I stood transfixed as the neck of the goat was severed by one quick swipe of the machete. Blood began to gurgle and gush freely from the fatal gash and a Maasai tribesman grabbed a small metal bowl to collect it in. This was the first time I’d seen a defenceless animal slaughtered intentionally and it affected me more than I’d expected it to.
I was staying with the family of a Maasai friend, Yusufu, who worked at my hostel in Moshi, Tanzania, where I was volunteering. The village was located in the middle of nowhere, accessible only via a network of dirt tracks that crisscrossed their way through rough terrain and river beds. Our van had packed in a few miles from its destination and we’d lugged our tents and sleeping bags the remaining distance through a sea of cornfields.
The village elder agreed to sacrifice a goat to give me insight into the tribe’s culture. This was a great honour, since livestock are not only the main source of food for these people, but a measure of a man’s wealth and a significant bargaining tool.
Within minutes of my arrival, a suitable animal had been selected and the tribesmen dragged it by its horns across the village clearing to a small hut that had been built for the sole purpose of slaughtering livestock. I knew it wouldn’t be easy viewing, but morbid fascination got the better of me.
They began by suffocating it, but it struggled and squealed in panic so they put it out of its misery by severing its jugular. The goat’s life ebbed away quickly, but its glazed eyes continued to portray pure terror. The sound of its final desperate bleating resonated in my mind.
The last of the blood was drained into the bowl and the frothy scarlet mixture was carried away to be drunk later. The Maasai believe it’s a delicacy and swig it down with equal gusto to an Irish man with a pint of Guinness on St Paddy’s day. They mix it with milk to form a ritual drink, which is most commonly used for celebrations or to nourish the sick. When no goat has been sacrificed, they will sometimes tap the jugular veins of live ones. Never mind the huge array of zoonotic diseases that are endemic in Tanzania, they’ll take a fresh cup of caprine juice any day over a hot mug of cocoa.
The man with the machete moved onto skinning the goat. This was the point at which I was expected to leave them to it, but I was intrigued by the procedure. In my job as a veterinary magazine editor, I’ve been to debates on ethical methods of slaughter and conference talks about the hygienic preparation of meat and it fascinated me to see how adept these men were when equipped with nothing but the most basic resources.
I was so engrossed in watching the blade slice neatly through the skin around the goat’s testicles that I’d failed to realise that the rest of the tribe had gathered to begin a demonstration of their traditional jumping dance. As you can hear from this disturbingly graphic video (you have been warned!), Yusufu eventually had to come and drag me away!
After the sun set and the dancing ceased, I was led to another small mud hut for dinner. Bare except for a few plastic chairs and lacking a door, it didn’t make for the most comfortable dining experience – a chicken kept wandering in and out, and villagers continued to peer in to see who this strange foreigner was – but it was clear that they had taken me to the best room in the village and were going out of their way to accommodate me. The highlight of the evening was being presented with a bowl of goat chunks for dinner. Our old friend tasted great. He was a bit on the chewy side, but I’ve been brought up believing that good food shouldn’t go to waste, and having seen the effort involved in putting this meal together, I couldn’t leave a morsel.