed. You see, Indonesians view the liver the way a European would view the heart, as the center of a person's being. So, the liver being shot was a curious sign.

Anyway, a blessed Idul Adha to my Muslim readers. And to my other Indonesian friends, enjoy your holiday in the middle of the week.

Back on Thursday with more views from the Far Side.

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