Namibia: Slaugther For The Sake Of Music (cont.)
After half a dozen or so attempts, however, the novelty had worn off, both for me and the owner. We had been in the pen for nearly an hour when he pulled me aside. He might have been worried that I would leave without buying a goat, or maybe he was just tired and wanted to go to bed. Whatever the reason, he was ready to stop toying with me and help me out. He told me he was going to gather the goats once again; only this time we would work together to corner one, so it had nowhere to go.
This time when the goats made a break for it, they were forced to run past me. As they did so, I dove into the herd, knocking one to the ground. Before it could get up, I jumped on top of it and held it down until Liebs came over and tied its legs together. The crowd cheered. The owner came over to congratulate me. I felt relieved but slightly embarrassed. It had taken nearly an hour to catch a goat.
After paying the price listed on the goat’s side ($300 Namibian Dollars) and putting it in the car, we raced back to Windhoek. Liebs had, unbeknownst to me, informed his family of the undertaking; and when we arrived at his house, a party stood around a fire eagerly awaiting our arrival.
It seemed as if the whole neighborhood was there. Kids were running around chasing each other; men sipping 40 oz. bottles of Black Label; women socializing. America rap music, specifically Tupac Shakur, was blaring from a speaker in the trunk of a nearby car. Everyone cheered when we got out of the car.
A few people stood near a small, collapsible card table. Sitting on top of the table were a few tubs, and resting next to it, on the ground, was a green, five-gallon bucket. I looked on as Liebs and his cousin John popped the trunk of the car and carried the startled goat by his rope-bound legs to the backyard. They flopped him down on the flimsy table.
Someone turned the music down, and people started gathering around the table. John pulled a knife from one of the tubs and cut the goat loose. As he did so, three other men standing nearby each grabbed a leg. The goat kicked, trying to free itself. Everyone held on until the goat calmed down. When it did, John held out the knife in my direction. It had a short, thick blade and a plastic handle that was cracked down one side. The blade was dull and rusted.
“Here,” he said. “It’s your goat.”
“Just hold its head back and cut,” he proceeded to tell me. “Make sure he bleeds into the bucket.”
“You ready?” Liebs asked, looking me in the eyes and smirking. “Ok,” I winced. I knew he was questioning my resolve, doubtful that I would have the stomach for it.
Normally, if I was in the United States, I would have had reservations about slaughtering a goat. But I was in Africa right now, and it was too late to turn back. An entire neighborhood was looking at me, and waiting on my every move.
“Just cut his neck here.” John said, “Just make sure to hold his head good.”
“Okay,” I said, still not sure what to do. But with his legs held, I gripped his snout with one hand and moved the knife slowly towards his neck with the other. I closed my eyes and quickly pulled the knife down and away.
When I opened my eyes, I realized the knife had hardly made a cut. I hadn’t put any weight behind the stroke. The goat immediately reeled, fighting his captors.
“Cut him again,” John screamed. “Cut him again.”
Without even thinking, I pressed down on his neck again with the knife, this time putting much more weight behind the stroke. I quickly pushed it down, pulling the tip inward. This time the knife cut deep into his neck; I could feel his soft neck muscle succumb to the rusty blade.
“Again, cut him again.”
Again I sliced into him. The knife cut deeper into his neck, severing his windpipe. I sliced again. And again. I kept cutting until I felt the knife hit bone.
“That’s good,” John said. “Now just hold him.”
So I held him, his body twitching with each pump of his heart. Warm blood leaked from his severed neck, spilling into the bucket below. I looked away. I had to. I suddenly realized what I had done. Until now, nothing had seemed real. For so long I had been caught up in playing the part of the dumb America eager to acclimate into a new culture, that I had lost my senses. Suddenly, though, with blood on my hands, reality came crashing back. I had just murdered a goat. All my senses, it seemed, were directed through my hand, feeling the goat’s life drain away. He kicked less and less as time passed. Soon he stopped moving altogether. When I felt the weight of his head in my hand I released my grip, letting his head fall limply over the edge of the table. Before I was certain that the goat was dead, John had already repositioned his body to skin him.
I excused myself from the skinning, too shaky and raw to cut again. I told them that I didn’t know how to skin a goat, that I didn’t want to ruin the hide. In truth, I didn’t know if I could bring myself to touch the still warm body. I desperately wanted to wash my hands,.
John split the skin on his belly in half and then cut up each leg and around the ankles in order to pull the skin off with one movement. It wasn’t long before John had the entire goat skinned and gutted. He took special care to cut around and remove the gall bladder. “You don’t want to ruin the intestines,” he said. Within minutes ribs were cooking over the open fire. Nearly everything was cooked and consumed, including to the stomach and intestines. Everyone enjoyed some part of the goat. The ribs were fatty and chewy and unappetizing. But the hindquarter was excellent, heavily spiced and tender beyond belief.
The party went on into the wee hours of the morning. Strangers kept on shaking my hand and thanking me. Sharing the goat was an extremely generous gift, they said, and wanted to make sure I knew they appreciated it.
I left early in the morning as the party wound down. I had to rush in order to catch a bus to South Africa. Liebs fixed my drum while I was gone. When the party ended, the skin was pegged to the ground and stretched out to dry. When I returned from South Africa, it was already cut and affixed to the drum. The only thing left for me to do was to tighten and tune it. As a parting gift, Liebs presented me with a cloth duffel bag, sewn by his mother, designed especially for my drum.
“This is for the protection of the djembe,” he said as he handed me the bag, “and also for the spirits within. Remember that when you play the drum, you will feel the spirit of Africa.”
“Thank you” I said, looking humbly at the drum. It still reeked of goat and made me nauseous when I held it. Liebs laughed and said the smell would eventually lessen, and he was right. He was also right about the djembe’s spirit. Every time I hold the drum I can still feel the spirit of an angry African goat eager to haunt me.
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