Heart-stopping coincidence

by Jeremy Cherfas on December 1, 2012

An interesting blog post by Amelia Hanslow, ostensibly about fat-tailed sheep, introduced me to a novel form of butchery.

The reputation of Genghis [Khan’s] army was that they shed the blood of humans more readily than they did of sheep. Now, here’s the interesting bit: that’s true, because traditional slaughter of sheep involved (and still does in Central Asia) making a small incision in the sheep’s chest, and reaching in to stop the heart with your hand (or pinch the aorta more specifically). Ideally, no blood is shed on the ground so that it is all saved for food.

Now admittedly I was in an impressionable state, having just enjoyed the rare treat of an episode of Game of Thrones, but this struck me as further confirmation that the Dothraki are essentially a Mongol horde. Anyway, it became necessary for me to suggest this sheep-slaughtering technique to Luigi, who promptly informed me that it is called khoj özeeri. And, just as “there is no word for thank-you in Dothraki” (sic), so too there is obviously no word in English for khoj özeeri. Perhaps there should be. Here’s what Luigi’s source has to say on the subject:

If slaughtering livestock can be seen as part of humans’ closeness to animals, khoj özeeri represents an unusually intimate version. Reaching through an incision in the sheep’s hide, the slaughterer severs a vital artery with his fingers, allowing the animal to quickly slip away without alarm, so peacefully that one must check its eyes to see if it is dead. In the language of the Tuvan people, khoj özeeri means not only slaughter but also kindness, humaneness, a ceremony by which a family can kill, skin, and butcher a sheep, salting its hide and preparing its meat and making sausage with the saved blood and cleansed entrails so neatly that the whole thing can be accomplished in two hours (as the Mongushes did this morning) in one’s good clothes without spilling a drop of blood. Khoj özeeri implies a relationship to animals that is also a measure of a people’s character. As one of the students explained, “If a Tuvan killed an animal the way they do in other places”—by means of a gun or knife—“they’d be arrested for brutality.”

Two points.

Do we, in English, have any way of differentiating a “good” slaughter from a bad one? I can’t think of one.

And isn’t it amazing, how one’s mind latches onto the strangest things, allowing the internet to extend one’s memory?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

dianabuja December 1, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Can’t think of modern differentiations in English – but perhaps, earlier English, when slaughtering was a more central part of happenings. Certainly today here in Burundi, differences in slaughtering techniques are well defined. And the results: slaughter in the midst of fear = less tender animal, etc. You want the animal to just slip away…

Reply

back40 December 1, 2012 at 2:06 pm

For grass fed artisanal meats the issue is stress; a low stress slaughter results in better meat. The state of the art is “ranch kill”, which is done where the animal lives rather than transporting the animal to a facility and inducing stress in the process.

The animal is shot in the forehead at a point defined by the intersection of lines from each ear to the eye on the opposite side of the head. X marks the spot. The animal dies instantly with no awareness of the event or expression of pain or fear.

This is also an issue for those concerned about humane slaughter, even if they have no interest in meat quality. When you observe such a slaughter there’s no drama.

Reply

Dave Wood December 1, 2012 at 4:07 pm

I have done this with distressed birds. Simply press on the heart from outside, below the sternum. They seem to simply to go to sleep. I did it once of a real `desert island': a bird nesting atoll where the parent birds (noddies) had left the young some days previously – the young were starving, and were being washed around in the surf and thrown on the beach (and sometimes taken by sharks). And once on an atoll where a reef fisherman had a knotted cord and simply thrashed the terns hovering above his head – keeping the terns alive with broken wings. I exchanged a few for a can of beer and `put them to sleep’ by pressing their hearts.

Reply

Susan MacMillan December 2, 2012 at 3:12 pm

“Pressing animal hearts to put animals asleep.” If only we were so kind to our fellow humans, whether mortally damaged or reaching the ends of their lives. Regarding ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ slaughter, there is Temple Grandin’s advocacy for humane treatment and slaughter of livestock, but I haven’t (shamefully) read her book yet or ever heard her speak or watched the (2010) movie based on her life. Am promising myself to do that in the new year!

Reply

Jeremy Cherfas December 3, 2012 at 3:22 pm

The concepts are definitely there; I’m wondering if we have single words to match the concepts. The way “slaughter” is used pejoratively makes me think possibly not.

Reply

Leave a Comment