Friday, February 05, 2010


My significant other (Savage Kitten) sent me a link to an article that mentions that water buffalo are now banned at political demonstrations in Jakarta. This after protestors incorporated one such beast in a rally to represent their president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

[See this article: ]


President Yudhoyono was less than pleased at the comparison.

"They said that I am like a buffalo — big and stupid and slow in moving. That statement is not ethical or moral, and to use a buffalo can violate other regulations, like traffic laws."

In many parts of Asia the water buffalo is thought of as a noble beast that stands it's ground, and represents a martial spirit. Perhaps not in Java.

But President Yudhoyono is right that a water buffalo does not belong in the city streets.

If it is in the city at all, it belongs in the stew pot.


Following the rice harvest, the village is cleaned and made ready for the feast. On a day after the full moon (are-buwan), taboo markings are strung across the footpaths, to prevent outsiders from entering and disturbing the ritual. Water buffalos (karbao) are lead into the central clearing and tied to thick poles (tumbo ara - dedicated ceremonial pillars), with ropes braided of five colours leading from their various parts to ceremonial corners that anchor the settlement. After a chant invoking the spirit of the rice and the entities protecting the area, the beasts are killed in the names of the clans (tantam) that provided the sacrifice. The gushing blood is drained into the ground, the flesh is divided among the people.
It will be simmered with coconut milk (santen), turmeric (tamo kunit, a sacred plant), galangal (langkuwas, a fragrant dwarf-ginger), and chilies (tjabe) till soft and tender enough that even the toothless elderly can enjoy it, served with cooked rice (nasip).
Because of ritual purity, lime juice will be used in lieu of tamarind, salt instead of fishpaste.

[Note: Tantam are not really clans, but rather associations that form when lineages are too closely related for marriage purposes, and therefore naturally share taboos, sacred histories, and rituals.]

That evening, the first of the rice wine will be drunk. And drunk. And drunk.
Songs will ring out, chants boasting about the ancestors and their martial achievements, lyrics celebrating the sleek beauty of the women, the proud postures of the men. Grandmother drums (dadap ambo) sound loudly, the bamboo-slat floor of the communal hall shakes and vibrates with the feet of the dancers.
There is much laughter.

Half the settlement wakes up severely hung-over next morning. The other half won't rise till late afternoon.

Inevitably some of the pretty teenagers will be pregnant after the feast.
Their swains will ask the approval of their clans for a wedding, and there will be blushing brides before too long. Unlike the folks downriver, these people marry strictly according to corrolary lineages within the cluster of villages. But the farmlands and animals are still passed along the female line, and the young lady is still gifted with a field of her own, as well as the necessary buffalo.

Other reasons for a feast-sacrifice are agreements between lineages, success in war, the building of a new communal hall, dedicating a lineage monument, or even liability for offenses like cursing the water source, blighting the fields, or attracting evil - all sins facilitated by murder, incest, or menstrual blood used in magic.
Not only buffalo are sacrificed, but also pigs, goats, and chickens. And often there is less of a religious connotation to the event than a ritual-obligation, or simply an approved reason to pig-out and show-off.

It is said about one such feast that "the people ate for days and days, to show that they were rich and majestic; those that gave the feast were bankrupt afterwards but very respected".


Note that many cultures in Indonesia and South-East Asia celebrate with water buffalo. Almost all do so in the context of sacrificing, frequently after the harvest or at an impressive funeral for an important person. Unlike cows, water buffalo are exceedingly good to eat.

Note also that except in matters of extreme need, there are no sacrifices after the rains come. Probably for two reasons - the first being that splashing animal blood does not drain into the sodden dirt, but instead forms puddles of ruddy muck, the second being that between lumeri tuwa (the sealing of the agricultural year in October) and lumeri mura (the opening of the agricultural year in February) it is customary to drink overmuch and raid villages on the other side of the mountain, taking heads and settling feuds.
It's a headache either way.


Anonymous said...

That's disgusting you savage.

Tzipporah said...

Actually, he doesn't seem disgusted.

Oh, wait, you forgot your comma...

Search This Blog


Important disclaimer or whatever: Because I am Dutch American, neurotic, and somewhere on the spectrum (Aspergers syndrome is quite common a...