"Spilling Blood," an episode on the National Geographic Channel's Taboo series, made me want to vomit. I will never forget those bloody scenes of animal sacrifice in Nepal, of flies swirling around lifeless chickens and families lined up to see a man carving a goat's head off as his crimson blood drains down the altar of Kali. This Hindu temple never closes. Animals are killed around the clock for all to see.
This segment of "Spilling Blood" was about the contrast between the east and the west. In Nepal, some Hindus slaughter animals and offer them to Kali, the goddess with a strong lust for blood. But in the west, farm animals are killed out of sight, and their deaths go unnoticed and without ceremony.
Said one temple slaughterman: "When I'm in the temple, I feel Kali beside me. I don't feel sad about the animal, I just start killing."
According to people who practice this 400-year-old tradition, once you sacrifice the animal, it won't be reborn as an animal; it will go to heaven. The family believes it will bring spiritual rewards. Similar acts of ritual animal sacrifice are practiced in many countries and religions around the world.
While the gruesomeness of animal sacrifice was partly offset by the innocent faces of Nepalese children waiting to worship by the altar, cockfighting in Indonesia looked fully heartless. (See the photo above of a rooster with a blade attached to kill its opponent.) The ring was filled by men eager to see a bloody show who claim they must appease evil Hindu spirits by the blood of fighting cocks. While cockfighting was banned in Indonesia in 1981 due to its close association with gambling, it is still allowed on certain dates on the Hindu calendar.
Cockfighting is banned in the U.S. and most of Europe because it is seen as cruel. But the National Geographic Channel notes that cockfighting is part of American history. Both Washington and Jefferson raised fighting cocks.
"Spilling Blood" featured another awful practice occurring in the Faroe Islands, where pilot whales are driven to shore and hacked for their flesh. Set up as a family ritual, Islander men wait by the shore with hooks and knives and stain the ocean with whale blood. Though it takes the whale as long as 30 seconds to die, they call it humane.
950 pilot whales are killed each year in the Faroe Islands. One local biologist said the killings make "local environmental sense" rather than importing food. But modern technology makes other foods available, and it should be of high concern to Islanders due to the increasing levels of mercury found in North Atlantic pilot whales.
From Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's Captain Paul Watson:
I hate to say I told you so, especially when it involves the health and lives of children, but the people of the Danish Protectorate of the Faeroe Islands are now reaping the foul seeds of poison that they have been ignorantly been sowing for decades.Karma's a bitch. So much for tradition.
Back in 1985, 1986 and again in 2000 I repeatedly warned the people in the Faeroes that if they continued to eat pilot whales they would suffer the effects of mercury poisoning.
Now finally after two decades of warnings from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, their own medical doctors are now admitting that we have been right.
Ultrasounds may reveal that mercury causes cardiovascular problems. Even in low doses, mercury can affect the central nervous system and impair memory and language skills. Despite risks and outside pressure, many Islanders consider it their birthright.
My point is not to single out cultures or religions but to show that bloody, inhumane traditions can't be defended merely because they are tradition, especially when those traditions may be psychologically and physically harmful to children. These children have no real choice but to go ahead and participate in these traditions. In some cases, they may object, like the girl in Nepal who refused to watch her family goat being slaughtered. But they may also be subjected and harmed, like the children eating mercury contaminated whale meat.
And we can't really be critical of foreign traditions until we apply that same criticism to our own irreverence towards animals.