Our experience of taking a lamb to the slaughter, Chilean style
Hot blood soaked the damp earth with a shock of red. Steam rose. The sheep gave its final shudder, and expired. Pachamama absorbed the blood of this lamb to the slaughter. And so all things return.
Our group stood around the scene around the scene: intent, sombre, nervous. Like atheists wary of a religious epiphany, this group of carnivores had gathered to see the process of death. We hoped not to be altered by its spectacle. Still, we were pious in our own way, seeking to live the values we professed: respect for life, land and beast.
Initially, the possibility of freshly butchered meat was thrown down to us as a gauntlet by the owner of the farm. We were all there to work the land offering our labour in exchange for a bed and three square (albeit vegetarian) meals a day. One morning, at our daily gathering, someone made a crack about having a lamb roast. “Well, how about tonight?” said Greg, on whose land we were passing our days. Hungrily, our ears cocked. “Go with Hardy this afternoon and slaughter a sheep. Anyone who eats meat should know where it comes from, right?” We nodded in acquiescence. The bet was on.
It took a few days to organise the slaughter. During that time, plenty of wide talk passed around the farm. Several among us wanted to perform the killing. There was good intent behind the bravado, but also uncertainty. As we waited, the tension mounted.
In the end, the event blew in and out like a hurricane. Word spread around the farm that it was happening and we hurried over to the barn. Oblivious, the sheep were herded inside, skipping. We were the ones to follow meekly and form a vague circle blocking their exit.
Hardy, a Chilean campesino who lives on the farm, motioned to a volunteer to choose a sheep. Courageously, he tackled the beast and held it down like a struggling convict. Together they roped its hind legs and hung it from the ceiling. There was so little noise.
We waited, to see if the volunteer would seize the knife. But in the end there was no question. Hardy was a master. He plunged the knife in once through the centre of the sheep’s throat, then cleanly pulled it out. His swift and steady hands didn’t mince the business of death into a messy affair. Blood splurged from the newly gaping mouth. We glimpsed a cross-section of brain. It was all over in less than a minute.
Straight away, Hardy began to demonstrate how to skin the creature. Then he invited us all to try, if we wished. A bold few stepped forward, happier to engage now that no harm could be done. Most of us just gazed at the sheep like a stripper in an Amsterdam window performing the ultimate peep show. Somehow, it held the same level of fascination, and disgust.
Later that night, the sheep turned on a roughly hewn spit, roasting in molten heat and heavy smoke. We watched it turn hungrily, still very much in the market for meat.