The Reluctant Butcher


The previous evening as I walked the dusty orange path watching the sun set behind the distant Dzonzi mountains I had said to my friend Chisale ‘I believe that if someone wants to eat meat, then they should be willing to kill the animal’. I had said it with such gusto that now it seemed impossible to add the caveat ‘or at least watch whilst someone else does it’.

Yesterday I’d felt so strong and ready for anything, but after a night in a Malawian mud hut, sleeping on a grass mat, being kept awake by hyenas and tortured by mosquitoes my fighting spirit had dampened somewhat. I glanced across at the goat munching happily on it’s favourite leaves and tried to reassure myself by imagining it as a tasty stew. The smell of the goat however and the memory of the chicken feet for breakfast quickly brought me back to reality.

Chikumbutso was now approaching with a knife. I looked at the blade and enquired as to its sharpness. Chisale’s dad laughed, took the blade and started sharpening it on a stone he found to hand, ‘you are lucky, to butcher a pig you have to use a spear because they bite, and to butcher a cow we tie the head to a tree and use an axe. To kill a goat you don’t have to have these skills’. A few more scrapes on the stone and my time was up, I was led over to an area laid out with leaves on the ground to provide a clean surface for the task. I was amazed at the calmness of the goat as it was led to my alter. The act itself was quick, but as the last breath left the lungs of the goat I myself was hyperventilating with adrenaline. I looked down and saw a viscous red line getting thicker on my thumb. It took a moment before I realised that the blade was double sided and in my commitment to the cut, I had managed to slice my thumb open without even feeling it.

I stood back as bodies rushed in and marvelled at the swift removal of the skin and then it was my turn to have the breath knocked out of me as they removed the entrails and cleaned them ready for cooking. Everything was used and I watched as multiple friends from the village came and collected a portion for their family. Chisale explained that the hide would be the lowliest of cuts, but once the hair had been burnt off and the skin stewed it would be remarkably tasty. I was however happy when I saw a friend come and take it away. I was just as relieved to see the trotters and head carried off in triumph by a couple of kids.

The preparation and cooking took all day. The evening meal of goat stew and rice was therefore highly anticipated and it did not disappoint. The rich bubbling red sauce with tender chunks of meat, smelled of sweet aromatics, garlic, and a hint of a goat’s cheese tang. As I scooped and eagerly sucked the food from my hand I could hear the family chatting away in Chichewa punctuated by someone pointing to their thumb followed by hearty laughing and shrieks of amusement.


D.Atherton

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