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10 Questions

10 Questions You've Always Wanted to Ask an Eid al-Adha Butcher

Does the job ever make you want to go vegan?
A butcher getting ready to slaughter a cow on Eid al Adha in 2016. Photo by Darren Whiteside/Reuters 

Machetes, blood, and decapitated heads. That's what Hadi Setiawan deals with everyday. Hadi works as a halal butcher, and as part of his job he needs to kill the sacrificial animals on Eid al-Adha, one of the biggest Muslim holidays of the year.

It's Hadi's day to shine as crowds, from the youngest kids to the oldest grandparents, gather to watch him work. Hadi and his team kill dozens of cows, goats, and sheep on Eid al-Adha, preparing the meat for distribution. It's not a glamorous job, but someone's gotta do it.


Hadi began slaughtering animals 20 years ago, when he was only 15 years old. His father, who was also a butcher, passed on his skills, teaching his son how to slaughter an animal in the most-humane way possible—an important component of the halal butcher of an animal.

"I always wonder, 'what if I was the animal?'" Hadi told VICE as he pressed his knife to a goat's throat at the Al Azhar mosque, in South Jakarta. "Every time I think about that, I feel for the animal."

He took a short break, still covered in animal blood, to talk to VICE about what its like to both love animals, and earn a living killing them.

VICE: Is there a course somebody takes before becoming a butcher for Eid al-Adha?
Hadi Setiawan: Not really. You learn as you go, from relatives or friends who have done it before you. You'll get it eventually. I happen to come from a family of halal butchers. I started watching my dad do it when I was 15 years old. At first, I only observed. But I became curious, so I started by just holding the blade. Eventually, my father let me do it under his supervision.

Hedi Setiawan after killing over 200 animals on Eid al Adha at a mosque in South Jakarta.

What’s the hardest part of being a butcher?
The physical aspect of it. It’s a heavy job and it requires you to be in prime physical condition. You need to carry heavy pieces of meat to the slaughter table, for example.

How many animals can you slaughter in one day?
On slow days, I usually slaughter just one cow. During Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr and throughout Ramadan, the demand is obviously higher. Today, I had to slaughter 200 goats and 16 cows between 8 AM and the late afternoon.


What exactly do you do, step-by-step?
In Islam, the butcher is supposed to say the phrase bismillah and recite Al-Fatiha. If you don’t do it, then the meat is not considered halal. So it's a big responsibility. The slaughter itself is pretty much the same for all every animal. You cut around its throat and big tendon so it dies quickly and loses a lot of blood. We have to kill each of them fast.

What do you do when you're not killing animals on Eid al-Adha?
I'm a school teacher. In my downtime, I also help my parents sell meat at the market.

Watch: Sacrificing Hundreds of Buffalo for One Funeral in Indonesia

Is this job ever traumatic? There's so much blood and death.
Alhamdulillah, nothing bad has happened so far. But shit happens, you never know. I may mess up one day. I’ve seen a friend accidentally cut his own finger with a machete. It wasn't that bad, but I still don't want that to happen to me.

Have you ever failed to kill an animal?
Not yet. Though some have fought aggressively, alhamdulillah, I've always been able to cut the arteries in their neck. I’ve seen animals run away before the ritual. When that happens we just have to catch them. When they try to fight after we make a cut, we just put them down again and they'll die eventually.

So your job looks pretty disgusting. Does it make you not want to eat meat after?
Not really. Food is food. To me, when it’s cooked, meat is delicious. Even when it smells, like when I slaughter the animal, after the meat is seasoned, it's good. I don’t really think about it anymore because I've gotten used to the process. Back when I just started, I would think about the animals. Now, I just eat.


Is it more satisfying to slaughter a cow, a goat, or a sheep?
A cow. It has more meat and it’s way harder to kill. The process requires about five people to get it done since cows are strong. There's a specific art to it as well. The cow needs to be tied up. You cross-tie all its legs and lie it down. Then you also tie up its tail and head. Then you proceed with the machete. Because it’s more difficult, you feel satisfied when it’s done. Goats and sheeps are smaller so you’re like, “is that all?”

Do you feel a connection with the animal you’re about to slaughter?
I’ve thought about what it feels like if it was me in their position. Honestly, I love animals. I own chickens and goats. Today was no different. I looked into the animals' eyes before slaughtering them. But there’s nothing else I can do, it’s my obligation to cut them. Sometimes I can feel it when the animal is angry and I feel a little conflicted. But that’s about it.

This interview has been translated into English, and edited for length and clarity.

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