Sunday, October 16, 2011

Odwira Festival: The Death of a Sheep

Friday was a day of celebration in the Odwira Festival and was the day of the durbar and the sacrificing of the sheep. The sacrifice of this animal began at about 8:50 in the morning, and was announced with loud drumming. Once these instruments caught our attention, the group walked over to the large tree in the middle of the square, a tree that is to be home to an important deity who protects the people in the village. As a crowd of about 40 people developed, a number of priest began to pour libation (in the form of schnapps) onto the tree, while reciting words appropriate for the occasion. From this point in the ceremony, it was clear that this particular event was not as revered or important as other events were, evident in the small attendance, and absence of many important priests and executioners. In any light, this seemed to be a sacred ceremony, and was believed to be an important part of the Odwira cleansing.

After a few minutes of schnapps pouring at the base of the tree, the clerics of this ceremony grabbed hold of the confused and quiet creature. With a swift movement of their knife, the lamb’s throat was spilled open. Once the bleeding process began, the priests picked up the feet of the lamb and began waving it in the direction of the tree and surrounding plants. It was their task to spread the blood as a sacrifice to the deity in the tree. As the thick, red blood oozed out of the animals neck, the priest decided that they were done with this process of the ceremony and, in a very undignified manor, they tossed the lamb to the center of the cement platform, adjacent to the tree.

The lamb lay on the ground for a few minutes, quietly and uncomfortably gasping for air. When it seemed as if the sacrificial animal had finally breathed its last breath, it, in a burst of terrified adrenaline, began to shake and kick on the ground, as if to regain its balance and run away from these men with knives. This short and pathetic attempt to save itself only resulted in the hurried death the sheep, as it began to seep out more blood from the gaping wound on its throat. This struggle had also attracted the attention of one priest who seemed to take notice of the animal’s plight, and commenced to further sever the head from the body, while keeping the two intact. It is difficult to say whether this final violent act against the animal was done to relieve it from further misery, or whether it was traditional procedure.

The group of priests performed a few more unrecognizable ceremonial rites to honor the tree, and then continued in closing the ceremony. By now, the entirety of any life left in the animal had been lost to some other realm of being; evident by the listless corpse laying still on the concrete. The clerics wasted no time in further mutilating this lifeless body, by promptly cutting off the gentiles for the ram and placing them under the tree. This act was to further honor the tree deity, and leave something of a reminder of the sacrifice that was performed. Once this final act was performed, the procession of priests, drummers and followers continued out of the compound.

It was unclear to us what the people did with this animal after a sacrifice had been performed on it. The animal was dead, that much was certain, but was it appropriate to eat such a sacred corpse? These questions sat with us only briefly, as a group of men skillfully began to skin the beast in order to more easily access the meat of the muscular legs and side. Something about this process was less repulsive than before, perhaps because the animal was distinctly dead now, and any suffering or pain it experienced was no longer felt. Shortly after the skinning process began, our interest and curiosity was lost with this monotonous form of food processing. We had had our fill of violence and gore for the day, and decided to head back to the institute, to enjoy a snack of soda and meat sandwiches.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Immigration: Really Alabama?

Recently Alabama passed an immigration law so harsh, that it caused an exodus of thousands of Hispanics from the southern state. This law contained provisions that allowed police officers to inquire about residency statuses in a routine traffic stop, and even went as far as confirming legal residency for children attending public schools. These two provisions (to name a few) are inherently racist, impractical, and unjust. The problem with police officers asking for legal papers to a select few people is that it will unavoidably facilitate legal racial profiling. The problem with asking the legal papers of children attending public schools is that it is taking away a universal right that everyone should be entitled to, especially when that right was paid for through property taxes that even illegal alien pays.

The problem I find with the passage of this sort of heinous legislation, is that it intrenches us in a mindset of fear, where it is us vs them. We begin to see those people crossing the boarder as enemies of the state, enemies that need to be rooted out by any and every means necessary, even if it means kicking a child out of school, deporting a parent, or racially profiling a Hispanic man.

The article I linked from the New York Times provides a beautiful example of this backwards thinking (accidently I’m sure) by citing a supporter of the bill, Mr. Orr. “Mr. Orr said there were already signs that the law was working, pointing out that the work-release center in Decatur, about 50 miles to the Northwest, was not so long ago unable to find jobs for inmates with poultry processors or home manufacturers. Since the law was enacted in June, he said, the center has been placing more and more inmates in these jobs, now more than 150 a day.

What I find so appalling about this alleged evidence of the effectiveness of the bill, is that it is essentially arguing that prisoners are more obliged to have jobs than immigrants. There is something seriously wrong with our country when we use the argument that convicts have more of a right to jobs and a home in this country than those already living here, namely the undocumented. What is happening to us? How have we become such a xenophobic and bellicose melting pot? For a change, let us try to pass legislation that supports foreigners struggling to live in our society by providing them with residency and access to education; instead of legislation that kicks children out of school, encourages racism, and forces the evacuation of thousands of scared people from their home state.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fou Fou

Well the inevitable blog laziness has begun to set in. I find that a solution to this problem is the uploading of brief videos of my exciting life in Ghana; this video for example, capturing my first encounter with the traditional African dish, fou fou. Enjoy!